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Sustainable Infrastructure: An Opportunity in India

Khair Ull Nissa Sheikh(Executive Director at World Trade Center) - February 12, 2023 - - 0 |
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Sustainable Infrastructure

Globally, as the threat from climate hazards rise, there is widespread acknowledgment in India, of the need for sustainable revival focussed on adapting to and mitigating climate change. Several global cities have altered their urban planning and design approaches to incorporate nature-driven solutions as a counter to conventional infrastructure practices by harnessing blue elements (for instance, seas, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and water utilities) alongside the green (such as trees, parks, gardens, playgrounds, and forests). For India, which aims to grow into a US$10 trillion economy by 2030, climate-proofing the economy and building resilient development sectors is a priority. Sustainable infrastructure is an opportunity to help Indian cities respond to climate hazards, promote equity and resilience, and catalyze economic transitions for sustainable urban futures.

Sustainable infrastructure refers to the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure systems in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable Infrastructure minimizes the environmental impact of buildings and development projects, while also maximizing their economic and social benefits. This includes a wide range of infrastructure systems such as the use of transportation systems and other forms of alternate transportation, water and waste management systems for water conservation, energy-efficient systems and materials incorporating renewable energy sources, green buildings, and other structures. Sustainable infrastructure is designed to be resource-efficient, resilient, and adaptable to changing circumstances, such as population growth, climate change, and technological advances. It also aims to minimize negative environmental impacts and promote social and economic benefits for communities. It also includes the preservation of natural and cultural resources, as well as the promotion of social equity and inclusive communities. Cities are a key contributor to climate change. By 2050, about 68 percent of the global population is expected to reside in urban agglomerations. According to the 2021 Census of India, urban agglomerations in India are home to 3 billion people or about 35% of the total population.

The largest urban agglomerations in India are home to some of the most populous cities in the world. The Delhi National Capital Region, for example, has a population of over 46 million, while the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has a population of over 25 million. Other large urban agglomerations in India include the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, the Bengaluru Urban Agglomeration, and the Hyderabad Urban Agglomeration. These urban agglomerations are major centers of economic activity and are home to a large and growing population.

One in every two Indians is expected to live in cities by 2050. Thereby, existing urban infrastructure will need to be reinforced and made resilient to the anticipated population growth and withstand future shocks and calamities expected as outcomes of climate change.

Since 1947, several Indian cities have seen a decline in green and blue features due to rapid urbanization, with studies on land-use transitions indicating environmental losses. Bengaluru, for instance, has seen a 925-percent increase in a built-up area between 1973 and 2013, with green features decreasing from 68 percent to 14 percent, and blue features from 3 percent to less than 1 percent. Similarly, from 1977 to 2017, Mumbai witnessed a 60-percent loss in vegetation and a 65- a percent decrease in water bodies. A technical land-use land cover assessment for Greater Mumbai released in 2020 further indicates up to a 2.5 percent loss in vegetation and a 1.4 percent loss in waterbodies over the 1999-2019 period. And Ahmedabad is projected to see an approximate 50- percent loss in vegetation between 2010 and 2030.

Sustainable Infrastructure is the need of the hour, for India. It can help

Improve Quality of life: Sustainable buildings and cities are designed to be more livable, efficient, and resilient, which can improve the overall quality of life for citizens. For example, smart transportation systems can reduce congestion and pollution, and smart energy systems can improve the reliability of power and water supply.

Enhance Services delivery such as healthcare, education, and transportation.

Enhance Safety: through the use of surveillance systems and emergency response systems. This can help to reduce the risk of crime and accidents and make cities safer places to live.

Enable Greater Convenience For example, smart parking systems can help people find parking spaces more easily, and smart waste management systems can make it easier to dispose of trash.

Foster Greater Participation by citizens in the decision-making process. For example, use social media and other online platforms to gather feedback from citizens and to involve them in the planning process. This can help to make cities more responsive to the needs and concerns of their citizens.

In India, Sustainable RE and Infrastructure & Infrastructure would necessitate a Policy and Investment response. Also need to address the three linked aspects of Sustainable Development: Economic, Social and Environmental:

Economic: Create economic opportunities and improve the well-being of people, while also ensuring that economic growth is inclusive and does not come at the expense of the environment. This involves promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, and fair labor practices, as well as investing in education, skilling, health care, creches etc.

Economic: Create economic opportunities and improve the well-being of people, while also ensuring that economic growth is inclusive and does not come at the expense of the environment. This involves promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, and fair labor practices, as well as investing in education, skilling, health care, creches etc.

Environmental: Protect and preserve the natural environment, and ensure that natural resources are used in a way that is sustainable and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This involves implementing policies and practices that reduce pollution and waste, protect biodiversity, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Government of India is also promoting sustainable real estate development through various initiatives and policies. Developers who can meet these standards can take advantage of various incentives and benefits offered by the government.

Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC): The ECBC is a national policy that sets standards for energy-efficient buildings in India. It applies to all new commercial buildings and to existing buildings undergoing major renovations. The ECBC aims to reduce energy consumption in buildings by promoting the use of energy-efficient technologies and practices. It includes a component for the assessment of water-efficient technologies and practices in buildings, such as the use of low-flow plumbing fixtures and greywater recycling systems.

