Building Materials: The Hidden Green Leveraging Arm

Extraction, processing, transportation (sourcing raw-to-factory and factory-to-consumer), building construction & demolishing generate material wastes in volumes. The building occupancy as well leads to large consumption and disposal of materials for its operation and maintenance.

Though manufacturing and transportation charges are inherent to the product pricing, the cost of environmental impact remains non-tangible. There is a serious need to look into aspects of material selection, waste disposal and waste reduction. Before Industrial Revolution the use of natural and local materials by default made the buildings or habitats eco-friendly in nature. In recent times, the burgeoning population and demand for luxury & comfort is putting unprecedented stress over natural resources, environmental health and human health. Building construction technology and methods have evolved and have become material and energy intensive by sheer size and pace of construction.

Also, as a usual practice the materials are evaluated in terms of their physical, mechanical and durability index apart from the cost factor. The potential health hazard associated with materials is often cannot be interpreted in tangible ways. Toxicity through materials is seldom understood and recognised. This is manifested either through inhalation, skin contact or sometimes due to ingestion. Once inside the body, the toxins can play havoc with the human health. They can be the unseen silent killers. The emission of nanoparticles from building materials, emission of concrete additives, VOC from paints, formaldehydes, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC), leaching of organotins, radon, NOx, asbestos, CFC, Heavy metals (Lead, Chromium, Antimony, Cadmium, Mercury) etc. can pose potential threat to human health. The range of pathologies related to exposure to such toxicity includes respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, autoimmune, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer etc. that can manifest due to prolonged exposure. Sometimes materials can even trigger the formation of mould and fungi, which leads to allergies on one hand and can lead to more energy demand on the other hand.

Toxicity due to materials in the built environment is no more a health professional subject matter only; the boundaries have widened to bring in architects, civil engineers and construction industry professionals to deal with them in an integrated fashion. Material science is a specialization gaining importance to also deal with problems like Sick Building Syndrome.

The overall carbon footprint, life cycle cost and toxicity levels are the new lenses through which materials are now rated as green building materials. The focus is now shifting towards environmental stewardship and the repercussions they can have due to the inbuilt toxicity and the cradle to grave journey. Green buildings in this regard play the stewardship role by facilitating the use of locally sourced materials, inclusion of green rated products, responsible reuse/recycling, waste management procedures, regular indoor air monitoring etc. This in turn ensures reduced carbon footprint, reduced environmental impact, ensuring the health of the occupants and maintaining the indoor air quality as few parameters upper capped at the design phase inbuilt in the rating mechanism (LEED – USGBC, CII-IGBC, GRIHA, BREEAM, BCA-Green Mark Scheme, BEAM, EDGE, GREEN STAR SA, ENERGY STAR etc.)

Few simple strategies that can be quickly adopted to circumvent the highlighted issues:

  • Reuse of existing buildings (e.g. convert old Heritage buildings into hotels Resorts, use existing school buildings in two or more)
  • Use locally available materials to reduce transportation cost and carbon footprint
  • Reuse / recycle materials & resources
  • Reduce waste
  • Follow passive architectural designs
  • Use eco-labelled product that meet Green Building Rating standards and are approved according to accepted environmental standards such as ISO-14000 (ECOLOGO, Green Seal, Green Guard, Forest Stewardship Council, GreenPro, BEE Star labelled). Some certifications such as ENERGY STAR® and FSC, certify certain attributes, others, such as GREEN SEAL CERTIFIED® and CRADLE-TO-CRADLE, verify a products overall impact.

Data Centres: Emerging Green Platforms

Data Centres (DC) are undergoing a shift from enterprise owned Data Centre to colocation and cloud based infrastructure driven by economic and business agility goals. The cost of building and managing privately owned data centre is sometimes justified for mission control, legacy applications but in most other scenarios the cost that entails outweighs such criticalities. Hence more and more businesses are opting for outsourced management at colocation facilities and are even opting to relinquish the hardware ownership completely, going even beyond and are adopting cloud based infrastructure services. This has led to mushrooming of mix of enterprise, colocation and edge data centres as a recent high business activity along with cloud services. With DC and cloud space seeing exponential growth, the vocabulary used for commonly used unit for Digital storage has changed from Petabytes PB  (1015) to Zettabytes ZB (1021).

