Rapid urbanization across the country and the growing influx of people into cities is leading to alarming proportions of ‘grey infrastructure’ – a name for the concrete and steel constructions that characterize urban development. The shift to an urban lifestyle, and the superior facilities and services it offers, however, comes at the expense of an extremely important but oft-neglected aspect of healthy, sustainable living: green spaces. It is therefore essential that future real estate development should at least aim for green infrastructure, if not preservation of green spaces through careful planning
There are growing concerns about the impact of real estate development on the environment we live in. The sector is responsible for 22 percent of India’s annual CO2 emissions, global warming, and poor air quality. Global statistics suggest that the construction industry uses 30 percent of all available natural materials, and 20 percent of our water resources; the figures are not much different in India. Moreover, construction activities are a direct cause of soil erosion and contamination, air contamination by asbestos particles and dust, and noise pollution.
While it may not always be possible to rely on green infrastructure, a balance can and must be found between the grey and the green, with conscientious consideration of how these development activities will impact our environmental and our homes. India must develop a more progressive, sustainability-first outlook for the real estate sector. It is time to ensure that green thinking is a key component of all planning. This will also mean bringing about a change in the consumer mindset, making them more aware of their choices and their impact on the environment. In many ways, it will mean unlearning certain deep-rooted fundamentals in the consumer and developer psyche, but it is nothing that cannot be achieved with practiced awareness and strong commitment.
The real estate industry has already started, to some extent, showing indications of this shift to a greener mindset. This can be seen in the increasing adoption of precast concrete, reinforced hollow concrete blocks, gabion walls, GFRG walls, and Mivan Shuttering, and the use of alternative materials such as fly ash, AAC blocks, gypsum plaster, bio enzymes, and curing compounds. All these help in reducing the environmental impact of any project. Also, the plans for modern residential complexes try and maintain the natural topography, so that the biodiversity, beauty, and green cover is not compromised.
Green infrastructure has clear socio-economic benefits. The energy efficiency gained from green construction delivers considerable cost savings, while water efficiency offsets the operation costs. In the long run, a sustainable plan for the consumption of water and electricity ensures lower stress on these utilities, as well as a marked reduction in pollution levels. Efficient green planning also mitigates the wastage of resources such as energy, soil, and water. By opting for locally sourced resources for construction purposes, real estate developers can significantly reduce the carbon footprint and the cost of transportation. Many of the ‘smart homes’ features that are included in contemporary homes aim to do the same, i.e. improve energy and water efficiency, reduce carbon footprint, and decrease the recurring cost to the customer. Moreover, a ‘green’ tag holds great appeal for most home owners.
The future of urban living will be characterized by the proliferation of zero-carbon and zero net-energy homes, achieved through a combination of solar light fixtures, energy-efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting, planting drought-tolerant plants within the property, and grey water treatment for use in construction and flushing. These green homes of the future will not burn any fossil fuels, and will be part of a global commitment to ensure sustainable development. And if that seems like a worthy cause, now would be a good time to start thinking green.
(The author is Vice President, Head Research & Development, Tata Housing Development Company)