Building Energy Rating System (BERS): The BERS is a system for rating the energy performance of buildings in India. It is based on the ECBC and provides a score for buildings based on their energy efficiency. The BERS is intended to help building owners and developers identify opportunities for energy savings and to provide a benchmark for comparing the energy performance of different buildings.

Green Building Certification: Green building certification is a way to recognize buildings that are designed and built in an environmentally responsible manner. In India, there are several green building certification programs, including the Indian Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system and the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) rating system. It has criteria for water efficiency in buildings as well.

Smart Cities Mission: A government initiative to develop 100 smart cities in India. A smart city is defined as one that uses technology and data analytics to improve the quality of life of its citizens, reduce waste and pollution, and enhance sustainability. Real estate developers who can contribute to the development of smart cities can take advantage of various incentives and benefits offered by the government such as Access to Funds, Tax breaks, assistance in land acquisitions, efficient transportation systems and reliable power and water supply.

Start up India Mission: This has created opportunities for Innovation. Innovative solutions can differentiate from the competition and create new opportunities for growth.

National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy (NUHHP): The NUHHP is a national policy that provides a framework for the development of sustainable housing in India. It aims to promote the construction of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes, as well as to provide affordable housing for all. Developers who can offer such homes can take advantage of various incentives and benefits offered under the NUHHP.

National Water Policy: The National Water Policy is a national policy that aims to ensure the availability of water for all purposes and to promote the sustainable use of water resources in India. It encourages the use of water-efficient technologies and practices in the built environment, including the integration of rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and other water conservation measures into buildings.

Sustainable RE and Infrastructure is an important considerations for developers, Investors, and other stakeholders in the industry. It requires Multistakeholder, Multilevel Participation. By adopting sustainable practices, RE and Infrastructure projects can minimize their environmental impact, reduce operating costs, and appeal to tenants and buyers who are seeking environmentally and socially responsible properties. Sustainable Cities have the potential to avert and mitigate climate emergencies, contribute towards environment enhancement and sustainable urban renewal, and lead to economic growth. Sustainability can also help to mitigate risks and capitalize on market demand for green buildings.

The emergence of Sustainable RE & Infrastructure will lead to job creation and stimulate economic and societal progress. Sectors like, renewable energy, transportation, and manufacturing have blue and green elements with the potential to scale up. Given the high costs of creating or retrofitting blue-green infrastructure, cities will need to raise funds through bonds, finance pooling, and creating new tax streams. This could be done through the creation of a Sustainability/Blue Green fund.

India is facing significant environmental challenges, such as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, and waste management. Increasing demand for green buildings in India, as more and more people are becoming aware of the environmental and health benefits of living in such buildings. Sustainable real estate can offer investors a combination of financial, social, and environmental benefits.

Financial benefits: Sustainable real estate & Infrastructure Projects can be more cost-effective to operate and maintain, which can lead to lower expenses and higher profitability over the long term. Sustainability can help reduce the cost of doing business in the long term. For example, buildings that are designed to be energy-efficient will have lower energy bills, which can result in cost savings for the developer as well as the occupants. Similarly, a company that implements water conservation measures will save money on water bills.

Companies that can cater to this market can grow significantly.

Risk management: Sustainable real estate & Infrastructure Projects may be less vulnerable to environmental and regulatory risks, such as climate change and stricter energy efficiency standards.

Social responsibility: Investing in Sustainable real estate & Infrastructure Projects can align with an investor’s personal values and commitment to social responsibility.

Sustainable real estate & Infrastructure Projects can also bring social and economic benefits to cities, such as job creation, improved access to services, and increased property values.
Enhanced public health: Sustainable infrastructure, such as green spaces and improved public transportation systems, can contribute to improved public health by providing clean air and promoting active transportation.
While the pandemic has hit global and domestic financing capabilities for projects related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sustainable infrastructure has the potential to fulfill multiple targets outlined in the SDGs, such as those related to water (SDG 6 and SDG 14), land (SDG 15) and climate change (SDG 13). Sustainable infrastructure can also accelerate progress on green employment prospects (SDG 1), and food security (SDG 2), offsetting medical infrastructure load (SDG 3), and improving air and habitation quality in cities (SDG 11). It will also have implications for SDGs related to economic wellbeing, with returns on investment and startups increasing employment prospects (SDG 8), assured resilience (SDG 9), and social inclusion through greater and more equitable access to natural spaces (SDG 10).
Market demand: There may be increasing demand for Sustainable real estate & Infrastructure Projects from tenants and buyers, which can lead to higher occupancy rates and resale values. Companies that can offer sustainable real estate solutions, systems, and materials such as energy-efficient buildings, can tap into this growing market and generate profits.

Sustainable RE and Infrastructure can also improve a company’s reputation and brand image. Consumers are increasingly becoming more conscious about the impact of their purchases on the environment and society, and they are more likely to choose brands that are seen as socially and environmentally responsible.

India’s large and growing population with increasing awareness about the need for Sustainable RE and Infrastructure projects can help reduce environmental impacts and create a demand for sustainable products and services. Sustainable RE and Infrastructure is a win-win proposition beneficial to all. By investing in sustainable infrastructure, governments, businesses, and communities can create a more sustainable and liveable future for all.

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