Historically speaking, March 16, 2006 Amazon Web Services (AWS) released the Simple Storage Services (S3) that lit the fire under cloud computing. Credit card is all that was needed to provision storage  The customers like Netflix (in 2010), Suncorp Group (in 2013), Kempinski Hotels (in 2013), CIA (in 2013) going as “all-in” on AWS were game changing events. This helped established cloud space from “startups darling to enterprise juggernaut” as stated by Jason Deck VP Strategy Development at AWS partner Logicworks.

But business leaders are still jostling between choosing enterprise owned to edge to colocation to cloud platform in the scenarios where cost are still ambiguous and difficult to compare. CTOs and IT heads have to take decisions based on multiple factors like level of security sought (individual perceptions playing a major role), DC availability/reliability/resilience, availability of capital to invest, operational expertise etc.

The new models like the Edge Data Centres, which can be established in months, are easing establishment of Micro Data Centres with their modular design and availability in factory-ready-container-design formats. Containerized Edge data centres with flexible power and cooling designs, quick deployment and scalable capacity have become popular as Edge Deployment Centres acting as mirror data centres e.g. in telecom business near cell towers. There is a new hybrid model evolving which brings on colocation/edge centre as primary site with public cloud acting as a fall over secondary space, which also seamlessly provides burst space when needed.

Data centres on one hand are bringing sea change how businesses are done by bringing in benefits like reducing travel for trade and transactions, speeding up IT enabled services, speed of communication and are giving rise to digital revolution in sectors comprising of financial institution, telecom operations, manufacturing and services. On the other hand Data Centres are notoriously power hungry, capable of generating high heat and have high carbon footprint. It is estimated that DC account for 1.5 to 2% of all world’s electricity consumption. The rate grows by 12% annual and currently accounts for 2% of entire global emissions. In wake of this many businesses have taken a proactive approach by devoting lot of time and resources to tackle its contribution towards climate change. This incidentally makes parallel business sense as well. Energy saved and efficiency attained directly converts into business profits especially when energy and water are becoming scarce and expensive.

Google, Apple, Facebook have began harnessing renewal energy to power their Data Centre services. Microsoft’s Project Natick where cooling power can be obtained from seawater and wave energy is used for power generation; Google’s Hamina Centre using seawater as coolant, are some of the interesting radical solutions in action.

Another disruptive technology creating waves in the market is Bloom Mission Control by Bloom energy. Based on their proprietary solid oxide fuel cell technology, Bloom Energy Servers convert fuel into electricity through an electrochemical process without combustion at the highest efficiency of any power solution available in the world today Their architecture creates best of breed reliability, the system is modular and highly customizable power supply.

From the owner’s point of view the crucial aspect of data centre is the life cycle costing. A good data centre design is an extensive subject and is fundamental to ensure that the Data centre remains efficient and available over the course of its lifespan. It is crucial not only for the success but also for the existence of the businesses in focus. The DC life cycle comprises of five fundamental phases:  Plan, Design, Build, Operate and Assess. A detailed white paper is available at  The onus of ensuring uptime for DC services is becoming a challenge and tremendous work in going on in optimising services pricing & backup power, internet connectivity, HVAC cooling, physical and structural facility security etc.

In line with the industry requirements various regulations, standards and ratings for Data Centre are available. Uptime Institute is the IT industry’s most trusted and adopted global standard for the proper design, build and operation of data centers It provides the most authoritative, evidence-based, and unbiased guidance to design, manage, and operate the critical DC infrastructure against the Tier Standards – helping client to meet their key business objectives.

