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Red beacon for green technology
Business Standard - 14 Aug 2009

The ITC Green Center that Hillary Clinton visited last month is an early adopter of sustainable construction.

If it were not for its bright red brick-work facade, passersby would find it difficult to spot the ITC Green Center among the soaring glass and concrete blocks that are burgeoning around it. Yet it was this building that Hillary Clinton chose to visit during her crowded India tour as US Secretary of State on July 19 as a symbol of the judicious use of green technology — an issue that is animating the global debate on climate change.

Now four years old, the ITC’s red Green Building, almost a veteran in Gurgaon, the noveau riche satellite city to Delhi, has been also a low-key trend-setter in green technology. When it was completed in 2005, it was the largest building of its kind with a Platinum rating from the US Green Building Council (GBC) covering 1,70,000 square feet. GBC is an NGO dedicated to sustainable building design and construction, and follows what is known as the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) rating system, platinum being the highest of the three ratings that include gold and silver.

Today, the building has been overtaken in size bya “green building” in Kolkata and another that IT major Wipro has built in Gurgaon (both are about 5,000 square feet bigger than the ITC Green Center). Yet much of what ITC implemented then is increasingly becoming an integral part of new construction among more enlightened corporations today.

When it started out, the building, which houses the offices ITC’s hotels division, was planned as a plain vanilla construction. Some urging from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in 2003, however, persuaded ITC to experiment with green technology. “We stopped work to introspect a bit. An analysis of what we had already done would get us a Gold rating, but the chairman said, let’s go for a platinum rating,” said Niranjan Khatri, general manager, WelcomEnviron Initiatives, proferring a visiting card that offers a simple eco-friendly way of saving trees: It is half the width of a conventional card.

The GBC rating systems requires five points of action: (1) energy saving; (2) water management; (3) use of green material; (4) educating others and (5) innovation.

On energy, Khatri said the building has achieved a 51 per cent saving by “design intent”. The “design intent” means that the lobby and outer rooms that attract so much natural light that they preclude the need for artificial lighting and the inner core requires much less lighting than a conventional design would have permitted. Khatri’s office, for instance, relies on natural light.

To reduce the load on air-conditioning, the rooftop was painted with something called a “high albedo paint” that deflects heat back into the atmosphere. Given that the roofs and side walls of a building account for 47 per cent of heat gain in a building, the heat-deflecting paint means that the central air-conditioning can run at a higher temperature than it does in most offices.

Equipment purchases were also directed towards energy-efficiency. For instance, the lighting comprises CFL lamps and T5 tube lights, which are thinner and more efficient than conventional products, and the air-conditioning system selected for installation has what Khatri called a “high coefficient of performance”. The latter was a more expensive option but a cost-benefit analysis
suggested that the costs would be recovered in five years. This was because the system used about 130,000 units of energy a year against 630,000 units of energy a year for a comparable conventional system. Solar heating powers the hot water in the kitchens and toilets.

Simple personnel policies have also contributed towards energy saving. Office timings, for instance, have been set at 8.15 a m to 5.15 p m — the maximum daylight hours that preclude the need to use artificial lights. Since 70 per cent of the Green Building staff comes from Delhi, these work hours don’t pose a huge problem. “Only the workaholics stay on,” Khatri joked.

Water saving followed a similar strategy of eco-friendly design and purchases, the focus being on zero discharge. “Not a drop goes into the ‘water bank balance’,” said Khatri proudly. All water is recycled through a sewage treatment plant in the basement. For the lawns outside, the plants have been chosen for not being water intensive.

Importantly, eco-friendliness remains a work-in-progress. For instance, the water was recently disconnected in the urinals in the men’s toilets, and replaced by a “bio block,” a device that basically looks like Odonil and is made out of microbes that absorbs liquid and odours. This tiny device is now being rolled out in all the staff locker room and will result in a saving of 300 litre of water a year. “Also, you don’t need to use A-category water for a C-category function,” Khatri pointed out. Once the bio-block is installed in the entire Welcomgroup chain, the annual water saving could rise to 15 million litres of water a year — a point worth considering in a drought year.

All wood used in the building has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a Bonn-based NGO that sets global standards to encourage sustainable forestry.

GBC’s education parameter has been met in several ways that form part of what ITC group likes to call its “conspicuous conservation” agenda. First, the company has installed a touch screen in the lobby that tells visitors waiting at reception all about the building. Its website also documents its green initiatives in detail.

When it was complete, the Green Center faced a 15 per cent cost overrun that Khatri said could be considered the “pioneer’s cost” because much of the equipment had to be imported since the market wasn’t really ready for such a concept at the time. Constructing a green building today, he reckons, would probably entail a cost premium of 4 per cent.

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