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Sustainable, Efficient, Affordable:  How Green Building is the key to Affordable Housing

Sustainable, Efficient, Affordable: How Green Building is the key to Affordable Housing

- Mili Majumdar, Managing Director of Green Business Certification Institute Pvt Ltd, India and Senior Vice President, USGBC

As we ease further into the new decade, India’s cities are facing a crisis. Population growth coupled with rapid urbanization has created serious challenges such as air quality issues in Delhi, water shortage in Chennai, waste accumulation and lack of affordable housing. As many are confined to their homes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for safe, healthy and affordable homes has become more apparent now than ever before. And as we look to a quickly urbanizing future, the demand for this type of building will only increase.

Urbanization has created a huge demand for new construction – especially in India’s residential market – as India’s population races towards an expected 1.5 billion residents by 2030. A huge gap currently exists between the country’s demand and supply of housing. To keep pace with this demand, as much as three-quarters of all new construction in India in the next few years will need to be residential – a market that is already one of the highest contributors to the nation’s carbon emissions. In the coming years, the issues India’s cities are facing will only increase, making it more difficult and expensive for city residents to maintain their quality of life. In fact, India's rank in the Global House Price Index has jumped 13 spots to reach ninth among 55 international markets, on the back of increasing prices in the mainstream residential sector.

To mitigate those rising prices, the housing sector has a powerful tool in its wheelhouse: green building. Buildings that are developed sustainably and with resource efficiency in mind are keys in creating an affordable India. They generate fewer emissions compared to traditional buildings, use less energy and water, reduce waste, lower operating costs, improve indoor air quality and create less environmental burden on their communities. Globally, buildings generate more than 40% of energy use and produce one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, and, therefore, our buildings present us with the biggest potential for significantly reducing natural resource depletion. By improving home efficiency and sustainability, we have the opportunity to lessen our negative impact on the planet, create healthier living spaces and reduce operating costs through higher efficiency.

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted our need for resilient, equitable and healthy homes as much of India’s population is confined indoors to help flatten the curve. Green buildings specialize in improving indoor air quality, adding light and enhancing the overall health and wellbeing of occupants - something much needed by the indoor-bound population. Even as lockdown restrictions are eased, the world can expect to spend more time inside for the near future, and will need its buildings, both new and existing, to accommodate for this change.

Thankfully, sustainability and green building are not new concepts in India. Green building projects have been present in the country for nearly two decades and India currently ranks as the fourth largest market in the world for green building. In fact, the government, private sectors and larger communities have already begun integration policies to help green housing address tomorrow’s challenges and today’s constraints. For example, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has begun to integrate sustainability and green building into its housing development plans. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) “Housing for All” initiative aims to provide affordable housing by 2022, and presents the country with a unique opportunity to integrate affordable and resource-efficient housing at scale.

In addition to government leadership, private sector tools like LEED are gaining interest in India because they offer great potential to transform the residential market. LEED, the green building rating system administered by Green Business Certification Inc, is an international symbol of sustainability excellence and is the most widely used green building program in the world. And India, itself, has become the fourth largest market for LEED in the world, touching projects across every sector. The rating system offers great potential for the country’s residential market, as the LEED Residential model places special focus on contributing to healthier homes. Globally, there are more than 1.66 million residential units registered or certified to LEED – and of those, 17 percent are considered affordable. If India could work off of this model, the housing market could see a major positive transformation.

While Covid-19 has altered the expected trajectory of most of the world’s plans for this new decade, the need for affordable housing remains a major undertaking for India. The homes we build today will last for the next 50 to 100 years and influence the lives of everyone who occupies them. If we focus on making green building technology and certification a pillar of that new construction, then we can ensure that citizens will have access to more affordable, resilient and healthy homes for years to come.

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