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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How green are cement, steel and bricks ?

I saw this query on an Internet group a while back and felt it was important to pen down my thoughts on this. I have been talking about this for a while now, but never got down to writing about it. So here goes.
Cement, steel and the standardised burnt clay brick

To arrive at a better understanding on how green these materials are, one would have to address this from different perspectives:
  • From an embodied energy perspective
  • From a scale of consumption perspective.
  • From a regional impact perspective
  • From a construction vs livelihood perspective

Embodied Energy
An IGH Projection
Cement and steel are processed materials, that consume a lot of energy in their making. Modern day Cement mainly is a mixture of various components, essentially lime, and other binders.
Cement from the time of the Romans, has been a binder material used for making building components adhere to another. Lime was an crucial part of this mix. Other pozzolanic materials like volcanic ash, etc were also added by other groups.  In pre-industrial times, the production of cement did not involve much more than animal driven and human labour.... from the extraction of raw materials right down to the production of the cementitious mix. Today of course, cement production involves the use of generated energy (driven by electricity, diesel, coal, etc)
Steel in construction is an industrial era contribution (barring a few earlier usages), and has become a mainstay in all forms of construction. In the 5000 plus years of civilisation history, it is interesting to see that a material that was never ever used in construction , has become an integral component of all construction in just over a 150 years (not that this bad in itself)..
A projection by IGH
Burnt Brick production has remained the same over the past many centuries, but the standardisation since the British times has seen an inefficiency in the burning process. In earlier times, bricks came in all sizes and shapes primarily due to the differences in clay compositions between regions, resulted in better burning. Today, the standard burnt clay brick is 9" x 4.5" x 3", all over the country.

A great amount of energy goes into the manufacture of modern day cement, bricks and steel .There is a dearth of consistent data on the applicable embodied energy for these materials, primarily due to the varying conditions of production, sources of energy and scales of operations. However, if one does consider the potential contribution to CO2 emissions by these materials used today, the significance is apparent. On average a 1000 sft residential unit (independent house or apartment) would result in the emission of anywhere between 45 to 72 MT of CO2 into our atmosphere. In the context of over a 100 1-million plus population cities in India alone, and with an ever burgeoning urban population this is significant.

A file picture of iron ore mining activity in Bellary, Karnataka.
Photo: M. Ahiraj, The Hindu
What is even more significant is the rate of production of these materials in the last 100 years (post the industrial revolution). The modern global economy has created a mad rush to urbanise and has pushed rural populations to cities in search of greener pastures. The combined effect of Business, Growth and Migration has led to a boom in construction activity for business, residences and infrastructure to support this. The rate of consumption is fed by a hitherto unseen rate of extraction of raw materials and production of construction materials and components.
This consumption has great side effects. Beyond the CO2 emissions, up-the-chain environmental damage due to pollution, afforestation, and harm to ground water is grave and has resulted in changing the surface of our planet like never before. Transport of these materials has meant the creation of further construction corridors and which has led to massive atmospheric pollution due to petroleum exhaust (incidentally, never before has petroleum been burnt in such a scale as in this period). The large scale construction activities that we see in our cities and towns today create dust and air-pollution, causing health hazards like never before.

Regional impacts
Change is inevitable, but it is the nature of change that has to be examined. There has been tremendous and rapid transformation in the way we build, originally from a construction material/system point and eventually in the forms that the architecture has taken. This change is more of an imposed change, fuelled by industry set up in independent India and also by the great aspirations of the Indian masses. Agendas set by early politicians and subsequent governments further added to the modernisation of India. This trickled down to built form, but has resulted in a complete alienation (and extinction in many cases) of building traditions and regional architecture. Cement, steel and the modern day brick rode this wave of change. RCC, cement and 'sariya' (reinforcement steel) are now household words, and almost every contractor and mason knows how to work with these materials (at least has a working knowledge). These materials are now unshakeable and integral components of construction in urban India. They are considered as the solution to all evils of what is perceived of as 'kucha' works. So deep is the knowledge loss that current day construction workers hesitate (and refuse) to apply traditional materials and systems that were prevalent only half a century ago..
Construction labour at a site
A disappointing outcome of the latter half of the 20th century in India is the emergence of a monoculture in architectural form that has taken over its urbanity. While nationhood united diverse people and cultures, the direction construction has taken ever since is leading to the wiping out of this very essence of diversity. What is more ironic is that numerous studies done over the past couple of decades have shown the limitations and inability of this architecture/built form in providing appropriate occupant thermal comfort, colour and character, and so on. Yet we persist. While change that is inherent (or from within) is understandable, un-reined change with no care for the consequences is not.

Construction vs livelihood
Resources followed the money. Skill-sets needed for RCC construction were simple and were honed, whereas traditional building know-how became unviable over the years. Industry supplied cement, steel and the standardised burnt-clay brick to every nook of this country, while traditional skills were limited to small regional (maybe even sub-regional) extents. Therefore, a moving populace (mostly rural folk looking for better incomes) picked up what would earn them an income irrespective of where they locate to, and moreover there was a lot of jobs for the picking. This scenario is still unfolding, killing our building traditions steadily.

We see that this illustrious group of modern day materials (cement, steel and the standardised burnt brick) has a high embodied energy, cause immense environmental damage (both up and downstream), has altered the regional diversity of our building traditions and systems, and is continuing to wipe out the livelihoods of traditional crafts persons. The 'Business As Usual' scenario of modern day construction materials and systems  is unsustainable and needs an overhaul. Alternatives to these materials and construction systems are urgently necessary in the context of the ecological tilts that such human activity has caused over the last century and a half. Small gestures of reducing a bit of this or that is not going to add up as anything significant. The time for a complete re-think to redeem ourselves is now. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To Bangalore, With Love

