The Energy and Resource Institute’s (TERI) Push for Sustainable Buildings

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is a homegrown think-tank aggressively pursuing solutions to global challenges and unsustainable patterns in energy and the environment. Their domestic GRIHA certification for green buildings is just one of a range of research and policy initiatives on almost every aspect of environmental sustainability.

Within this hive of activity, Mili Majumdar, Associate Director of Sustainable Building Science Group, discussed cutting edge projects establishing “firsts” for large scale adoption of green building practices in India. Mili champions the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) rating system that is developed by TERI and is a direct competitor of the LEED rating system in India. GRIHA is designed to be more suitable for specific Indian climatic and geographic conditions and building construction methodology. While LEED has higher acceptance within the commercial development community, GRIHA has been widely adopted by the public sector and all new central government buildings in India are now required to be GRIHA certified.

Majumdar’s active engagement with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and the Delhi government to facilitate the green retrofit of 100 existing government buildings in the city has given her revealing insights into implementation of retrofit projects. She confirmed our belief about the gap between thought leadership and implementation in green buildings, especially in retrofits of existing buildings. The challenges of financing the proposed retrofits ranked high in her mind among the issues even though the retrofits have succeeded in building consensus amongst key stakeholders. Among the roadblocks to implementation, Majumdar explained that the several banks approached for financing required collateral for energy efficiency retrofit loans, which public agencies cannot generally provide. In response, TERI is partnering with the National Housing Bank and KfW to devise a facility to provide technical training as well as bridge capital for green development projects. Other gaps identified by Majumdar included the availability of green materials and the need for green practices in commercial construction.

Majumdar’s thoughts on the ESCO (Energy Service Company) performance contracting model focused on the industry’s concern about the costs of retrofits, in this case the fee owed to the ESCO for their service. Although green retrofits have been known to save as much as 30% in energy consumption and cost, owner-developed projects are inherently more receptive to green elements because owners benefited directly from the operational savings and quality of life improvements for occupants.

In contrast, Majumdar noted that commercial developers were not convinced. The majority exit their projects as soon as they’re sold and, therefore, bear the upfront costs without enjoying the operational benefits. Increased demand and a premium for green buildings would be necessary to penetrate markets further, or there will have to be a discount on buildings and spaces not built green. This might come through a comprehensive government strategy, for instance.

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