Interview

“Green Building Continues to Remain a Global Priority”

Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan, Managing Director – Southeast Asia & Middle East, GBCI India

Sustainability is a key focus globally. Can you tell us how GBCI is playing a key role in this effort?
The Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) administers LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), performing third-party technical reviews and verification of LEED-registered projects. Founded in 2008 to drive implementation of the LEED green building program, GBCI has proved instrumental in ensuring LEED remains the world’s most widely used green building program. Under GBCI’s stewardship, there are now over 104,000 registered and certified LEED commercial projects, nearly 2 million registered and certified residential units, and more than 205,000 professionals transforming buildings and implementing LEED around the world. Through our LEED program, we help  buildings and cities  that houses people become more energy & water efficient, and environmentally friendly through waste management. This in turn helps these buildings reduce their Greenhouse gas emissions making them more sustainable and healthier to occupy.  Today, close to 23 billion sq.ft. of space works with LEED across the world.

As a veteran in the industry, can you share your thoughts on global trends in efforts by businesses to align with sustainability goals?
Our parent company, U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) recently announced the results of the 2021 World Green Building Trends report, of which it is a contributing partner. The new report demonstrates that despite the challenges of the last two years, commitments to increase green building efforts continues to remain strong. The report shows that green building continues to remain a global priority, driven by extreme events and despite rising concerns like the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a high level of growth expected in the next three years among those who anticipate doing more than 60% of their projects green, and a corresponding reduction in those who plan on engaging in fewer than 15% green projects. These findings show that green building continues to remain a global priority, likely driven by increasing extreme weather events and despite other rising concerns like the global pandemic.

Additionally, industry professionals surveyed cite both social and financial reasons for increasing their green building efforts with top reasons including lowering operating costs, lowering carbon emissions, reducing energy and water consumption, market demand, building healthier buildings, living up to internal corporate commitments and that it’s the “right thing to do.”

“In India, Ctrl S data centers, ITC Hotels, Infosys, DLF, K.Raheja Corp, Embassy Group, Delhi Metro, GMR group, TRIL, Aditya Birla Group, RIL, Saint Gobain India, Unilever, Macrotech Developers (Lodha Group), CapitaLand, IKEA, SRK Diamonds, Pathways School, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, MGM Healthcare, Manipal Hospitals, Amity University, RP-SG Group and many more are already actively pursuing green buildings.”

Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan, Managing Director – Southeast Asia & Middle East, GBCI India

Where do you see India in the global scheme of things?
India ranks amongst the top three countries for LEED outside of the U.S. This is a testament to its focus on sustainable development and achieving its Paris agreement targets. Going forward, India’s continued momentum in adopting LEED across sectors and Industry segments will play a large role in ensuring the overall wellbeing of its citizens and communities in the coming years. The pandemic has highlighted those green buildings are not a solution for tomorrow, they are a solution for now. It has also strengthened the belief that healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy. We are confident that India will continue to make great strides in its commitment towards securing the overall wellbeing of its citizens as it seeks to recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic by adopting green buildings across the value chain.

Indian Government has rolled out the vision to make India the Global Hub for Data centers? Could you share your thoughts on carbon footprint and sustainability perspective as India may witness a large number of datacenters emerging over the next 3 to 5 years?
As businesses realize the dynamism of their data and what it can achieve, they are moving on from their existing resources to well-equipped Data Centers to aid better data management. In a short span of time, India has become a destination of choice when it comes to setting up of data centers. However, this industry is responsible for approximately 3 percent of global power consumption and 2 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions which is the same carbon footprint that is generated by the aviation industry. While India adds more data centers, we will have to be mindful of our sustainability targets as a nation without losing out on business opportunities.

Do you see large buildings, hotels, and data centers in India aligning with sustainability goals?
Climate change is not a local problem, it is a global crisis. Each and every business, government, and individual have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change. To this effect most organizations and governments are setting science-based targets for themselves. While doing this, one cannot leave out any kind of buildings whether large or small, residential or commercial, office or warehouses, hotels or hospitals, SEZs or data centers; as they host people and are the primary consumers of electricity, water, and other natural resources. Making all our existing as well as future buildings green will go a long way in ensuring we live sustainable and healthy lives while also ensuring we meet our emission reduction goals. In India, Ctrl S data centers, ITC Hotels, Infosys, DLF, K.Raheja Corp, Embassy Group, Delhi Metro, GMR group, TRIL, Aditya Birla Group, RIL, Saint Gobain India, Unilever, Macrotech Developers (Lodha Group), CapitaLand, IKEA, SRK Diamonds, Pathways School, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, MGM Healthcare, Manipal Hospitals, Amity University, RP-SG Group and many more are already actively pursuing green buildings.

According to you, have you noticed any player who has made good progress in the sustainability space?
CtrlS Data Centers is a great example of how data centers can reduce their carbon footprint and achieve the highest levels of sustainability. CtrlS is the most advanced and sustainable data center (DC) in India. Sustainability is embedded in the DNA of CtrlS, as the company is focused on best practices in energy management, good indoor air quality management, high performance across rainwater management, heat island reduction, water conservation and efficiency management, atmosphere and light pollution management, grid harmonization, waste management, purchase optimization, green cleaning, and other innovations. All CtrlS Rated-4 Hyperscale datacenters are certified as LEED v4 O+M Platinum by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), setting a benchmark for the datacenter industry both in India and around the world.