The power of surveys!
Should we be proud that Bangalore is the “undisputed Elvis of South Asian mega cities.......”(‘Hip Bangalore is third most favourite in 2012’, The Times of India, Bangalore, December 07, 2011)? This epithet has been attached to the yoke of Bangalore by none other than the reliable and ubiquitous Lonely Planet. Not satiated with coining such a moniker Lonely Planet has come up with a few more gems alluding to the parameters based upon which, I suppose, a city’s ‘favourite’ quotient is decided: ‘perpetually drunk on good life’; ‘best brews’; ‘scrummiest cuisines’; ‘liveliest arts and music scene’; ‘hippest population’. It also claims that “Bengaluru’s new high speed Metro network now ensures that your favourite watering hole is easier to reach than ever”. Whew! Or rather, Glug!
Now, most of us travellers have relied upon a portly copy of a Lonely Planet to guide us in our sojourns far and near. But the glibness with which they are mouthing niceties about Namma Bengaluru makes me begin to wonder about the seriousness of their research. Or is it the case of a high spirited (all-puns intended) junior factotum, high on a barrel of beer, with air-guitar in hand, and a metro pass sticking out his (I am presuming this fictitious reporter to be male) back-pocket, annotating and indexing facts in a whirlwind whistle-stop tour of the city, all in a traipse of 4 kilometres of metro-track!
Exactly a week ago, another piece, titled, “Bangalore; best Indian city to live in: Survey” (The Times of India, Bangalore, November 30, 2011) anointed Bangalore as an Indian prima donna in terms of standard of living. This survey, by HR consulting major, Mercer, was not too kind to Bangalore when stacked against the rest of the cities around the world. Bangalore breasted the tape at 141 out of a total of 221 cities! In fact all our metros were packed sardine-like in a narrow band of ten places: New Delhi (143), Mumbai (144), and Kolkata (151). In terms of safety though, the Indian metros fared marginally better.
The findings of two pieces of research exerts tremendous pressure on us citizens (or should I say, Netizens) of Bangalore. The world’s third most favourite city, just after London and Muscat, and just ahead of Hong Kong and Stockholm, indeed would dilate our telangiectasias with joyous pride and bring a proverbial lump to our collective jugular. Now, had it not been for that Mercer survey, we could have wallowed in sun-drenched bacchanalia, much akin to a beach resort during Lent! But alas, the arbiters of Bangalore’s position on the world-map select trifling attributes of mensuration to capture the soul of a city. The validity of facile surveys also needs to be questioned: the effort and money that goes into generating a global ranking, seriously, could be better used to capture a drop of water for the parched throats of Bedouins in sub-Saharan geographies!
But continuing on a lighter vein: how do we reconcile to hiccupping polarities of gradation when it is thrust upon us by the pleasant side of corporate posturing? What gift-wrapped largesse Lonely Planet distributed in a bout of not-so-lonely camaraderie was ripped open, a week earlier (sadly), by the pen-knife of the Mercer-siders! Well, as Indians we certainly know how to gambol with such extremes: take the good with the bad, the high with low, and keep a gilded hope for the future – damn! We have to beat the Muscat-rats next time! And as for London: how do purveyors of a divide-and-rule colonizing dictat upon the unsuspecting third world continue to brighten the skies of a gloomy and rainy city!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ecotourism is not a trek to the forest

The ecotourism diagram
One of the headlines in a recent piece in the Times of India talks about how Ecotourism is ruining the flora and fauna in Nagarhole and Bandipur. Upon a quick read I discovered that the reporter had completely missed the point about ecotourism. This is alarming since such articles dilute the meaning of the term for readers. But this reporter is not alone in making this egregious error. 

I checked some websites, too, and discovered that the term ‘Ecotourism’ is being used freely to describe any sojourn to a wildlife sanctuary or jungle resort. These include both government agencies and private businesses that run lodges and safaris in the wilderness. This is merely re-dressing plain old-fashioned tourism in the garb of a neo-fad called ecotourism.

In essence there are hardly any real ecotourism programmes in the area which can be given the status of one. A quick glance at what the meaning of ecotourism is, as defined by The international Ecotourism Society ( is the following:
“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
  • Minimize impact of tourism activities..
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries' (or regions') political, environmental, and social climate.”

Ecotourism- a comprehensive and sustainable  development model
While it is imperative that our tourism departments concentrate on, first, understanding what ecotourism is, and second, what initiatives to launch or support in which areas, we cannot blindly describe any trek to the forest to be an ecotourism exercise. What is happening to the Bandipur and Nagarhole, and certainly in other forest reserves as well, should not be condoned or tolerated even, but we first need the government to set up a proper framework for both government and private agencies (resorts, expedition companies, etc.) to come up with programmes that are truly core-ecotourism. In the absence of such a framework, no amount of complaining against businesses that merely comprehend the language of commerce; at least, more than they do of sensitivity to nature, or even ecotourism, will provide any solution for the long term.

Another point to note is that an ecotourism programme can be launched in non-forest destinations as well: e.g. temple tourism, arts and crafts, or agri-based village commerce resuscitation, or a visit to the Taj or other national treasures. The point is that a well-rounded programme is imperative beyond the cause of commerce alone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nair's Residence: An example of a Sustainable Water Management plan

Mr. Nair, a client who had retired from his active career and a man who enjoyed doing hands-on work approached us with a view to install a rain water harvesting system for his house in North East Bangalore. He could easily be counted as an eco-convert as he himself believed and was interested in many a green thing. He came to us at time when the construction of his house was nearing completion. We saw in this proposition of his an opportunity to address this in a more wholesome manner than just providing a system to satisfy his demand. Read on...

Project facts:
Location: Horamavu, Bangalore
Site area: 568sqm (approx)
Roof catchment area: 198sqm (approx)
Ground catchment area: 285sqm (approx)

Site plan: House on the east and landscaped area on the west 

The site was two plots of land with the eastern section being the house which was being constructed then adjoined by a vacant piece of land to it's west. This vacant land had a small patch of green,fruit and vegetable plants that Mr. Nair painstakingly maintained himself. At the north west corner of the site was a store which was to also include a driver's toilet later.
At IGH we believe that it is immensely more sensible to have a comprehensive strategy which involves reducing the water need first and then managing demand of water (through rain, etc) efficiently than blinker-eyed isolated interventions. Therefore we expanded the scope of just the rain-water harvesting proposition to a comprehensive water management scheme that took into account the following:
  • Rain water harvesting- to catch all the rain that fell on the building's roof and the site
  • Water conservation measures- to reduce overall water demand
  • Grey water treatment- to reuse water that would otherwise be wasted and reduce fresh water demand
  • Landscape and irrigation design- to ensure minimal use of water for external use
Comprehensive Sustainable Water management- Nair Residence

The roof area of the house, approx 198sqm, was large enough to potentially harvest about 1,47,000 lts of water annually in Bangalore. This would meet an optimised water requirement of the Nair household of 5 members for about 9.8 months in a year- which can be a very substantial saving if rain water is managed well. Since the ground catchment area was nearly 1.5 times that of the roof, we suggested that Mr. Nair undertake surface water harvesting too, beyond just limiting it to roof rain water harvesting.

