When Hillary Clinton landed in New Delhi in 2009, she drove from the airport to ITC Green Center, a building in the satellite town of Gurgaon.
That building, which she called "a monument to the future", is the headquarters of the hotels division of Kolkata-based conglomerate ITC.
In 2005, ITC Green Center became the world's largest office building to be certified LEED Platinum, the highest green-building rating from USGBC (US Green Buildings Council).
The building reuses and recycles all water, and daylight lights up all offices inside, while insulated glass keeps out heat. All this has reduced energy consumption by half. It cost 10-12 percent more than a typical building, but the company says it's recovered the investment.
Green Center is in a busy area, and Mrs. Clinton's visit was memorable for those of us with offices there. As tends to happen in India, the broken roads of Sector 32 were done up so well, ahead of her visit, that they have survived through five monsoons without breaking or flooding.
Later that day, Mrs. Clinton checked in at a hotel that belongs to the same group. Built in 1977, the Maurya, known to be her husband's favorite hotel on his several India visits, is also rated LEED Platinum.
If it's unusual for a middle-aged hotel to go for an extreme green-building rating, it's more remarkable that every one of the ten luxury hotels in the ITC group now carries a LEED Platinum certificate.
ITC's was the first hotel chain in India to incorporate green as business strategy, part of its "triple bottom line"--people, planet and profit. Among its elements are an annual sustainability report, and even a sustainability app for smartphones.
It also claims to be the greenest hotel chain in the world. That's difficult to verify, but the top LEED rating for all luxury hotels shows up in each of them, in a distinct way.
I'm writing this in Bangalore's ITC Gardenia, Asia's first hotel to be certified LEED Platinum. I'm in the Lotus Pavilion—an open-air coffee shop. Even the hotel lobby--large, airy, with a four-story-high ‘green wall'--is open and not air-conditioned. Design and Bangalore's great weather helps.
Three miles away, the Windsor Hotel gets all of its energy from its own wind farms. A couple of hundred miles away in Chennai on India's eastern coast, the ITC Grand Chola is now the world's largest LEED Platinum hotel. Far away in Kolkata, the Sonar is the world's first luxury hotel to earn carbon credits under the carbon trading regime, according to ITC.
What's the actual impact of all this green investment? I was unable to get the numbers from ITC Hotels, which, like many large Indian corporates, guards its information carefully.
What's clear is ITC's Green Center, and its hotels, led the way for many other buildings.
GREEN BUILDING BOOM
As of May 1, India had 1,657 construction projects registered with USGBC, many of them already LEED-certified. Outside of the US, that puts India in the top 3 countries for USGBC, after Canada (4,068) and just ahead of China (1,638). China, however, has larger buildings, and is thus ahead of India when measured by registered and certified space.
Alongside LEED, there's also an Indian green-building rating system, called GRIHA (Sanskrit for ‘abode', and also an acronym for Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment). GRIHA is similar to LEED, but focuses more closely on local conditions, and on reuse. It awards its ratings from one to five stars, five star being equivalent to a LEED Platinum.
The system is administered by TERI (The Energy Research Institute), whose chief Dr. Rajendra K Pachaury is also, since 2002, chairperson of the IPCC. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with Al Gore.
There are some 500 buildings registered with GRIHA, and there's now a simpler and cheaper version, for homes.
One of the many buildings that ITC Hotels' headquarters inspired was my own home in South Delhi. ‘Green One' became India's first home to register with TERI for a green rating, as a pilot project for its new SVA GRIHA system for individual homes. It was awarded a five-star rating in 2014.
The ITC Hotels group has led the way in luxury hotels, but many smaller hotels and resorts have also adopted green techniques, though not all of them may be certified.
Take the Banasura Hill Resort, in Kerala's Wayanad district. This 31-room resort, on a 35-acre farm in a forest, is made from mud (‘rammed earth') and recycled wood, maximizing natural light. The rooms always stay cool, with no air-conditioning needed even in peak summer. A bio-gas plant recycles organic waste and powers the resort's kitchens.
There are dozens of such resorts and hotels elsewhere in India, built from sustainable local materials, produce their own energy, often from waste, and have many other green features. Here's a list of ten such resorts and hotels that are not necessarily rated LEED or GRIHA, but are delightfully green.
India is severely starved of energy, and a big chunk of its energy needs are met through imports. Its oil import bill was $144b in fiscal 2013, a big reason for its $88b current account deficit (exports minus imports) in the same year.
Green buildings, ten years old in India, have been too few and far between to make a difference. Now, they're just about reaching critical mass. It's interesting that a luxury hotels chain—a sector seen as over-the-top consumerist and wasteful—helped lead this change.
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