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.

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!

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