The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'Green Building', a solution to problems we create?

Triple glazing, insulation, energy efficient air-conditioning..., these and more form the many green measures and inventions that seem to define the higher plane of environmental sensitivity that today's green building movement.
I am sure that many of us have asked ourselves- "did we need this much glass in the first place?" Take a look; all that glass meant that we needed to tackle the extra heat gain/loss, so this gave rise to a new thermally efficient glass. The change in our wall sections (thinning to gain as much usable space for the money invested) has now resulted in new insulation codes. The extra FAR utilisation meant that we climbed much higher than before, reducing the shading on the more vulnerable areas, more reasons for insulation. We changed our terrace treatment (from the breathing 'surkhi' treatment that doubled up as water proofing) to a thinner 'plain cement concrete', so now we have reflective/emissive high albeido paints. We sealed off our buildings (arguably to protect our new machinery from dust) and therefore created artificial air exchanges to both ventilate and condition the air within these premises. Now we work towards making these energy guzzling air-conditioners consume less power. Since even this is a relatively stale environment, we now focus on internal air quality improvements- approved carpeting, non-toxic paints, and even have new norms for prescribed air-exchanges and a mandatory flushing out process after fresh painting! One may call the flushing out sensible, but our paints started getting more complex in their chemical structure purely due to the change in the way we built and our aesthetic sensibilities. We tar our roads and hard pave/concrete our external surfaces, and then look for ways to increase ground water percolation. We drain out all surface water (most evident at the city level) and reclaim our percolation tanks, only to incentivise individual rainwater harvesting schemes within homes.
While some steps to go green, like using the abundant energy of the sun and rainwater harvesting systems, don’t you think that we need to question the very premise of many of our green decisions?
What if we built with lesser glass, but allowed greater scope for natural daylight to flood the insides of our buildings? What if we ensured that our external surfaces were appropriately shaded from direct solar radiation? What if we built lower (not necessarily hugging the ground) and used landscaping to cover the ground? What if we had naturally ventilated spaces, while demanding our machinary manufacturers to make them dust proof? What if we considered all our roads and drains as percolation surfaces? What if we brought down hard bans on employee driven transportation for offices that were larger than ten people? What if we mandated that all offices had to be at walking distance from mass public transportation systems? What if we decided that our cities were large carbon sinks (for intensive planting) and intensive soaks? What if we grew on our flat terraces and made compulsory lighter roofing where the roofs were inaccessible (or sloping)?
Compared to this, our current green steps seem mere lip service.... don't you think?

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