Inside the Indian Building Hillary Clinton Calls a Green Taj Mahal


Once the Largest LEED Platinum Rated Office Building
After landing in the Indian capital of New Delhi yesterday, Hillary Clinton skipped the Taj Mahal, the India Gate, and even the hotel to drive straight to what she called "a monument to the future": the city's greenest building. "The ITC green building may not be a regular stop on the tourist calendar, but it is a monument in its own right."
Neha Gupta

Located in the satellite city of Gurgaon, the ITC Green Center is said to reuse all the water that lands on it and recycles all the water it uses. Its insulated glass keeps out heat and lets in abundant natural light. Ten percent of its wood is certified, and its landscaping relies on local plant species. The building has reduced its energy and water consumption by 51 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

When it opened in 2005, it became the world's largest completed LEED platinum rated green office building.

"If all new buildings were designed in the same standards as the ITC Green Centre, we could eventually cut global energy use and green house pollution by more than 20 percent and save money at the same time," she said.

With lower utility bills, the company will break even on its investment (given an extra cost of 12 per cent over a typical building) within five years and then begin to see subsequent savings.

"The monument is a building to the future. The Green Centre not only represents the promise of a green economy but also demonstrates the partnership of India and the US in the 21st century," she added.

Gurgaon is also home to the LEED platinum rated headquarters for Wipro. The building has saved the company Rs 1 crore in power costs annually, or 55 per cent of its energy consumption. The extra cost of its construction—six to eight per cent over a normal building—is expected to be recovered in five years.


Green Building in India

The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) is targeting 1,000 LEED certified buildings by 2010, up from 140 last year. Currently, green buildings covering 67 million sq ft are being constructed all over the country, up from 20,000 sq ft in 2003.

If an average building covers around 200,000 square feet, estimates S. Srinivas, principal and LEED-accredited professional at the CII-Godrej Green Building Council, Hyderabad, green buildings would cover a footprint of 200 million sq ft and 1 billion sq ft by 2014.

Though green building practices might seem high-tech for much of India, simpler variations have been in use by necessity for centuries.

Architect Vidur Bhardwaj, of Design and Development, which designed the Wipro building, explains to Rediff:

"It was started in India approximately 1,000 years ago, and was a way of life," he says, explaining that the havelis of the yesteryears had thick walls, jharokas and jaali windows that cooled the air along with waterbodies in the central courtyard.

"Green architecture has been part of our civilisation that started getting lost in the 1920s. Like most other Indian concepts that have caught on in the West, to be later aped by India, green architecture too is seeing a similar trajectory," he adds.


A Green Tobacco Company?

As in China, the green building movement remains mostly relegated to large corporations, which have more capital to invest in sustainable practices and a significant interest in burnishing their reputations both at home and abroad.

In addition to the hospitality and IT industries, the ITC Group, the conglomerate behind the center, makes its money through tobacco.

As with SOM's "zero-energy" tower for the China National Tobacco Company, talking about health out of one side of your mouth and smoking with the other is hardly convincing.

Global Ties Make Indian Companies Greener

But the center illustrates the relevance of green building to companies with global connections, underscoring the importance, above all, of building better trade and technology ties between developed and developing countries.

ITC also seeks carbon-neutrality in its packaging and paper businesses, which rely on environmentally-friendly elemental-chlorine-free technology.

"When we talk to international customers such as Wal-Mart, they question us on sustainability, which has now become a qualifier," Pradeep Dhobale, chief executive of ITC's paperboard and specialty paper business, told Rediff.

"Today, going green is a business mandate. Every customer asks, how green are you?" says Rohan Parikh, head of sustainable development at Infosys. He is now incorporating LEED principles in his upcoming Jaipur campus.


Why Cooperation, Not Just a Carbon Mandate, is Crucial to Lowering Emissions

Hillary Clinton has a soft spot for green projects in developing countries. When the Secretary of State visited China in February, a trip to a trigeneration power plant outside Beijing was a big part of her itinerary.

Like China, India may not agree to binding cuts in carbon emissions at Copenhagen, as it made clear, likely to Hillary's chagrin, after the tour.

But in a country where millions are still struggling to rise out of poverty, even baby green steps like the ITC Green Center are crucial. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, has said as much. They serve as strong examples to other ambitious companies, and illustrate that with cooperation on climate change can happen even without a binding agreement.

If Western and Indian leaders read the signals rightly, manage trade ties with finesse, and refuse to antagonize each other on economic terms, symbols like these will only expand the dialogue on climate change, and likely lead the way to stronger agreements down the road.

As India's environment and forests minister, Jairam Ramesh, said after Clinton's tour, the Indian government was still committed to reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. "It is possible for us to narrow our positions," he said.

Photos courtesy U.S. Department of State
More at TreeHugger on Greening Developing Countries
Hillary Clinton Hearts Beijing's Super Efficient Trigeneration Power Plant
India Won't Commit To Binding Reductions, Which is Why We Must Make Deeper Cuts
Focus on Green Economic Development in Developing Countries, Not Just Emission Reductions: Chair of IPCC
Climate Change Puts a Damper on Hillary's India Visit

Tags: Copenhagen | Green Building | India