The overall plan was to use the rain water from the roof top for domestic consumption, as this would be relatively cleaner water thus requiring minimal filtration, while the surface rain water (water falling on the ground/ garden) would be harvested for ground water recharge to supplement the aquifer.

Roof Rainwater harvesting system
Roof top rain water harvesting:
The rain water down-takes from the roof of the house were already in place. The exposed roof area had 7 down-takes that were lead into the rear of the house, below ground level and already cemented over. This turned out to be a major limiting factor in the design of the RWH system as it did not allow for an above the ground, in-line system which could have been far sleeker than the underground system which was finally put in place, specially the first flush and filter units..

An important prerequisite for effective roof top rain water harvesting is the regular maintenance and cleaning of the roof. Though Mr. Nair had a 10 kl underground sump that would suffice the requirements of rain water storage, he opted to go for a separate underground tank as he did not feel comfortable about mixing rain water with that in his main sump. The terrace- the catchment for roof top rain water harvesting- he felt, despite his efforts to keep it clean, would have more contaminants than anticipated and so he wanted to play safe in separating the rain water from the main tank.This however, remained a contentious point as the source of his sump water was from a bore-well, definitely of a lower quality. A little more attention to keeping the terraces clean and less money would have been spent.

The rain water harvesting system designed here included:
  • Collection chamber to collect water coming from the down-takes via a combination of 3 and 4 inch PVC pipes. A sieve as leaf separator, placed on an incline, was included in this chamber to keep large particles out of the system. An overflow at the top level of this chamber led the water into the first flush chamber. 
  • First flush Chamber to flush out a specific volume of the contaminated first rains.The initial rains falling on the roof (especially after long dry spells) is usually contaminated by dust, bird droppings and other particulate matter. Depending on roofing material type, ambient pollution levels and total roof area a certain volume of water from these initial rains needs to be flushed out of the system to keep the system clean. A simple water level dependant float based diversion system was designed to be the first flush here. A dripper driven mechanism ensured that the water from this chamber was drained out over a period of 3 days after which the first flush would reset. The over flow from this would be cleaner water that would enter the filtration chamber. 
First flush diversion system
  • Filter to further clarify the water - Three grades of aggregate (top layer- 40mm, middle layer- 20mm and bottom layer- 10mm) in mesh cages, for ease of maintenance, are placed one over the other as filter media in this chamber. The outlet at the base of the filter leads the filtered water via a levelling chamber into the storage tank. 
  • Rain Water Storage tank to store the harvested rain water. A 5000lts capacity tank was designed with its overflow leading into a central water feature meant for ground water recharge. Though BWSSB regulations specify a minimum storage capacity of 20lts/sqm of roof area, which would have meant 3600lts, we thought it prudent to provide for a storage tank that would meet the water requirements of the family for about 7 days. Water from the rain water storage tank is pumped into the main sump from where it would be further pumped into the over- head tank for domestic consumption. Had the rain water harvesting system not been an afterthought, as it turned out to be, the plumbing could have been managed appropriately, integrating the RWH system with the main plumbing, to ensure a single operation of lifting of water from UG sump to the over head tank. 
System Maintenance: Each of the chambers have their own separate access hatches for ease of maintenance and upkeep. The dripper out from the first flush chamber needs to be checked for clogging. Setting the dripper to fully open position and then resetting it to desired flow ensures that it will remain clog-free, provided terrace is well maintained. The filter media (aggregates) is placed within steel meshes. This needs to be removed once in six months, brushed and washed with clean water before being replaced. The rain water storage tank is to be cleaned seasonally, ideally at the end of the monsoon period or along with general maintenance and cleaning of the main sump.

The surface rainwater harvesting scheme integrated into the landscape
Surface rain water harvesting:
Surface rain water recharge
The ground catchment area was about 260sqm. We designed a network of surface water harvesting systems which were a combination of recharge well, boulder trenches and a central pond. These were integrated as elements in the landscape design and for effective ground water recharge. 

Here again the regulation specified a minimum capacity of 10lts/sqm of open area (about 2600lts for this project), but we designed the system to be capable of handling a heavy rain of about 40mm in one day (Bangalore gets an average rainfall of about 16-20mm per day) and so for about 9100 lts. The recharge well can handle about 2000lts, the boulder trenches about 4500lts and the central pond about 2600lts.

The use of water efficient fixtures can reduce the overall daily water requirement by almost 30% depending on usage. It goes without saying that one can be wasteful even with most efficient of systems.
As we began chalking out measures for water conservation in this project, we made a list of fixtures- faucets and flushes that could help conserve water not knowing initially that Mr. Nair had already procured his sanitary and plumbing fixtures at the time of our engagement on this project. We however, convinced him about exchanging his fixtures- basin/ sink faucets and shower heads mainly, with more water efficient ones. Sadly, he had already gone ahead and installed the flush valves, which prevented us from securing about 15-20 lppd through the use of more efficient options.

Water efficient fixtures 
Extensive market surveys were carried out following which we made our recommendations about fixture selection. We assisted Mr. Nair with procuring recommended fixtures by tying up with suitable vendors. During this process of surveying the market we realized that the choice at the hands of a client was very limited, especially if one were to look for 'made in India' products as being water conserving. On the other hand the market seemed flooded by imported fixtures thanks to stringent water use laws in those countries. 

The few fixtures that met our needs seemed more abundantly available in the product manufacturer's brochure than in the market or the display shelves. Clearly, the consumer saw too little of these products and therefore wanted them even lesser. The general notion of most vendors was that these water efficient fixtures were solely meant for gaining points in green ratings and therefore applicable in large projects- hospitality or offices and hardly for individual homes, which was our area of application. Vendors did not seem too keen on pushing these water efficient fixtures and kept almost no stock of them because these, according to them, were not fast moving items. The sluggishness of the distributor to procure small quantities of these specialized items became increasingly evident as we had to keep moving from one to another.

An efficient landscape drip irrigation system was outlined as another means of conserving water. The treated grey water was to be reused for landscape irrigation, thus reducing the overall water requirement.

