Thursday, July 25, 2024

Building Industry Embraces Green Agenda to Combat Climate Change

From manufacturers to materials technology providers and developers, the entire construction industry is seeking to lower carbon emissions. Accounting for almost 40 percent of carbon emissions globally, this corporate awareness of green practices is probably not a minute too soon

In the recent past, I have heard from different companies in the building sector announcing their contribution to the green movement. From the Indian Green Buildings Council (IGBC) with a 10.26 billion square feet green building footprint in India to tiles, cement and steel companies as well as developers and buildings information management systems providers, all have been announcing frontier breakthroughs. These range from reusing waste and scrap to reducing discharge and adopting faster and cleaner technologies to reduce emissions.

This took me back to a paper I had read in 2021, in which McKinsey & Co pointed out that the construction sector ecosystem seemed to be evolving into a decarbonised model. This included design, materials manufacturing, construction, usage and demolition of all residential and commercial buildings and infrastructure. Of the 100 executives that McKinsey interviewed globally in 2021, 53 percent identified sustainability as the trend that would accelerate post-COVID. This was largely because of corporate awareness and understanding as well as pressure from financiers and investors. McKinsey holds that the construction sector is directly or indirectly responsible for almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally. Clearly, there is a call for this industry to become sustainable.

Putting two and two together I figured that the rising awareness and the urgency to decarbonise the construction industry was now a reality in India in a post-COVID world. Which is why the buzz about green practices was getting louder. Also important is that finance now chases green material.

Steel By-product Input For Cement

Cement and steel are the two pillars of this industry. Together they can cross-drive green solutions. For instance, by-products like slag from the steel industry have been used as input materials in the cement industry. One industry’s waste leads to reduced emissions in another. The JSW group, for instance, converts industrial waste into cement and other building materials. Its cement was accorded the lowest risk score of 17 within the construction material sector among more than 140 companies by the global rating company Sustainalytics ESG ratings.

Traditionally Indian construction has used cement and concrete with in-situ construction which has been associated with dust and groundwater extraction. Steel, being recyclable, is now seen as a greener alternative. So even during the winter ban on construction because of pollution, there is no National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on steel tube construction. Replacement of wooden frames of doors etc can save up to 250,000 trees per year. In fact, Anubhav Gupta of APL Apollo Tubes estimates a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions from steel construction. Today army housing, many of the 1,500 redeveloping railway stations and large water tanks are shifting to steel. With tight project deadlines, a faster pace also means an internal rate of return of projects that goes up by up to two per cent. Even in the manufacturing process, there is zero liquid waste discharge and minimum wastage of raw materials.

Increased Recycling in The Tiles Industry

Tiles is another industry which has embraced sustainability. Consider the instance of Orient Bell Tiles. Its Chief Operating Officer Anil Agarwal believes that the reduction of carbon footprint and minimising environmental impact are cornerstones for the industry. Towards this, the company has been sourcing about 90 percent of its raw materials from local vendors to reduce logistics emissions. It has acquired ISO 15001: 2018 to commit to reducing energy use annually and adopted cleaner forms such as solar, natural gas and biomass. Saw dustwas used as fuel in the spray dryer. Waste heat from the kiln was used in spray dryers. Manufacturing plants switched to zero waste discharge with 100 percent of waste and water being reused. Manufacturing waste, including broken and unsold tiles, is recycled into tiles. The company has committed to recharging more groundwater than is being extracted and has recently opened its third recharge pond in Secunderabad.  In the pursuit of green, even the type of tiles manufactured has changed. Cool tiles reduce the heat island effect and reduce the dependence of buildings on air conditioning and thus reducing cooling costs. And this green focus is being constantly enhanced.

Supporting this green march of materials, the building industry has been moving towards sustainable and energy-efficient designs. Aparna Constructions of Hyderabad, for instance, focuses on choosing envelope materials that reduce energy consumption by about 25 percent. Heat transfer into the building is drastically reduced by the choice of glass as well as the terrace’s insulation with a low U-value material by a great margin. There is a 28 percent reduction in energy usage because of energy-efficient lighting practices and fixtures. Furthermore, approximately 25 percent of recycled materials are used for construction.

Corporate awareness of green movements has helped push the materials industry towards sustainability. But even greater is the thrust of global finance to go green. As ratings improve, so does the ability to raise capital at better terms. And at the final stage, all this adds up to India’s global commitment to achieving SDG targets by 2030.

E Jayashree Kurup is a writer/researcher in Construction and Director, Real Estate & Cities, Wordmeister Editorial Services. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.


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