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How green buildings can serve as prototypes for sustainable living in cities
This article takes a look at how GE’s John F Welch Technology Centre has built a green building ecosystem in Bangalore
The concept of sustainable buildings has caught on significantly in the Indian market. Green buildings generate less waste, help in water and energy savings and significantly improve the over-all quality of environment for its occupants. With over three different rating systems to adjudge how sustainable or not a building is, the concept is quickly catching on. Increased demand among customers and government incentives in terms of increased FAR for green buildings has also resulted in a rising number of developers investing in eco-friendly projects. This not only bodes well for prospective real-estate buyers who are sensitive about their environmental footprints but also makes economic sense in that it significantly helps in long term cost and energy savings.
Green buildings are not just beneficial for the occupants of the buildings themselves but also serve as epicenters of good water and waste management practices with positive repercussions for the city as a whole. According to a recent study about the water woes of Bangalore, half of the city will have to be evacuated in the next ten years because of acute water shortage and contamination. Not just this but the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) has been struggling with the phenomenal amount of waste generated every day with the city fast drowning under the weight of its own refuse. As has been said and felt repeatedly, waste management of this magnitude needs to start from the source, that is, by individual complexes and neighborhoods themselves.
The John F Welch Centre in Bangalore is GE ITC's largest integrated, multidisciplinary research and development center – and a zero discharge facility. The facility utilizes an on-site waste water treatment plant for domestic and industrial effluent, using Submerged Aerobic Fixed Film (SAFF) and an Ultra Filtration (UF) technology. An average of 250 KL of fresh water is saved by the site per day due to this treatment. The quality of treated water is monitored with the help of an online monitoring system and an in-house laboratory. An additional 2500 KL per annum of rain water is harvested through a rooftop collection system. The treated or the collected water is then sent to the campus cooling system, utilized in toilet flushing and used in its 17 acres of garden area.
The Centre has made significant strides in trying to address the problem of severe water shortage in the city. By eliminating the use of a softening plant through implementation of a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system, there has been a reduction of 1800 KL per annum fresh water use by eliminating regeneration of resins. The reject water from the RO system is then recycled for flush requirements saving fresh water use by 9000 KL per annum. All these efforts have resulted in reduction in per capita water consumption by 35% from 2006.
Speaking about the roadmap for sustainability efforts of GE ITC India, Paresh Thakkar, Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Leader at the Center, says “Our focus is employee involvement in all our sustainability activities; this ensures that our programs are sustainable and successful in the long term. All new projects/equipment procurement /facility modifications are screened through the stringent EHS (Environment, Health & Safety) standard including green building guidelines wherever applicable right at the conceptual stage”.
GE ITC says that their philosophy revolves around a vision of long-term environmental sustainability. Sustainable practices in this framework span the spectrum of elimination of waste water discharge, sustainable landscape design, energy optimization, green building practices, etc. The latest building in the GE Centre, Odyssey building, is a green building with Gold rating awarded by IGBC under the international LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating system. The building is built with an aim to maximize natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting.
The 50-acre campus has close to 17 acres (33% of plot area) under landscape and afforestation. To source the manure required for the plants and vegetables grown inside the campus, there is an in-house organic composting plant. They also utilize solar water heaters to cater to all water heating requirement. The air-conditioning and ventilation systems run on variable frequency drive for optimized energy consumption and the firm has installed a system for maintaining the indoor air quality.
In order to work towards reducing the carbon footprint of its members outside of the facility, GE strongly encourages video conferencing, carpooling and working from home options. In a city like Bangalore, where traffic is a huge menace, GE tries to encourage carpooling through reserved parking and incentive mechanisms. The parking area is equipped with free charging points for electrical cars as well.
The metros of India are now reeling under the pressure of a population boom, continued migration from the interiors and increased consumption patterns of its aspirational citizens. Municipalities and civic authorities can only do so much to address all of its gigantic and myriad problems. It is of utmost importance that efforts are made at a local level to try and emulate as much of a closed loop system as possible. The John F Welch Center is a good example of how institutional complexes can provide thought leadership and action on practices and values which are sustainable and profitable at the same time.
The author, Anindita Chakraborty, is part of the Sustainability Outlook team.