Mr. Nair had already on his own accord chosen to separate the grey water line from his soil line. So water coming out from the basins & bath areas in the bathroom and the kitchen sink, known commonly as grey water having fewer pathogens was piped out on a separate line. Most waste water treatment systems available in the market do not cater to scales as small as that of an individual home. They also invariably are  mechanical systems that rely on an energy source. We wanted this grey water treatment system to be able to function without consuming power and also blend into the landscape. After much research and deliberation, we decided to go in for a reed bed based grey water treatment system. We worked on that integrated other plant containers apart from the main reed beds, and ensured that the whole system became a part of the overall landscape.
Grey water treatment system
The system we designed had the following sections
  1. Grease trap to separate out the grease and oil which would otherwise retard the system's functioning. Kitchen sinks are large contributors to oil and grease. It is important to remove, to the extent possible, these materials. This is achieved by a grease trap which is a chamber that has two baffles. These baffles cause water to flow between them in a manner where grease floats on the top and gets arrested between them. The overflow is grease free and the water is lead into the nest chamber which is a sedimentation tank. Obviously, exercising caution at the source could potentially reduce the loading on the treatment system down the line.
  2. Sedimentation tank to separate out large particles. This chamber has a single downstand baffle which assists in sedimentation of suspended solids, that persist in the system, by gravity. The sizing of this tank was based on a two days standing time. The overflow from this chamber is at an upper level and feeds the gravel bed. 
  3. Gravel bed to further filter the grey water. A graded gravel bed consisting of three descending grades of 40mm, 20mm and 10mm is used as a first stage filter for the water coming from the sedimentation tank. The partition walls of this filter bed were made as a perforated brick masonry walls with the overflow from here leading into the planted filter bed.
  4. Planted filter/ reed bed to oxidise and treat the grey water. A process of secondary filtration, the reed bed system relies on the ability of certain types of plants to decompose the organic pollutants present in the water. The water is held in this planted filter bed for a period of about 2 days before being let out and stored in the treated grey water tank. The plants/ reeds used in this project were sourced from a lake nearby the site itself. 
  5. Treated grey water storage tank to store water before being re-used. Water entering this tank is relatively clean and odour-free. It is now ready to be used for landscape irrigation. 
System Maintenance: Each of the enclosed chambers had their own separate access hatches for ease of maintenance and upkeep. The grease trap needs to be checked from time to time and the excess trapped grease removed from the system. General cleaning of the sedimentation and storage tank would ensure the removal of any minimal particle settlement. The gravel bed and planted filter beds need to be kept weed free and de-weeding undertaken as required. The reeds are to be maintained and can be done along with general garden upkeep.
This simple decentralized system of grey water treatment has been functioning efficiently since its completion in early 2010..

As mentioned above, the site was actually two individual plots that Mr. Nair owned in a private layout. He built his house on one and on the other he had plans of maintaining a garden.

We expanded this mandate to integrate within the landscaped area the rain water harvesting systems, a reed bed based grey water treatment system and surface water management system apart from a kitchen garden, patches of native flowering plants and fruit trees that would attract various life forms. There was a requirement to have a kennel and a store with a driver's toilet too in this landscaped area.
A view of the landscaped area
The orthogonal grid for the landscape was formed by extending the logic from that of the built, a straightforward, rectangular building. A central water body, the pond (see surface rain water harvesting) with a pervious base was designed as a seasonal water body that would contain surface run off water in it during the monsoons and would dry up in the summer months- much like the tanks that once dotted this city. Around this pond was the permeable walk way which lead from the house to and around the landscaped area. The walkway was paved with open jointed paver stones with grass in intermediate spaces to ensure that it allowed water to percolate into the ground. By the side of the walk way on the south is the boulder trench, again meant for surface rain water harvesting. A secondary path of stepping stones led from this walkway to individual spaces like the store etc,.
The cascade from the driver's cabin roof to the central pond
The built- store cum driver's toilet- was designed to have its roof as a water cascade. The surrounding plot of lands were still vacant and so Mr. Nair had already built a compound wall along his plot's boundary. We used two of these walls on the north east corner as the back of this built feature. It's front was a rough hewn stone masonry walls with precast ferrocement troughs inserted for the water cascade. This water cascade was fed by re-circulated water from the central pond, powered by a small solar pump.

After some deliberation on the roof of this built section of the landscape, we decided to go with a ferrocement roofing system which would be supported on steel lattice girders and concrete beams anchored into the boundary wall. On the roof of the toilet was the drip irrigation tank that was fed by the treated grey water.

This project attempts to demonstrate how individual home owners could work towards resource independence- in this case water. By adopting measures first to reduce water consumption, efficiently harvest rain water and finally reuse and manage water sensibly, this project aims to optimally utilise a resource as precious yet heavily abused as water.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why does sustainable building make sense to a developer?

One can't be blamed by reacting like this...."What? Developers going green?? Not a chance!". Unfortunately, the general reputation of  the developer lot is to blame for this.
The proposition of developers going sustainable does seem a bit of a stretch, what with the soaring prices of land, and with a volatile market putting a pressure on sales. One tends to believe that developers would not risk sales to attain even a tinge of green. or, let alone going the sustainable way..
Before I launch any further on this let us look (once again) at Sustainability. Sustainability is about defining the thresholds within which if one acts the ability of future generations to live life as we do, does not get compromised in anyway. Sustainability is about responsible consumption and becomes important as we consume more and more as a population. Buildings consume a lot of resources in their making, while contributing to about 39% of the worlds GHG emissions (Source: U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 2008 Buildings Energy Data Book.), and therefore it is imperative that they are built responsibly.
Sustainability is also about being resource efficient, and that any developer gets.We have no option but to be responsible for our actions and the environment. Great strides are being made in areas of pollution free technologies and energy consumption in buildings. While there is minimal focus on the building systems, this accounts for the majority of the CO2 emissions during the entire lifecycle of the building. This is bound to be the next focus. Self-sustaining habitats that strive towards occupying a zero ecological footprint are the future.

So, why do developers need to change the way they build? Let us try and populate a list.
  • Sustainable development ensures that business secure their long term success through triple bottom line practices which address the environment, social needs and business growth 
  • The world is rapidly rising to the need for sustainable green practices in all spheres of activity from businesses to transportation to construction. 
  • Sensible and sustainable design and construction are the emerging paradigms and it is desirable for developers to lead the way and be at the head of such a transition. 
  • Sustainable construction enables a developer to broaden their scope of building materials and systems. All this at comparable and sometimes lower costs than the conventional
  • By adopting sustainable building methodologies, a developer insulates himself to a great degree from the vagaries of the marketplace. Since materials and skills are inherently local, global turmoil would not have an adverse impact on development works.
Another way of addressing the choice of going sustainable is to look at the impacts of 'Business as Usual', as captured in the left half of the graphic above. The graphic on the right shows the balance of environment and social aspects along with business interests, which is a more comprehensive model. Unsustainable development burdens resources, the business and makes for stressed lifestyles down the line. A sustainable model on the other had adopts a policy of 'making do with as little as possible', without impacting it's survival into the future. On the bright side, there exists within most professional and seasoned developer groups a keen sense that in satisfying the needs of the customer lies repeat investments, recommendations and so on. I believe in this we already have the foundations for transforming into a sustainable business. 