In view of the climate change, the sustainability and green buildings are becoming a necessity. The organizations like World Green Building Council with its 70 operative countries as members, helps advance green buildings in the respective countries to achieve environmental, economic and social goals on a larger, global scale. US Green Building Council has come up with LEED BD+C: Data Centres certification for Green Data Centre similarly Confederation of Indian Industries – India under its umbrella launched IGBC Green Data Centre rating system during the Green Building Congress (GBC) in 2016 at Mumbai The Green Building Ratings primarily addresses energy efficiency in DCs, while introducing many other green concepts and promotes innovative ideas. Green DC rating system offers several tangible and intangible benefits, including reduction in PUE (power usage effectiveness) by 20-25%, water conservation by up to 30%, enhanced IEQ, promotes e-waste management, encourages use of green certified/recycled/recyclable materials and wellbeing of staff operating and managing the DC. With ISO standards & ASHRAE standards as built-in sub-parameters, these Green ratings provide Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum Rated status according to their respective guidelines.

In India the prominent world class service providers in the data centre business are Netmagic Solutions (owned by NTT Communications), CtrlS Data Center, Sify, Reliance,, Tulip Telecom, BSNL-SIS,  GPX Global systems Inc, Net4, Web Werks, Tata Communications and such others . The most recent one is Netmagic DC3B Data Centre at Whitefield, Bangalore that has been awarded IGBC Data Centre Platinum Rating.

“In terms of market share, however, it’s worth pointing out that Digital Realty Trust has approximately 20.5 per cent of the wholesale colocation market, Global Switch (7.7 per cent), DuPont Fabros Technology (6 per cent), CyrusOne (4.3 per cent), and China Telecom (4.3 per cent). Data Centre Knowledge lists the top five retail colocation providers as: Equinix (10.5 per cent); China Telecom (5.9 per cent); China Unicom (43 per cent); Telehouse KDDI (3.3 per cent); and NTT Communications (2.1 per cent).

Digital India program will stand to benefit with the existence of more National data centres design and functioning on Green Building norms specially in the wake of climate change, the rising energy  & water costs and availability. TerraLive with its highly skilled taskforce and domain knowledge offers expertise in helping clients’ design, build and operate State-of-the-art Green Data Centres.

Green Buildings: The way forward

Globally buildings are responsible for at least 40 % of energy used, 42 % of the global water consumption and 50% of the Global consumption of raw materials during manufacturing, construction and operational period of buildings. India too faces the environmental challenges triggered by the construction sector, which pose major threats in terms of air pollution, greenhouse gases, water pollution, solid waste and CFC generation.

Buildings are major consumers of water during construction and operation (for occupants, cooling and landscaping). With per capita availability of water supply reducing and also because of its critical importance for agriculture and allied needs, it is becoming important to optimise and reduce the usage of water in buildings. There is a huge potential of generating water through wastewater treatment for various applications. As per the central pollution control board report on the status of wastewater generation only 27% of wastewater generated is recovered from the 9.51 BCM generated in Class 1 and Class 2 cities in India.

Management of construction & demolition waste as well as solid waste generated by occupants of buildings pose a major environment and health challenge. Waste generated through construction industry accounts for 25% of the total produce. Also the absence of segregation of waste and mindless dumbing of mixed waste has lead to life threatening landfill saga. Landfill gases and fires along with effects of direct toxicological action of chemicals present in waste sites on human health are creating problems ranging from general weakness, headaches, sleeplessness to more serious ones like low birth weight, birth defects, certain types of cancers etc.

“Heat Island” effect, which is the result of massive and dense urbanisation, is leading to uncontrolled damaging environmental effects, which pose detrimental health effects directly. This also leads to our demand on air conditioning which in turn puts heavy demand on energy consumption and in turn leads to more generation of greenhouse gases. This brings us back to design and plan buildings in tandem with natural surroundings which are conducive to local climate conditions, harness the power of natural elements and are sensitive to environment – in short Green Buildings.

Green Buildings – An urgent requirement:  As enumerated above, the green building solutions should not merely be viewed or adopted as a Band-Aid strategy, in reality they are to be adopted as serious design strategies which require looking into account various parameters like:

  • Site planning
  • Building envelope design
  • Building system design (HVAC, lighting, electrical, water heating)
  • Integration of renewable energy source to generate energy onsite
  • Water management & wastewater management
  • Selection of Eco-friendly, ecologically sustainable materials
  • Indoor environment quality (thermal comfort, visual comfort and air quality) etc.

