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Futuristic ‘Green’ Malls

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Sustainability is not just a goal, it is a necessity, but Indian mall developers are only just starting to think green where their counterparts across the world have already put their sustainable strategies in place. It is high time for Indian malls to start thinking green, but is it still a long road ahead for Indian malls to turn green? Let’s explore…

Sustainability is directly linked to resources and resourcefulness demanding an all-encompassing and holistic approach. In India, a sizeable portion of the unorganised players in the retail sector do not prioritise the environment sustainability factor though developers and retailers can reduce costs by 20–25 percent by adapting to feasible environment sustainability initiatives. The successful adoption of green building strategies can maximise both the economic and environmental performance of the buildings. The basic principles of sustainable development, such as building configuration, energy use, water conservation, air quality, maintenance, recycling and material specifications are the key parameters of turning any project into a green project.

Talking about the same, Dr Prodipta Sen, Executive Director, Alpha G:Corp, said: “AlphaOne in Ahmedabad and Amritsar have world class facility management services that have also been adapted on the macro scale at both destinations so that the sustainable integration of the development with the respective city and especially neighbouring areas adds real value to everyone’s life. The state-of-the-art infrastructure for both the spaces is based on an established town-planning model. We are keeping a track of ecological accounting by covering a wide range of ecological impacts, including reduction of sound levels.

Further talking on the same, he said: “AlphaOne is contributing to the wholesome betterment of the community through our monthly cleanliness and greening drive, ‘Let’s Make Amritsar Sparkling’, with the concerned local municipal authorities of Amritsar. Since 2011, AlphaOne, along with like-minded partners, has been diligently carrying out this monthly drive. The team also educates residents about the municipal facilities available to them to maintain clean and hygienic surroundings, e.g., not dumping garbage on road-sides, spitting, etc. Taking ‘Amritsar Sparkling’ to the next level, AlphaOne introduced ‘Be the Change Club’, an initiative towards youth development and wellness in Amritsar. This initiative has mobilised Amritsaris and the city authorities about a healthy and meaningful life without drug abuse.”

The need of being sustainable is more important and significant now than ever before. Sustainability should be a key priority while planning and developing a mall, as malls have become an integral part of our society and looked up as community centres. Indian mall developers need to be well educated on the benefits of being sustainable than just running behind the ‘Green’ tag. Sustainability not only helps from an environment perspective but also adds on to the social responsibility of the mall developer.

Dinaz Madhukar, Senior Vice President and Mall Head, DLF Promenade, said: “As responsible corporate citizens, we believe it is our duty to enrich and give back to the community. The icing on the cake is that certain green initiatives translate directly into the bottom line. In India, the sustainability drive can be restricted to a few big niche players, as most chains here are still suffering losses. They first need to gain maturity in business to be able to focus on other such initiatives. By implementing sustainable practices, retail businesses can become more efficient and save money in the process.”

Talking about the measures taken by Select Citywalk, Yogeshwar Sharma, COO of the mall, said: “One of the major initiatives that we have started is that we do not waste water at all; 100 percent water is recycled. We have ETP and STP plants, so whatever waste we generate, we convert it into manure, which is used in the horticulture department of the mall. Also, we do not sell our garbage. We have tied up with an agency, which takes it out. It is not practically possible to generate electricity from solar these days as the requirements are huge but to some extent, we use solar energy. We also have many plants in and around the building so that the heat load is less. We have a building, which is double glazed just to restrict the heat load in the building. All our glasses in and around the building are heat insulated. We use the free food in the mall just to generate manure. For creating awareness amongst the consumers about the long-term benefits of patronising green developments, malls can participate in eco-friendly events or programmes, like Earth Day. We show our concern and request people to participate in such events. If anyone approaches us for any eco-friendly initiative or promotion in the mall, we happily participate in it.”

Advantages of green sustainable buildings

There are many advantages to green sustainable architecture as it helps sustain the environment. Additionally, it proves beneficial to the mall developers as it helps in reducing day-to-day operating expenditure.

Discussing this issue further, Susil Dungarwal, Director – Marketing, Terracon Ecotech, opined: “It is a myth amongst mall developers that creating a mall with the vision of sustainability is an expensive affair, as the mall developer lacks the knowledge of creating such malls. In fact, if a mall is created with a strategy of sustainability, it will not only be environmentally sustainable but financially sustainable too. However, we should also accept the fact that there is a dearth of professionals, consultants, and architects, etc. who have considerable knowledge on creating malls with the sustainability approach.”

He further added: “Contrary to the myth of green malls being more expensive, if a scientific approach and planning is done at the nascent stage, developing malls can be more cost-effective and reduce long-term recurring cost, which will make the mall more profitable than an ordinary mall.”