What impact does Sustainability have on the developer's brand?
  • It will earn the developer the status of a green organisation, a must going into the future. 
  • Communicates to the market the environmental responsibilities of the developer.
  • Assures the market that the product has been designed with them in mind… in terms of environmental health, family health, etc 
  • Carries the message that the development would secure the users more water, would consume lesser power, and would also pollute the environment less
In employing environmentally sensitive and sustainable design/building technologies, one is actually securing the future of the customer. The reality of a sustainable approach is that one is also addressing health and lifestyle aspects of the customer today. By adopting a sustainable mandate one is addressing the client base's running costs, access to essential resources, internal living health and also providing a rich built environment for overall development.Securing the future of the customer (which means you also address their environment) means that you secure your business' longevity.
So developer, what are you waiting for?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cuba at the crossroads

I read in the newspaper a few days ago (4th Nov 2011) that Raul Castro has allowed Cubans to buy and sell property. It perked my attention and on reading a bit further, I thought.... wow.... what a wasted opportunity.
It is being hailed, specially in the neighbouring US, as a lifting of state control on the economy, but somehow I cant stop thinking of the fantastic opportunity that Raul had to create history. This does not mean that I am in anyway sympathising with a fascist regime, or, that I not empathising with the beleaguered Cuban economy that is going through the motions. I am simply bringing a third world perspective.... let us not replicate the mistakes of the so called developed world. Such tales of sorrow resonate all across this country of ours.
Quite obviously, this reaction of mine is a displaced point of view, not knowing the true ground realities, but it begs some scenarios of what if....!
Cuba has some wonderful examples of a strong sustainable and flourishing organic agriculture, and to boot they have a resilient community that is still rich and celebrates the unique culture that is uniquely Cuban. In its communist foundations, Cuba stands for an equitable society. All ingredients for creating a sustainable planning model. So has Raul lost this very opportunity to create such a model?

Let us see some of the areas that could have been explored:
  1. Property price variation based on weightage given to select criteria (as given in the consequent points). Indices of growth/appreciation would also be according to these factors. Difference in taxation also according to these criteria.
  2. Property price control based on work-home commute corridors and distance of property from major/ potential mass rapid transit system hubs. The further away one stays from these corridors it would be fair to assume that stress on urban infrastructure to cater to these residents would higher. Therefore, the closer one is to work-home commute corridors, the greater the value of the property. The further you live from these commute corridors, the higher the taxation. 
  3. Property control based on access to urban infrastructure like water, waste treatment, power etc. 
  4. Valuation of asset on property and not property itself..... therefore gain from merely sitting on land will be discouraged. 
  5. Tax sops to properties that do the following. The more independent they are, they more sops they get.:
    • Those who grow their own food, 
    • Those who provide for their own power
    • Those who provide for their own water
    • Those who manage their own waste
    • Those who build sustainably

Of course, this applies to all states and not just Cuba, but I felt that their history gave an advantage to institute such measures.
There could be more to this list.....My reason to explore such alternatives is to see if that would lead to a more sustainable urban model. One that does not see urbanity spiral into a monster that chews into the countryside, one that does not create riches merely due to a speculative land market and so on. Also, such a wishlist need not find translation onto the ground in one Haussmann-ish move, but could be baby steps towards this.
Those like Raul sit on the crossroads of history, and like Frost suggested, could enter its chapters by taking the road less travelled.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Building your own ‘Green’ Home

Gloss vs Green
In my last blog I berated ‘Individual Homeowners’ (and others) for attempting to build their ‘green’ homes on their own without sound professional advice. In this blog, in a more ameliorative frame of mind, I have attempted to offer a few strategies and suggestions that they should keep in mind; before the design phase, and during the construction phase, of a project.

A) Read all you want on the subject(s) but remember it is a vast ocean of things that you have to assimilate and without a holistic view on the subject you are likely to miss the forest for the trees.

B) When it comes to designing a home, whether ‘green’ or not, please get professional help. Design and architecture are complex disciplines that cannot be equated with mere drawing work! Please remember, your sense of aesthetic, however, appropriate or ravishing, is little basis to think that you are a designer. Design in architecture is a function of putting forth an appropriate built environment through an understanding of engineering and structural dynamics; a knowledge of building materials and systems; ease of replication of processes and systems; cost of labour, materials and time; scheduling and project management; knowledge of essential services and amenities like water, energy and waste management; principles of good design (and bad design); aspects of alignment and joinery; understanding of local and regional climate and surroundings; building codes and regulations, incorporation of and referring to larger social constructs, building a continuity in terms of building traditions and cultures, and finally, a sense of aesthetics with functional purposefulness. If any of you think you can trawl through this quagmire with a little imagination and a spot of reading, think again. Look around statistic says that only four percent (unverified source) of all buildings in India are designed by architects: no wonder that we have urban-scapes which are crumbling edifices of our own imagination!

C) Work with the architect to get the design that you are happy with. There is an established process of interaction which is designed to bring about what you want with professional guidance, and recommendations, from the architect. Spend as much time with the architect at this phase and think of all that you might want; usually, it is better to have a long term perspective on your home. Do give your architect a good ear on his/her concepts and design solutions, and understand the minute aspects of design decisions, material choice, building system alternatives, etc. This will prevent a lot of heartburn, and ill spent cash, during the construction phase.
We will put out another post on 'specific questions an individual homeowner should ask their architect' soon.

D) Define the professional engagement via a properly written contract/agreement. Many a time, small misunderstandings due to a expectation mismatch arises and threatens to topple your home design/building project. Clearly write it all out (the architect should have a standard format for this) and seal it in ink!

E) Understand the greenness of design and materials suggested. For a sustainably built project make sure you understand the broad aspects of what makes it green, in terms of design, in terms of material/s characteristics, in terms of structure, in terms of social responsiveness, and in terms of its environmental implications. Your architects would show you a palette of materials, how the materials fare over longer periods, how they look over larger surfaces, what maintenance they require and so on. Try and get them to show you places where some examples have been demonstrated. In the case that no examples are there to show, then understand why the architects are convinced and see if that convinces you.