Let’s focus on the enablers of Indian economy – the datacenters. Can you tell us, how data centers may work towards reducing their carbon footprint?
Data Centers can become green by reducing their carbon emissions and increasing their overall energy efficiency. This is because Data Centers rely very heavily on electricity for data storage equipment from a usage and maintenance point of view. They also have to maintain an ambient temperature for the servers to avoid overheating. In our latest version, LEED v4.1, we not only raised the energy reference standard to ASHRAE 90.1 2016, but also added a carbon metric for the first time to the rating systems for new and existing buildings to directly measure the building’s climate impact as dictated by building energy efficiency, onsite generation and storage and the associated grid. Changes to the renewable energy credit further rewards projects that make choices that lower greenhouse gas emissions.

What are some of the immediate step’s data centers should take to go green?
As a first step, Indian DCs can implement best practices at the design stage for ensuring energy conservation in their buildings. Right from room cooling, to chiller plant operation and maintenance, to installing energy efficient electrical systems, and adopting efficient IT hardware and management systems, data centers can move towards becoming green. In addition, metering and monitoring of all energy sub-systems in data centers is highly recommended as this enables the data center operators to track and improve performance. Real-time tracking of key metrics such as PUE and cooling kW/kWr alerts the operator to critical issues that bear on energy performance. Additionally, by subscribing to LEED V4.1 standards which uses realtime data, many data centers can avail of expert guidance, support, and implementation of green strategies to ensure that their premises are truly world class and sustainable. All these initiatives will help Indian Data Centres to move towards LEED Zero, the leading Net Zero program in the World.

Is it possible for data centers to pursue the dual objectives of sustainability and cost reduction at the same time?
Currently, most companies are pursuing sustainable goals internally as well as externally, where they expect that their partners also show commitment to the environment. Data centers host and manage data on behalf of multiple organizations, therefore they must be compliant to client requirements as well. However, the good news is that true sustainability drives optimization of resources by ensuring efficiency in processes and systems. For example, LEED‐certified Data Centers are the triple bottom line in action; benefiting people, planet and profit. LEED certified Data Centers consume less energy, less water, fewer natural resources and are ultimately aimed to reduce the overall impact of development on the local, regional and global environment. By implementing LEED strategies, these high intensity projects become efficient, cost‐effective and sustainable projects that have a significant positive impact on the triple bottom line. In developing the LEED rating systems, certain prerequisites and credits were adapted to reflect the specific needs of the data centers. For example:

  • Fundamental and Enhanced Commissioning and Verification
  • Minimum and Optimize Energy Performance
  • Building Level Energy Metering and Advanced Energy Metering
  • Minimum IAQ Performance
  • Enhanced IAQ Strategies
  • Thermal Comfort

How do Indian data centers fare in comparison to their global counterparts when it comes to adopting LEED and other green initiatives?
While Indian DCs are working to optimise the energy efficiency of their facilities by improving their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), Global DCs are a step ahead as they are increasing their investments in renewables (onsite & offsite) to reduce overall carbon emissions from their DCs. This is also helping global DCs to leap towards their net zero carbon & energy goals. One such LEED certified DC – Telia Helsinki Data Center, Finland is wheeling hydro power to their site, to achieve carbon-neutrality.

Additionally, increasing water scarcity for data center cooling is driving few projects in India to adopt air-cooled chillers (low efficiency) instead of water cooled chillers (high efficiency). In such scenarios of water scarcity, investment in renewables can help DCs to compensate the additional carbon emissions.

What’s your vision for GBCI?
We spend most of our time in buildings. Whether it is at home or work, at the train or bus station, at the airport or port, at the mall or even at a local mom and pop store, we are always in or surrounded by buildings. With buildings so central to our lives, they have a profound impact on our overall health and wellbeing. The LEED green building program provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings in India and around the world. India has maintained a steady status as number four market in the world for LEED, representing the ever-growing domestic demand for LEED certification in India as a tool to both reduce emissions and support health and well-being.

Our vision at GBCI India is to ensure that both new and existing buildings in India commit to reducing their carbon footprint by adopting sustainable and green practices – because resilient buildings make a resilient world. More importantly GBCI can support India’s commitment at the Glasgow summit by not only Greening the buildings and cities, but also take the built environment to Net Zero goals through the LEED Zero program.

What are the challenges faced by large buildings and structures in India from an environmental perspective?
There is a compelling reason for large assets and portfolios to go Green. The good news is that the people at the helm of affairs like the Project / Design / Facility heads are aware and are keen to move ahead. They are aware that going green has a shorter payback period and in the medium to long run also adds to the triple bottom line. More importantly the intangible benefits of Green buildings positively impacting the health and wellbeing of the occupants is also a big draw. But for more of these assets to go green, the CXOs and the Boards needs to be equipped with deeper knowledge on the positive economics of LEED certified buildings.

What’s your message to the Indian Industry Leaders?
My message to Indian industry leaders is that healthy people in healthy places is the fastest way to build a healthy economy. And the global pandemic has only made our beliefs that much stronger and our mission that much more vital. We don’t have to choose between public health and a healthy economy. The future will require both to thrive. That is why going forward, we have to prioritize our efforts to build people’s trust that their spaces are healthy and have a positive impact not only on them, but the economy at large. While we embark on this mission, let us also ensure that Sustainability and Green is an inclusive topic and embraces all citizens across strata and cities or towns.

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