The World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5, is meant to remind us that we live on a planet with finite resources, and that each of us must respect these limitations. In 2022, World Environment Day carries the theme ‘Only One Earth’, and asks us to focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature. It is a sobering message, which gains all the more relevance at a time when we are confronted with more evidence of global warming.
Already, Mumbai is witnessing the ocean levels rising by almost 2 mm per year. NASA has confirmed that over the next century, melting glaciers will raise the city’s sea levels by around 16 cm. It has been estimated that the Indian subcontinent may lose over 13,000 square kilometers of land if the ocean level rises by just one metre. Mumbai was reclaimed from the ocean and global warming will eventually cause it to return to the ocean.
This is only one part of the unfolding tragedy. Pune, which once boasted of extremely clement weather, is also falling victim to climate change. We are just ending one of the most brutal summers any of us can remember. Rainfall has become irregular and unreliable. Everywhere on the planet, the climate crisis has brought on over-the-top weather patterns, sometimes so violent that tens of thousands lose their homes and must either relocate or perish. The economic losses run into multiple trillions of any currency we care to imagine. And yet, there is so little change in response to the challenge before us.
No doubt, the real estate industry bears a big share of responsibility – development of projects erases green cover as well as other natural resources. Most developers are aware of the effect that development has on the environment, but because there is demand, supply follows. It is an economic imperative, though there is a greater imperative which must be considered – a finite environment is being depleted.
What can we do as individuals?
One thing everyone can do is invest in green housing instead of going for the lowest price tag. As already mentioned, demand for housing follows economic imperatives. In Indian cities, most people look for the least expensive homes, and this itself brings negative consequences to the environment.
Cheaper housing has many negative attributes which harm the environment. Mass housing projects are usually built on smaller plots where every square inch is used up development. In short, green cover is usually nonexistent and not even expected, since buyers only want as much carpet area as they can get for the lowest possible price.
Secondly, developers of mass housing will usually not follow sustainable construction materials and development practices because these increase the overall construction cost. This increased cost must be put on their customers, who may not buy homes in the project if the prices are higher. In direct contrast, a developer building an environmentally sustainable township will not cut corners on these costs.
An environmentally sustainable township project needs meticulous planning to ensure not only maximum comfort to residents but also minimum environmental impact. And the careful planning goes beyond just the construction stage. Sustainable real estate is created in such a way that even its use after project completion has the lowest environmental footprint possible.
Solar electricity is used extensively, as is rainwater harvesting. More importantly, a sustainable township will maintain as much green cover as possible, retaining native trees and shrubbery to safeguard the existing natural patterns and resources of the land. From an environmental perspective, green cover is not just ‘eye candy’ for residents to enjoy. It also allows maximum air movement and air quality replenishment.
This reduces the incidence of environmentally harmful heat islands, and more natural air flow, natural shade and natural sunlight also decrease the need to run electric appliances to cool down and illuminate the project’s housing units. Water is recycled for multiple uses, and the township developer will make sure that traffic movement within the project remains fluid, without bottlenecks which cause more pollutants to be exuded into the atmosphere.
Do green homes make a difference?
Undoubtedly, environmentally sustainable housing projects cost a bit more than non-sustainable ones. Do consider – homes in sustainable townships are also cheaper to operate, and the price difference is usually made up within a couple of years. But the main reason for choosing green housing should be to make a positive contribution towards preserving the environment.
If a home will be bought anyway, why not choose a home in a certified green project? It does make a difference to the environment. Certification agencies like GRIHA do not approve such certification unless the project has passed several strict environmental compliance parameters.
So yes, you can make a difference on World Environment Day 2022. Currently, more Indians are buying homes than ever before. There is a good chance that you are on the market for your dream home, too. Choosing a green home is not just a token gesture – it is a permanent and substantial contribution towards the environment.
Akash Pharande is Managing Director, Pharande Spaces