You would also need to understand
the innovative technologies that are being deployed in your project: their costs, their operations, and their maintenance aspects. Good green design also addresses water security, energy management, and waste management - ensure that you understand the goals that are being set for the project.

F) Do not get down to controlling costs yourself. Assign your architects to exercise an overall control on costs but be pragmatic where choices need to be made. Attempting to reduce the architect's or other consultants' fees to save money on the project is not a great idea. Professionals who bargain on their fees are likely to trade on other principles, too. Rather, give the architects an interesting challenge; get them to reduce these costs from construction, without loss of design value. The life-cycle costs of the project also needs to be evaluated and sustainability architects should be able provide intensive calculations on various costs (based on usage) over different periods of time. Sometimes your upfront costs be be marginally higher but if a certain technology or design element saves you money over the long term, it probably is the right way to evaluate it.

G) Always hire a contractor to build your house in tandem with your architect. The architect will be able to refer a good contractor. Working piece-meal with petty contractors is fraught with grave dangers. Even if you take a sabbatical and have the time to supervise the building of your house, you are likely to lose all your hair, and gain a stress level that could prove to be lethal! Your architect may suggest some specialized vendors/contractors to work with in addition to a main contractor, but do so only under the architect's guidance.

H) Never try to supervise a contractor’s work by standing around on a daily basis. If the project is large enough, hire a professional project manager to care of all issues. In most cases, your architect should be able to guide the contractor appropriately during construction works. After all, they have a better handle on the design and can ensure that it can be satisfactorily executed during construction.You certainly have the right to interject if things are falling apart, but ideally, all your inputs should have stopped at the design period; and at best, it is the architect/project manager’s job to interact with the contractor.

I) Again for green buildings, think local as opposed to global; think ideal as opposed to large; and think low carbon footprint as opposed to an intensive one! Sustainable development involves using resources sensibly to ensure that the status-quo is not tilted against the next few generations. By this measure, use less, recycle more, reuse and cut down the distance that any material takes to reach your site. It is possible to achieve very elegant and contemporary design solutions by adhering to this.
As a further guide to your home building process you could check our blog 'Tenets of Sustainable living'.

J) Take pride in your ‘green’ project: there will be many people who will want to scare you about some aspects of sustainability, or poke fun at your becoming an environmental crusader; but rest assured that no revolution is possible without relegating cynics and nay-sayers to the dust-bowl of history.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Harbingers of Sustainability

A gem by Scott Adams
We have been dabbling a bit in sustainability for a few years now. We hope to help clients (three categories that are discussed here are: individual homeowners, corporate houses and developers) design and build structures that are meaningful, healthy, less wasteful on resources, and have a low carbon footprint. But alas! All three categories of potential customers have views on sustainability that are either uninformed, or myopic, at best. This makes for a difficult permeation of the sustainability trickle that is no doubt imperative to bring about a small revolution in the built environment (read Real Estate) in India. 

Though I speak in jest and list only typical situations, there are quite a few who are fairly knowledgeable, and they should be rightfully anointed as ‘harbingers of sustainability’ for bringing about the change desperately required in the building industry.

Individual Homeowners:
Perhaps the most receptive group amongst all three, they are nonetheless all at sea about the concept of sustainability. While one or two individuals delve into the subject of ‘green’ with an overarching thesaurus and a digital microscope in hand, most are in a state of ‘little-knowledge-is-not-so-dangerous-a-thing’. They see-saw between the subjects of design, building materials, water and energy independence, cost of construction, aesthetics, and built-up area without any holistic approach, and seem to want the best of all at the cheapest price. Many of them feel that gleaning the internet or reading a few articles will turn them into an architect, contractor, materials expert, energy expert, and sustainability guru, all rolled into one, overnight! While a few will trawl through trash to find waste that can be converted to a building material (for a wall or door), they are rarely willing to sully their hands in the mire of understanding required to build the right home for themselves while keeping the local and environmental aspects in the balance. And finally, while some of them do not mind forking out megabucks when buying from a ‘known’ developer, they seem to tighten their purse-strings to their detriment when they deal with an architect or contractor. The result is either a house-that-jack-built or severe delays in construction which eventually inflates the cost of construction anyway.

Corporate Houses:
This group’s story is a story of two protagonists. One is the CEO, or head honcho by whatever name, who inevitably has a vision about everything his organization does. The other comes with the non-flattering title of ‘Facilities Manager (FM)’. Even honchos who have disedified the Bangalore skyline with bizarre steel-and-glass monstrosities have a perspective on sustainability. They appear in unending articles on eco-sensitivity just because they are corporate captains of IT, pharmaceuticals, mining, media, fashion technology, or any industry for that matter. The fact is that some of these leaders are so devoid of sensitivity to the environment, and people as well, that they usually lump their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities under the awkward stewardship of the HR department! Now if have got your message somehow past the CEO you have to contend with the FM. Unfortunately, the FMs in many corporates are not a professional lot. The FMs I have met all have at least three of these four attributes:

a) They are complete yes-men to their CEO
b) They want an idea for free so that they can get it done from their contractor
c) They have usually failed at all other jobs in the corporate hierarchy
d) They are taking a cut from every vendor that enters the premises

Again, the outcome is institutional structures that are eyesores, as well as resource insensitive. Of course, there are exceptions, but who is to find them amongst the thick haystack of corporate greed and incompetence.

Easily the most despised lot, not only amongst the three listed here, but also amongst all business categories listed in India. Developers, the chieftains of the real estate industry, are a motley crew of desperadoes from all walks of life. They span a wide gamut from being front-men of politicians; criminals, even; to foreign returned technocrats, and from village rustics to architects who have abandoned their almost Hippocratic ideals to the lure of the lucre. One tawdry developer in Bangalore, after hearing a presentation, said, “You see, I am a businessman,” in a tone that refused to acknowledge that the others present in the room (architects, consultants, contractors, and suppliers) were also businessmen. For some reason, all developers feel that they are the only ones who should be raking in the moolah while their technical partners should be happy to fork out ideas and advice at a fractional cost! While expecting developers to forefront the cause of sustainability is not inappropriate; the developers themselves will only incorporate any aspect of sustainability so long as it is on paper only, or is decreed by law, or is a minor cost element, which if adopted, can be touted with blaring bugles in the next ad campaign.
The result, friends, is again, buildings that are shoddy and unhealthy, flout all sorts of building codes, and bring disrepute to many aspects of sustainability. And, as for tom-tomming the cause of sustainability, for now, let’s keep piping plaintive little notes and hope that the strains reach a crescendo sometime in our lifetime!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trapped in the commonplace

