- February 22, 2018
- Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
Circa year 2000 – green building concept was alien not only to the masses, but to many seasoned architects and designers as well – including Ashish Rakheja, who by then had already gathered eight years of experience in building engineering and design consulting. Today, the IITian of Thermal Management is spearheading the green building movement in the country as chairman of technical committee of IGBC (Indian Green Building Council). The latter is a wing of the US Green Building Council, which formulated the internationally accepted LEED (The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.
“It was 2001, when noted architect Karan Grover handpicked me for a 20,000sft project of CII in Hyderabad; I told myself how can I be involved in such a small project whereas my profile had expanded to designing large spaces,” recalled Rakheja, who is now the MD of AECOM India Pvt Ltd, an arm of the US-based building engineering consultancy firm AECOM that has “37 LEED Platinum buildings” under its belt.
However, Rakheja soon realised that the project was aimed at acquiring the highest rating of Platinum in LEED, something which had never been attempted in the country, and was poised to become the first such structure outside the US and third in the world. “I found it challenging and yet exciting. Nobody had heard the term LEED; people asked us what rating system are we talking of. But we did it! And it’s now the IGBC headquarters. This is how the green building movement in the country started before my eyes, and I became a part of it.”
The moment we stepped into Rakheja’s Noida residence for the ‘Leadership’ interview, the first thing that caught our eyes was his living room – illuminated by nothing but the natural light. “Like our office, my house has 100% daylight and we do not require artificial lights up until dusk,” he quipped. The certified LEED India trainer shared his thoughts on issues that circumnavigate environmental sustainability, and of course the business case attached to it. Edited excerpts:
Q. How strategic is day lighting for commissioning green buildings?
Day lighting plays a vital role in green buildings. Why India is called Sone Ki Chidiya(The Golden Bird)? That’s precisely because we are blessed with about 300 sunny days, besides natural resources, fertile land, flora and fauna, rivers, and material wealth that once existed in our country. We need to harness natural light; as such daylight becomes a strategic tool for achieving green building status. Our buildings should be so designed that the occupants do not feel the need to illuminate spaces with artificial lights, until sunset. This can be effectively executed by installing controls and dimmers, and orchestrated by automation technology. For dusk, energy-efficient LED lighting should be installed.
Q. How can the day lighting concept be transformed into a mass movement in India?
The concept of daylight harvesting has been an integral part of India’s architecture over centuries by embracing techniques such as courtyards, jharokas, jallis and ventilated roofs, which are visible in most of our ancient buildings. But, what has happened in the last 15 years is Singaporisation of Indian architecture, simply to erect beautiful and modern structures. This led us to aping architecture of Singapore and other western countries, where buildings are glass facades designed to capture maximum sunlight, to suit their mild climatic conditions. Such designs become flawed when applied in our country, which experiences intense heat of 40 degree-plus temperatures.
As a sunny country, we have not been able to tap sunlight, contrary to sun-starved Scandinavian countries that have turned this adversity of theirs into advantage. They have imbibed the day lighting concept into their architecture. This has gone a long way in the management of their carbon emission and achieving considerable economic growth in the recent past. To reignite day lighting and turn it into a mass movement, our political and corporate leadership should intensify their focus on sustainable development. Their social, economic and financial initiatives should be on the fulcrum of green thinking. When such actions happen, day lighting is destined to come to the fore and reclaim its space in architecture and designing of smart cities, upcoming infrastructure, housing, hospitality and healthcare. Building performance rating organizations such as IGBC have laid emphasis on the incorporation of day lighting techniques and passive solar strategies, and with the green building movement assuming relevance, more and more buildings will employ day lighting. And, yes we need a hero! Why not rope in a celebrity to spark a conversation among the masses? This would increase acceptability of day lighting and other green concepts in the nation.
Q. How is effective day lighting achieved?
Effective day lighting is achieved through the strategic placement of skylights and windows, as well as lighting controls that monitor available daylight and respond as needed to decrease or increase electric lighting. This can be executed by employing technologies and products, such as daylight sensing switches and automatic blinds systems, apart from the customary controls and dimmers. As the demand for such products shoots up, a niche market begins to shape that makes favourable ground conditions for setting up new businesses, and the foray of specialist players into the country. I expect that day lighting will emerge as an industry in itself.
Q. Traditional business ops are being altered and new strategies developed with sustainability at their heart. How do sustainability officers impact businesses? And what role should the chief sustainability officer (CSO) is accorded in organisational hierarchy?
Sustainability officers are coming into the picture of late. These guys are specialists and enthusiasts of sustainability, who are bringing awareness among employees and initiating walk- the-talks with various stakeholders for adoption of environment-friendly practices. This ranges from building design to the landscaping choices, the use of energy, water, storm water and wastewater reuse, application of energy-efficient electrical and lighting products in their organisations, etc. These officers are guiding their managements in shaping vision and outlining policies that adhere to principles and practice of sustainability, which are rapidly influencing and driving business decisions. The CSOs are the brains behind cradle-to-cradle business models. Their green thoughts are impacting sustainable R&D, product, manufacturing process, supply chain, office, factory and other operations. They are the green ambassadors of their companies. Going forward, I think they will be occupying top positions in managements.
Q. What will be the next wave in green buildings?
It will be Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB). In this genre, technologies are being directed to achieve net zero energy consumption and net zero carbon emissions per year in the evolving green building landscape. Buildings that produce a surplus of energy in a year can be termed ‘energy-plus buildings’, while structures that consume more energy than they produce are called ‘near-zero energy buildings’. Zero energy buildings achieve a key green-building goal of completely or significantly reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for the life of the building. NZEB has touched our shores. The example I would like to cite is a project of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, for construction of its new office building at Aliganj, Jor Bagh Road in New Delhi. This LEED Platinum-rated building produces more power than it consumes, which became possible by installing 1MW solar power generation on its rooftop. Among other energy conservation measures, energy-efficient T-5, LED fixtures and chilled beam system have been deployed.
This interview was originally published in September-October 2014 print edition of ‘Sourcing Electricals & Lighting’ magazine under the Leadership section.
Effective June 2015, Ashish Rakheja is managing partner at AEON Integrated Building Design Consultants LLP.