According to Madhukar: “It is estimated that buildings account for nearly one-half of all greenhouse gas emissions and over s75 percent of all electricity produced by power plants. The construction industry can and should play a significant role in combating the symptoms related to climate change. In addition, sustainable design projects can create a market advantage for the design professional, as well as improve the productivity and livability of the buildings occupant. The whole purpose behind sustainable building is to preserve our environment and avoid depletion of the earth’s natural resources. High-performing green buildings provide the best value for the taxpayer and for the public through both life cycle cost benefits and positive effects on human health and performance. Proper planning can help to reduce the cost of green buildings. As costs for sustainable materials and products drop, building green is really the most cost-effective tool of design and construction. The biggest energy decision in a new building is the building shape and orientation. The building must be oriented to take advantage of day lighting, passive heating or cooling, and naturally ventilated spaces, to name a few.”

Many mall developers believe that green malls are not just good for the environment but are also cost-effective for their businesses.

Dr Sen, talking about AlphaOne Malls, said: “Mounting evidence suggests that greener buildings have the ability to command higher rents, asset values, improve the health and well-being of occupants, improve employee productivity, attract tenants, reduce tenant turnover, and cost less to operate and maintain. In the long run, adhering to environmental guidelines and incorporating conservation practices helps in bringing down operating costs for both developers and retailers. At AlphaOne, private environmental agencies are deployed for greening and maintenance of trees and parks, entailing 15 percent of the total area at both developments. Dedicated sewage treatment plants for each component of the development are operating at both, AlphaOne, Ahmedabad and Amritsar, and the sewage is treated in designated STPs before discharge. Intelligent and efficient use of water in the most precise and even manner possible, by minimising waste is adopted by using two separate waste water treatment plants for the city centres; the treated water is further used for gardening and greening purposes. The infrastructural facilities include ventilation systems for basements with 100 percent power backup and CO2 extraction. Air-conditioning systems are maintained at an ambient temperature. On the civil side, both, AlphaOne, Ahmedabad and Amritsar, have used energy-efficient building material, thermal coefficient practices, and energy-efficient light systems that result in less consumption of power (10–12 percent) in these developments.”

A green building looks just the same as a conventional building. It may cost more upfront, but can save money over the life of the building through lower operating costs. The cost savings are most likely to be fully realised when incorporated at the project’s conceptual design phase with the assistance of cognizant architects. In some cases, when buildings are carefully designed to be energy-efficient, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment can be downsized for significant savings. There are also many green products and materials that cost the same or even less than conventional ones. Well-designed, constructed, operated and maintained green buildings can have many benefits, including durability, reduced costs for energy, water, operations and maintenance; improved occupant health and productivity; and the potential for greater occupant satisfaction than conventional developments.

Factors leading to slow growth of green real estate in India

There are many reasons for the relatively slow growth of India’s green real estate sector. The policy-level incentives being offered by the government are not consistent across all states. While environmental clearance norms have gained traction over the years, mandatory clearances are not timely and neutrally accorded. From the developer’s point of view, there appear to be inadequate incentives for enabling green initiatives, and the available technologies are either too expensive or do not address the requirements of their developments.

Citing examples, Dr Sen elaborated: “Alpha G:Corp ensures functionality of indispensable systems that blend eco-friendly measures with pragmatism. Building systems and processes that help gain energy efficiency have been a hallmark of our developments. The DNA of the company has been to ensure that the horticulture adopted takes care of soil conservation and prevention of soil erosion, as part of the green process.”

According to Dungarwal, ignorance of the benefits of sustainability and its long-term repercussions and impact on the society and on the finance is a key reason why Indian mall developers do not invest on sustainable malls. What is also astonishing is malls owned by large Indian conglomerates have also failed in becoming a role model to the industry by creating sustainable malls.

“In India, organised retailing is largely an urban phenomenon. The pace of retailing in India is still slow. Diversion of funds to retailing in the initial period was not given prominence. The resources were diverted to the other sectors like banking, insurance, communication, transportation, etc. This has resulted in slow growth of green real estate in India. The scale of policy-level incentives continues to be a constraint for manufacturers of green technologies, products and equipment as also for developers and consumers of green buildings,” said Madhukar.

Making ‘green malls’ the new buzz word

Green buildings are gaining ground in the real estate market. Soon, there is every possibility for such buildings to become a norm. The concept of green buildings is not just a simple trend that is gaining momentum in real estate construction but it is also an approach and its importance would only continue to rise. Many mall developers are also making customers aware of the importance of sustainable architecture in order to create a differentiating factor and a USP for their malls.

According to Dr Sen: “There is an urgent need to create higher awareness about the long-term benefits of patronising green developments. Our team recognises its potential to influence the world in a manner that brings about a positive change. Our developments stand to provide a quality of life, which is complete and fulfilling in all respects. We go the extra mile to make sure that our operations have a minimal impact on the environment.”