A drain being laid by the municipal authority in Bangalore.
Notice that the bottom level of the drain is the same as the road.
In my opinion this term seems to both define and limit us folks in the subcontinent.
When you look at developmental works being undertaken by govt agencies in your city what do you see? Beyond the obvious addition of flyovers, underpasses, pavements, roads, medians don't you see shoddy work? For that matter, most construction (including private ones) that dots the urban landscape is sub-standard. When you confront this it triggers the usual blame game insinuating everything from a poor workforce, substandard materials, poor compensation for work done and so on.
The government is a reflection of the people governed.... and by state of our public works our appreciation of what is 'good design' is poor at the best. Look at our development body and municipality driven initiatives, our parks are fenced off with a sad meshing painted green; public walls are rendered in the most atrocious paintings that are meant to reflect 'our culture'; pathways which cater to pedestrians are made like mini check dams, making them impossible to get onto by the elderly or the physically disabled. Or for that matter, what is considered permissible urban interventions by the authorities; billboards cluttered along roads, shrouding skylines; parks are made but with boards denying almost any kind of use apart from staring at the greens; traffic signage and lights placed awkwardly where one cant see them, or, altogether missing. One could go on..The important point to note though is there is minimal resistance by US the users of this infrastructure to all this.
A painting on a Bangalore city wall... as apart of a
cultural initiative by the city municipal body
Image source: 
Where does the problem lie? Of course it takes a lot to create such a deep infliction, but could it be more to do with US than THEM or THAT? What exactly do I mean by that? By now most of us are familiar with the famous 'chaltha hai', or 'will do' attitude of us Indians. We seem to accept almost anything that is dished out at us. Move beyond the built environment and we see the quiet acceptance of everything from the kind of governance, education, television content, cinema, medical care, quality of commercial products, and so on. Perhaps it is this 'live and let live' kind of 'dharma' that we follow which allows all kinds of mediocrity to thrive along with rare examples of brilliance. This has also lead to a social culture that seems to depict a breakdown of society... you see this in our civic sense; love thy neighbour has been hit out of the park. Rules are almost meant to be broken... traffic, pedestrian, building violations, encroachments.... this is what we have become.
But there is change. We miss it because of the din of the commonplace, it engulfs us. There is a change in some sectors like telecommunication, computers, automobiles, apparel, footwear, etc, and that is in turn resulting in lightning speed changes in other industries like advertising, sales and marketing.
To see if this is a sign of better times to come, let us examine it.
What has driven this change? Predominantly the triggers have been external commercial forces tapping into a vast market pool, post the liberalisation efforts in the late 80s and 90s. This has had a domino effect in spawning a glut of entrepreneurial ventures across the nation. This includes the birth or growth of numerous design houses.
Hoardings mar the very facade that lends a character to the city
Has this change been good? From a sustainable perspective, I think not. Some direct impacts have been pollution and a gorging into our natural resources. While a plethora of opportunities seem to await our nation's youth, it has also created wider chasms between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. From a design perspective, while there have been some truly innovative indigenous examples, the bulk of design from all fields have been imitations (both good and poor) and are touted as a global/contemporary trends. More local design innovation is desperately needed. From a built environment perspective, our cities and towns are rapidly transforming themselves in this global mould encouraged by the political-commercial shouts of Shanghai-ing or Singapore-ing this place or that. Technologies have changed, but the same does not reflect in how we execute work. Take for example the laying of underground cables along city roads; 'trenchless' machines have now been in use for over a decade, but the mess created, the closing up, etc have not changed.  'Pre-cast' kerbs and medians are now more in use, but the design and eventual laying is still harsh and pedestrian unfriendly. Power systems have changed and billing privatised, but power lines are drawn in much the same haphazard manner.
Will such change lead to an eventual rising above this rut? In my opinion, there has been a greater myopia with this change.  Consumerism has lead to a hoarding mentality with no sensitivity for sustainability. Real estate is an investment because of land value and not because of the quality of product, therefore people buy anything that is sold as long as the location is fine! For sure, consumer awareness will lead to an improved product quality, but driven more by sales rather than by consumer pressure. To add to our woes, better quality products are priced higher, which means that there will always be a market for shoddy lower priced products. In the real estate industry though, one can carry on regardless with shoddy products as long as the promoter has the right land, the proverbial golden goose!
What then is our ticket out of this mediocrity? There is no quick fix solution and the process of change is bound to be challenging and long. But a strong will to see a marked improvement and proudly set a renewed subcontinent standard is necessary. If I absolutely should take a shot at some possible ways out, then my bet would be to set a vision/road-map of where we want to be as a first step, where every individual would see themselves as an integral part of nation building. Today, such a all-encompassing vision does not exist.... only in such a context can smaller vision statements/action plans for industry, growth, technology, education, and so on can thrive. The next step would be to try and change attitudes of a nation starting with the setting in place effective mediums of education (to address the development of civic responsibilities to skill sets). We need to be able to set benchmarks for ourselves and have an opinion of good acceptable work, driving a change in our outlook. Only then can we begin to hold ourselves and others accountable.  Finally, instilling a keen sense of purpose in organisations, supported by a zero tolerance for poor standards at all levels. The more we allow mediocrity to flourish, the lesser are our chances that we will ever redeem ourselves. A high expectation from designers, products, governments, etc..... this should traverse all spectra.  I am aware that all or any of this is a tough ask and may span generations to achieve this, but try we should... all of us. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

From used packaging wood to a picnic table

The informal court gets a face lift
A couple of months ago we were asked to design a working picnic table of sorts for Fisheye, this leading brand & creative solutions company, who incidentally has graciously lent us space to work out of (and as a consequence with whom we share an office space with).
The office space is set in a pre 70s bungalow from the older version of Cooke Town and as a result, offers a number of interesting spaces around the building to use. The folks at Fisheye have left their mark on the insides of this building as only they could and wanted to create their outdoor meeting/lunch/evening party space as an extension of themselves. Therefore, they came up with a casual model to base their seating requirement on.... a picnic table. Dave, the seed of all these projects at Fisheye, handed us a couple of downloaded images of picnic tables from the Internet as reference.