Green Buildings have evolved as a mathematical and pragmatic science with the help of assessment/evaluation protocols providing benchmarks for certain essential Key Performance Indices. The performance benchmarking and pre-assigned criteria have been enumerated under different green building rating systems as developed & followed by different nations.

UK- BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environment Assessment method) – 1990 pioneered the Green Building Rating movement.

Hong Kong – HK-BEEM (The Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method) 1996

USA – LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental design) 1998

Canada – GREEN GLOBES – 2000

INDIA- IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) Rating – 2001

JAPAN – CASBEE (Comprehensive Building System for Environmental Efficiency) 2001

Australia – GREEN STAR – launched by GBC Australia in 2003

INDIA – GRIHA (Green rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) 2005

Building Material Disclosure & Optimization

One of the most important aspects generally overlooked while calculating the operational efficiencies of equipment used in the buildings is the environmental impact they can cause. How the equipment was manufactured, what materials were used, how far the materials had to be transported for manufacturing them, how safely the wastes were disposed from the factories, what is the life span of the equipment, how safely it can be disposed at the end of its life, can it be recycled after use are some of the pertinent issues which cant be further ignored in the wake of ecological imbalances and the ill-effects on human health they can cause.

Green Building design philosophy emphasise use of material with low embodied energy and other aspects associated with the extraction, processing, transportation, maintenance and disposal of building materials, thereby encouraging and promoting life cycle approach in the design and construction of buildings.  EPD (Environmental Product Declarations) are the standardized formats available in this regard to help map the various aspects of material and energy used for manufacturing the specific product: material content, amount of raw material used for manufacturing, energy used for manufacturing, and how it ends up in waste streams (a cradle to Grave scene).

Performing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in accordance with the relevant Product Category Rules (PCR) is one of the largest tasks in the process to create an EPD. The output format of an EPD is a PDF document containing the information as mandated by the General Programme Instructions and the relevant Product Category Rules. This information not only consists of indicator results from the LCA study, but also other verified quantitative and qualitative information about the product, the company and the environmental impact.

An EPD is created and registered in the framework of a programme, such as the International EPD® System.

The reference standards for Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are:

  • ISO 14025Environmental labels and declarations — Type III environmental declarations — Principles and procedures, and
  • ISO21930 Sustainability in building construction — Environmental declaration of building products

In India EPDIndia Program Operator takes the role of “to supervise the full EPD development process and to confirm that fundamental steps in creating an EPD are followed in accordance with ISO 14025 Requirements“.

EPDs can provide vital data to help forge Green Procurement Policy for a buyer and can help with project compliances needed for environment clearances / requirements. Also Information in EPDs within the same product group and based on the same PCR can also be used to compare and reward the environmentally best product. They can also directly help in achieving Green Building Ratings.

LEED by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) is one of the schemes that have come the furthest in giving benefits for projects where EPDs are available to encourage the use of products with life-cycle information. It rewards projects using at least 20 EPD certified products sourced by at least 5 different manufacturers (1 point) and/or third party certified products that demonstrate impact reduction below industry average in at least three of the LCA impacts (valued at 100% of their cost for credit achievement calculations – 1 point)

GRIHA V (TERI) has also introduced appraisals (criterion 21) for projects that have at least a relevant % of EPD certified according to ISO 14025 among all materials used for building interiors (from 1 to 4 points). In India the demand for LCAs and EPDs is primarily driven by National Building Code – Section 11 “Sustainability in construction”; State Government Authorities; National Green Building Rating Schemes (e.g. LEED, GRIHA)

EPDs are till now more common in structural building material e.g. cement, concrete, glass, wood with recent entrants of HVAC equipment manufacturer  (IngerSoll Rand Trane®, Daikin), Lifts manufacturer (KONE Corporation, OTIS Elevator Company, Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation).

As Green buildings take more centre stage in the wake of climate change and as the construction industry is appreciating the relevance of environmentally conducive green materials, products and technology, EPDs are becoming more relevant by their ability to quantify environmental information on the life cycle of products in a credible, comparable, and understandable way.