Citing example from Alpha G:Corp, he said: “A concerted ‘Green Shoppers’ campaign was planned and organised in July 2010, at AlphaOne, Amritsar. From generally discouraging the use of plastic to meticulously recycling rainwater and promoting energy conservation, AlphaOne stands out as the first eco-friendly retail and entertainment centre in Punjab, having taken the green approach and embracing corporate responsibility since its inception. Thousands of enthusiastic shoppers participated in the campaign and the innovative participative opportunities for shoppers by way of awareness creation and competitions kept the audience actively involved during the progress of the campaign. We got a very good response to the campaign because of the rising awareness among people of their surroundings as well as the consequences of their actions and consumer footprints on the environment. Green practices can be incorporated to include everyday grocery shopping with attractive reusable shopping bags or in the purchase of more eco-friendly products like handbags, pleather, shower curtains, cleaning and household goods, paper products, apparel, health and beauty products.”

Talking on the pertinent issue, Dungarwal said: “As end users, consumers generally do not patronise malls owing to this reason. However, educating them on the benefits of patronising a sustainable mall may convert them as loyal visitors to the mall.”

Talking on the role of the government in recognising the green buildings as a mandatory rule for the mall developers, Sharma from Select Citywalk opined: “Certain things should be mandatory but where the technology is not available, there it has to be recommendatory. So, I think if it becomes a law then it becomes mandatory. Mandatory is the only way to make real estate developers make their buildings green and environment friendly, or else people will never adopt this concept. For the new buildings, it should be made mandatory. The rules should be such that it should be practical in day-to-day life. If technology is available at a very high cost, then developers will try to avoid it.”

Madhukar explained: “In response to market forces, many developers are changing the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated, although different industry participants are responding differently to sustainable development initiatives. While many office tenants have embraced these initiatives, retail tenants are generally less enthusiastic. Homebuyers like the concept of green features, but they are reluctant to pay a premium for the same. Nevertheless, local governments are increasingly mandating that developers build to certain sustainable standards or, at the very least, adopt sustainable practices.”

Talking on the role of the government in making green malls a uniform rule, Dungarwal stated: “Creating a mall with a sustainability objective should not be considered as a favour towards the society or a noble cause. As a responsible mall developer, every mall developer should invest in such malls, as eventually malls are an integral part of society and it is a moral responsibility of any mall developer to create sustainable malls. Instead of just looking at sops or tax benefits, if a mall developer looks at the financial benefits and giving back to society as a part of their approach in creating malls, they would save a lot of investment and make their projects more profitable.

He further explained: “If any real estate developer builds any project on the lines of sustainability, they prove to be a socially responsible citizen and can become a role model the industry. Sustainability should never be implemented with a short-term cost benefit approach; it has to be considered with long-term benefits both to the builder in particular and society in general.”

Resonating on the same, Dr Sen gave his opinion on the role of government in supporting developers for creating greener buildings. He said: “As developers, we would like the government to provide special interest benefits on loan by banks for green projects. More incentives and regulations will certainly push the acceptance of green buildings in India. The government has already undertaken significant steps to try and mitigate the situation by outlining new regulations and developing green business codes as well as incentives to promote renewable energy; practices such as energy efficiency are also actively promoted. Mall developers in India often view the cost of green, high-performance materials and better design methods as the biggest obstacle to building green. While design and construction costs are only 1 percent to 5 percent higher, financing practices often do not account for the considerable savings in building operations. Underwriting for loans and mortgages that recognise the considerable net present value of green improvements would go a long way towards making every building a green building. Providing financing and incentives are especially important now, as developers and contractors face the cost of learning new techniques and finding green materials.”

Way forward

The Indian mall industry lacks the pro-activeness that US retail real estate bodies have shown towards sustainable green buildings. To make the utopian thought of buildings a reality, the Indian retail real estate segment should have a consensus on the issue of making sustainable and eco-friendly buildings.

It is time for the Indian developers to assume the responsibility to adopt green building practices, technologies, materials, products and services. By actively engaging in building a green environment, the developers will help in creating noticeable green footprints across India. Real estate developers should take a pledge to adopt green building practices in their future constructions and help the nation in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Summing it up, Madhukar said: “In the US, the Office of Sustainability, in partnership with the Department of Code Enforcement, has developed an incentive for property owners and developers to renovate or construct buildings in a sustainable manner. The incentive, which qualifies building projects to receive up to 50 percent reduction on permit fees associated with the project, also rewards building owners and developers for integrating sustainable design techniques into building projects. The Indian retail real estate segment could take a cue from the same and work on similar lines.”

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