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Do we need to better define what a Green Building is and what a Green Building is not?

posted 17 Feb 2014, 02:31 by Yusuf Turab   [ updated 6 Mar 2014, 00:29 ]
The most common definition used to describe a green building here in India is "A green building is one which uses less water, optimises energy efficiency, conserves natural resources, generates less waste and provides healthier spaces for occupants, as compared to a conventional building." Source: IGBC

The issue here is with the term CONVENTIONAL BUILDING. The answer to what a conventional building is too subjective and it largely seems to depend on who you ask. The USGBC (US Green Building Council) has its own set of standards that it uses, the IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) has its own rules & so do the various other bodies around the world that certify buildings based on its environmental performance. 

The term GREEN seems too generic and is thrown around way too much. Technically, a building that is even 1% better in all parameters than a conventional building can be called GREEN. This is a little misleading.

What's worse is that many project teams seem to unintentionally misuse the terms GREEN BUILDING. Many project teams take a few environmentally responsible features in a project like renewable energy, rain water harvesting, energy efficient lighting (to name a few) and pass it off as a Green Building. This I think is wrong because Green Building is a holistic approach towards minimum environmental impact and not about just a few environmentally responsible features.

What a Green Building is and What a green building is not
Image source: sgbc.org

Below is my list of areas one should focus on when building green in the order of importance for Indian conditions:
  1. Water efficiency - capture, reduce, reuse
  2. Energy efficiency and Renewable energy (always energy efficiency first)
  3. Site sustainability
  4. Indoor Environment - health, comfort and well being
  5. Material sustainability - reduce, reuse, recycle
  6. Waste management - during construction & post occupancy
  7. Durability
  8. Measurement, verification and action
  9. Make it easy for occupants to be green
  10. Show off (Spread the word)
My contention is that only buildings that show improved performance (compared to conventional building standards) in all the above criteria can be termed as GREEN BUILDINGS. Everything else is NOT.

A net zero energy building with poor water management or problems with the indoor air quality cannot be termed as a GREEN BUILDING unless it meets all the other environmental performance parameters. Such a building should just be termed "Energy Efficient Building" or a "Net Zero Building" but not a GREEN BUILDING.

We need to have a serious discussion on how we can better inform the consumer as to what a green building is and more importantly what a green building is not. At the moment the terms GREEN BUILDING is being misused in many cases and there is a distinct possibility that people will lose faith in the whole concept if this continues. 

Most green building certification programs address the focus areas mentioned above but in reality a building can be GREEN with or without the certification. And therein lies the issue that allows misuse and sends the wrong signals to the consumers.

If there could be a formal agreement within the industry that a building cannot be termed GREEN unless its performance has been verified by the a trusted third party institution then this would largely clear the confusion among consumers. Further, the industry could also push for copyright of the terms GREEN BUILDING such that only projects certified by selected third party institutions can be called Green Buildings. All other projects are free to use other terms of choice.

Article By 
Yusuf Turab
IGBC AP, GRIHA Trainer, LEED GA & CAPM
Y T Enterprises
Coimbatore, India
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