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Why green buildings matter. Hint: There are many benefits for a homebuyer

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Many developers and non-governmental organizations have worked to define and develop ‘green’ rated homes.  These homes offer several benefits to the customers across the life cycle of the building.

Why green buildings matter. Hint: There are many benefits for a homebuyer
“Kitna mileage deti hai?” my friend asked me. I had just bought a new car and after the initial chit-chat on the engine, service and other specifications, my friend had zeroed in on the crux of the matter. We discussed the ARAI approved mileage and did some quick math to arrive at the actual number, making basic assumptions along the way. “Wow,” said my friend.  “Not bad at all. Definitely, a car to buy."
When buying a car, conversations like this are par for the course in millions of vehicle showrooms and households across the country. I was a little piqued though. Working for a group that manufactures vehicles and builds homes, I was curious as to why (fuel) consumption is a very important criterion while selecting a vehicle, but utilities (electricity and water) consumption is not even a consideration when investing in a home.
As I engaged with customers, some answers started to emerge.  The decision variables while buying a car are (relatively) limited.  However, in the case of a home, priorities in addition to ticket price include location; physical infrastructure; nearby social infrastructure; connectivity; developer’s reputation and prior track record; delivery of the project; amenities & open spaces; unit sizes and finishing options.  The ratio of operating costs to initial product cost is relatively higher for a car vs home or apartment, and so operating costs appear less important when buying a home.
While these were logical answers, they did not seem to explain the phenomenon in entirety. Though the relative amount as compared to automobile maintenance is lower, households still spend significantly on electricity, water and society maintenance (anywhere between Rs 5,000-25,000 per month for a typical household, with all major appliances including ACs and operations & maintenance of outdoor lighting, lifts, common areas, etc.).  Further discussions revealed that most home buyers had varying and vague ideas of what a ‘green’ rated house meant; and none understood the benefits of owning a green home in simple, concrete terms.
We may infer that this is a clear case of good intentions not yielding desired results due to lack of communication.  Many developers and non-governmental organizations have worked to define and develop ‘green’ rated homes.  These homes offer several benefits to the customers across the life cycle of the building. However, in most cases, the communication to the customer is technical and/or heavy on jargon – ‘double glazing units, sewage treatment plants, rainwater harvesting, composter etc.’
“So, what?” This is often the (unarticulated) question on the customer’s mind.
Why green buildings?
The building sector is one of the most significant in terms of scale and environmental impact. Globally, buildings account for approximately 40 percent annual energy consumption and up to 30 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The sector is responsible for about 40% of global resource use, including 12 percent of all fresh-water use; and it produces up to 40 percent of our solid wasteTERI has estimated that if all buildings in urban India were to adopt green building concepts, we could reduce our power consumption by about 8,400 megawatts, enough to light 550,000 homes a year. 
How do customers benefit? 
The larger environmental benefits of green buildings are widely proliferated.  However, there are specific benefits to homeowners/residents. Based on our Living Building Assessments and experience, buyers of green homes may expect the following benefits:
Cost savings for individual units
  • Savings of 15-25 percent on power bills through maximization of natural light, and use of solar heating systems and energy-efficient walls and roofs.
  • Low-flow water fixtures and STP treated water can reduce water bills by 10-20%
  • In fact, the World Green Building Council estimates energy savings of 40 - 50% and water savings of 20 - 30%, as compared to conventional buildings in India. The difference in numbers could be attributed to the specific rating systems (Platinum, Gold etc.) used for comparison, the conventional buildings that are being compared to and the methodology for computation.
  • Reduced maintenance costs and savings
    • Up to 10% reduction in maintenance costs due to the use of compost for landscaping; and use of recycled water for flushing purpose
    • Up to 70% reduction in electricity bills for common areas through the use of LEDs and solar power (depending on rooftop availability).  In certain cases, use of solar can lead to 100% savings in common areas, lifts and pumps, with a payback period of 3-4 years etc.
    • More than 75% rainwater harvested to recharge the groundwater table
    • Dependency on tanker waters is minimised in green homes designed for water self-sufficiency.
    • 100% waste segregation can potentially generate annual revenues to the tune of about Rs 2000 for each unit (from the sale of excess compost, high-value recyclables).
    • Healthy indoors
      • Low VOC paints reduce toxicity and ensure healthy indoors
      • Naturally well-ventilated and well-lit spaces provide wholesome indoor environments
      • Depending on monthly expenditure (on electricity, water and society maintenance), a household can expect to save Rs 2,000-8,000 per month or Rs 25,000-100,000 per annum -  by no means a small number. And all this at practically no extra cost! As incremental costs of building green homes decrease and with developers becoming increasingly customer-focused, green homes can be bought at the same price as a conventional house.
        Communities and individuals are today more and more conscious – socially and environmentally - and seek opportunities to make choices that are good for the planet. The adoption of electric vehicles is a case in point. With more than two-thirds of India’s urban built environment yet to take shape, green homes offer a precious opportunity to affect a paradigm shift towards Sustainable Urbanisation, while also enabling financial prudence and an improved sense of well-being overall.   A win-win indeed!
         
        Vaibhav Jambhekar is Head, Strategy, Business Excellence & Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespace Developers Ltd
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