Among other things, green buildings require architects and service consultants to look at a set of detailed parameters in areas of energy, while designing any structure. The good thing about the green rating systems that have been created and guided by institutions like the CII Indian Green Business Council or the GRIHA rating system in India is that they offer very clear step-by-step procedural thinking for enabling professional consultants as well as builders to achieve efficiencies in the use of energy for any building.

The benefits accruing from the use of green technology in the building industry can make a big difference in the cost of energy that a building entails every month. Beyond the rating systems for green buildings, city administrators and urban planners have to look at a simple set of measures which can be implemented by legislation.

The following easy to implement and affordable measures have the potential of making a difference and do not need any complex technical support for securing compliance.

(a) Installing aerators and flow restrictors in every faucet and shower of every building, old or new, in the city. A household comprising of four people can save as much as a staggering 30,000 litres a year of fresh water by this simple expedient of installing such aerators at the faucets. These can be installed for existing fixtures of old buildings as well as, of course, new ones at a cost of no more than INR 3000 for an entire house and family of four with two washrooms.

They are easy to fit for old or new faucets, cost little, and cause no discomfort or inconvenience for the user when s/he turns the tap on.  A city of 100,000 households will save as much 10 million litres a day using this simple measure alone. The solution for water deficiency is not water generation but water efficiency.

(b) A ban on the use of halogens, metal halide bulbs and such high-energy consuming lighting appliances. This will bring sharp saving of as much as 50 per cent in the demand for energy, particularly from the commercial sector.

(c) The installation of CFL bulbs in every home of an average size of 1000 square feet can mean a saving of as much as 70 per cent on the lighting part of the bill alone. This means that for every 2000 houses of the average household size, one million units of energy will be saved every year by the city. This is small by Industry standards, but nevertheless it adds up. Every unit saved is equivalent to ten times the energy needed of its generation, thanks to the losses in transmission and distribution in any electrical distribution system.

With the cost of energy generation being over US$1 million per megawatt for hydel power generation systems (it is USD 2.5 million for nuclear), any country will benefit hugely from such a drive to save energy.

(d) A city can benefit from the ban of electric geysers and the installation of solar collector panel based water heating systems. For a typical household, the cost is no more than INR 30,000. At the current energy tariff, the payback or amortization of the investment can be secured in less than five years. This brings a saving of as much as a quarter million units every day for an estimated 100,000 households.

At the individual household level the saving per month can be as much as 30 per cent of the energy bill because of the non-use of geysers and the installation of solar heating systems. This saving differential is narrowing down with the introduction of smarter geysers that have dropped the demand for electricity.

(e) The government will also do well to ensure that every apartment block is mandated to install a tertiary sewage treatment plant in a manner that the treated water is ‘upcycled’ for use in the flush tanks of every home. This will ensure that the demand for fresh water from such apartment blocks reduces by as much as 40 per cent. This will also enable residents to garner greater water security over a longer term with the treatment system ensuring that residents ‘grow their own water in a loop’ and supplement fresh water only for the residual requirement.

(f) Any city will surely benefit from legislation that will mandate every household and office to have a rainwater harvesting system installed both retrospectively for existing homes and prospectively for new buildings that are to come up. For every 100 square metre of a building roof, the annual harvest of water that is possible is as much as 300,000 litres for a city receiving annual rainfall of over 2000 mm such as Mumbai.  By combining rainwater harvesting, water-saving aerators for taps and showers, and the tertiary treatment plants for offices and apartment blocks, the fresh water demand will go down by a staggering 65 to 70 per cent.

(g) Another interesting legislation that forward-looking cities should consider taking up in earnest is rooftop harvesting of fruits and vegetables in households and in office blocks. As recently as the beginning of January 2011, Toronto has legislated the mandated harvesting of such crops on every rooftop, of commercial or residential spaces, which are over 2,000 square meters or 20,000 square feet. Such directions are needed for our cities to combat a future that threatens with serious shortage of natural resources.

The crunch on the transportation energy front over the next 20 years will also compel many cities to adopt such practices. Countries like Sri Lanka which are entirely dependent on the outside world for import of oil or gas or coal might have to suffer if they don’t act in time. Way back in 1990, Havana was forced into making such a decision to mandate harvesting within cities on rooftops as well as in parks and open spaces in order to beat the challenge of the severe oil crisis that descended upon Cuba after Perestroika and Glasnost cut off their lifeline on Soviet oil tankers.

Philadelphia has introduced just at the start of January 2011 an ambitious program for creating ‘green infrastructure’ that will sensitise the creation of such amenities for the city to take on the challenges of the future.

There is a lesson to be learnt from these trends of the future that are already before us.

Cities are already beginning to suffer the pangs of water shortages, climate change and scarcity of open spaces. This can be mitigated swiftly if the government brings in these enactments and ensures compliance. It is easy to berate the government for what it doesn’t do; a little bit of soul-searching from all of us—as citizens, producers and consumers—can make all the difference.

[This article first appeared in Responsible Business India and has been republished here with permission)