One thickness and modular sizing creating a range of parts
Herein lay a challenge- a typical picnic table is a two-sided table with benches attached to either side. The Fisheye requirement was to seat a minimum of 8 and if possible more at this table. A conventional picnic table that could seat that many would have meant something that was longer than 9 feet!. Further, a conventional picnic table was held together by a cross truss at the edges, and this prevented anyone to slide into their seats. Nearly all had to climb over the benches to park themselves down.
While Fisheye were fine with that, we wanted to work for people beyond their team (and us) to include visitors, some of whom may find the process ungraceful. Any redesign though could not topple the qualitative experience of a picnic table.

Krishna the carpenter inspecting the packaging wood
Without a doubt, the material choice had to have a sustainability angle. Our choices were to do it in some sort of reclaimed timber, so we focussed on used packaging wood. So in keeping with what have stated in earlier post on packaging wood, we went to the dealers of this often neglected resource. Design could not begin, and in retrospect the table could not have turned out the way it has, if we had not done such surveys.

Normally, one gets much smaller cut sections of this wood... mostly 5 odd feet lengths and about 4 to 5 inch widths. We had desired sections of at least 6 inches in width for two reasons... one to reduce the number of build-ups, joints and nail usage, and two to keep with the feel of an outdoor, sturdy picnic bench (not a delicate indoor cousin). There are a few places across Bangalore where one can source packaging timber, but only a few stock larger sizes.... usually used to carry heavy machinery for companies like Volvo, etc.
The process involved careful selection of the timber, hauling the wood to a nearby mill to cut it down to desired sizes, and then transporting this across town to our office space.

Assembly architecture
We also wanted to keep a relatively simple structural assembly and perhaps as powerful a system as the traditional picnic table.We used a uniform thickness for all components to keep cutting simple, and used just four basic sizes- one for the bench legs, one for the table legs, one for the table top & bench seats and one for the cross beams that held it all together. Only the table top and the bench planks had some nailing done to hold the individual plans together and the rest of the table was put together used nuts and bolts. So essentially, the table was an assembly of various parts making the table and bench tops, the legs and the cross beams. All of which could be removed and put back where needed. Because of the uniform thicknesses of all components we ended up limiting this to just two lengths of bolts.

Most packaging woods bear the scars of their past... holes where bolts were driven through, recesses that seated metal washers, air cracks and perhaps even some gouged out portions. We decided to keep most of this and as a result it has lent immense character to this picnic table. This also offers various opportunities for creative use by the folks at Fisheye.

The Table top with gaps for expansion and drainage
Not opting for a toxic surface coat, we finished the entire table and benches with a liberal rubbing of linseed oil... This takes the place of the natural oil inherent in the wood.

Packaging wood is mostly pine and comes in a range of shades, from a pale pinkish brown to a deep reddish brown. The deeper the shade red, the greater the natural wood oil content. The oil gives the wood fibre strength and makes it water resistant to a great extent. Of course, one would need to repeat the process of linseed oil application every year or so.
The process of application is laborious and one should take care not to miss any surfaces, and also gauge the absorption of oil by the wood leading to the use of appropriate quantities. The linseed oil was applied with a pinch of an ochre colour mixed in which made the grain stand out beautifully.

The remainder wood after completion of the table
In the process of design many other ideas for the directions that this table/bench could have taken sprung up.... maybe more on that will appear soon on the horizon as sub projects.
What we were most excited about at the end of this exercise was the minimal amount of wastage in the entire process. While very little waste was generated at the sawing mill due to the size of timber reapers and sections chosen, we kept the waste during the carpentry works to the barest minimum. Even these small pieces will find use somewhere soon I reckon.
While it took us about a week to complete this entire exercise from sourcing to finish, it takes only 10 minutes to dismantle the table and about 15 minutes to put it back. The table ensemble is in now in full use and seats about 12 people with great comfort. Feels like a mission that has been more than accomplished.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adding thought to action

"Stock Market Fear and Greed," by Paul Zanetti.
In the realm of investments and savings there are many choices we make today. For most of us middle class folks it is all about saving for the future (insurance), owning a home and hearth, buying the car that is slightly beyond our budget, making sure that our children get a proper education, a healthcare budget, and keeping something aside for the rainy day. In earlier times this kind of a savings plan may have been touted as prudence personified, and banks and other institutions goaded us into believing that good things come to people who reinvest all what they earn with them or through them.
The fact is all these investment methodologies are based on two things only! Fear and Greed! We go through life thinking that we have to have all these things at the minimum to provide well for the family and ourselves. In a world that has become an individual free-for-all with avarice predetermining all our endeavours, our understanding of who we are and what our purpose is has become murkier than ever before. The gulf between ‘battle-for-survival’ for many and ‘battle-for surviving-well’ for the rest of us has widened to such a magnitude that it has robbed us of our feelings like empathy, respect, consideration for others, and the like. We have abjectly surrendered to the machinations of the business world which thrive on exploiting our two biggest weaknesses; to reiterate, fear and greed. We are perpetually running around trying to earn more and more throughout our lifespan in the hope that money is the only palliative we will need against all ills and illnesses (catering to fear). We all agree that we need all or some of these things in some measure but can we not stop when we reach a certain point in our quests in achieving each of these things (denying greed).
In today’s world this kind of consumption orientation is having disastrous consequences for ourselves as well as the planet we live. In a bid to consume more – buy a bigger house, car, or insurance policy – we cast an inverted eye on the ramifications of our actions. Do we need a ‘bigger or better anything’ should be at least thought through. Buying a bigger home could be problematic when you are old; a car as an investment is a losing proposition all the time (high on fuel, maintenance, taxes, and insurance costs, and is a rapidly depreciating asset to boot!); eating out or eating more too often will beget ill health; hoarding multiple properties only gives you sleepless nights (high taxes, tenant issues, maintenance costs, interest on borrowed capital, etc. etc.); saving for your children’s higher education means that you expect them to be invalids who can’t fend for themselves after a certain age!
We know a lot of people are trying to change this but we call such people activists, saints, sadhus, tree-huggers, pretenders, and so on, and sweep them far away from the dustbowl of our guilt. Anybody trying to do something good about almost anything is seen with a cynical and ignorant eye. Waking up to where the world is headed (socially, politically, environmentally, and commercially) is not something to be shunned with a cursory shrug. All these aspects have a great bearing on who we are and where we are heading and should be part of the decision making process for our every action. So the next time you make an investment think through a few things apart from appreciation of the investment (property), ROI (any investment), and diesel vs. petrol (car). Our simple (or simplistic) calculations are not enough for us to understand the ramifications of our actions; the world suffers a lot when we get it wrong, and it is within the realms of our responsibility to at least evaluate all options in greater perspective.