Rapid urbanisation has led to an exponential increase in the population of India over the past decade and is expected to reach 814 million by 2050. A rise in urban sprawls has led to a severe land and housing shortage and increased demand for basic amenities such as healthcare, sanitation and water supply.
The spatial and economic growth of the country has expanded the environmental footprint of our cities. India's rate of increase in urban population from 1995-2015 is 2.5%. The level of urbanisation (World Cities Report 2016: Data Annex) in 2015 was 32.7% and is estimated to increase to 37% by 2025.
Population growth and rise in urban sprawls have been major hurdles to sustainability across the globe. Rampant consumption of natural resources and short-term economic benefits derived from not so optimal production practices in our cities have led to a compromised environment management plan. Uncontrolled urbanisation presents us an opportunity to develop strategies that
adapt, innovate and mitigate its harmful impact on the built and natural environment. Urban sprawls are potential cradles for the next big innovative practice to ensure sustainable development.
Social, political and economic transformation of cities should go hand in hand with affordable and sustainable development practices. The built environment contributes to 30% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for consumption of one-third of the global raw materials, energy and water. It is estimated that in 2021, electricity consumption due to space cooling and heating appliances will grow by 180% (compared to 2011's levels). This calls for an immediate action towards formulation and implementation of best practices for environmental management in the construction sector.
A two-pronged approach for reducing electricity demand while increasing renewable energy generation is required to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. Energy generation from green sources will play a key role in reducing the dependency of remote areas on expensive grid power supply.
In this regard, innovations like solar tiles, around the net zero energy concept, wherein the total annual energy usage by buildings is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on-site, are becoming popular.
Existing rooftops of buildings have a large (untapped) potential for solar energy generation and this complements the national solar mission's aim of setting up 40 GW through solar rooftop installations out of the proposed 100 GW solar target by 2022.
Given the fact that living in sustainable habitats is one of the basic premises for healthier living. Recognition and advancement of sustainable construction to facilitate affordable housing require immediate attention. It is imperative to look at integrating the much-needed and forgotten aspect of sustainability in all aspects related to affordable housing segment in the country.
Housing for all
Empowering the common man with access to basic services and infrastructure facilities is vital to effectively maintain the balance between economic and environmental performance of fast-growing, small and medium cities.
Goal 11 of the sustainable development goals (SDG) seeks to ensure access to adequate, safe and affordable housing for all. In 2012, urban housing shortage stood at 18.8 million units and is expected to grow at 6.6% to 34.1 million units by 2022.
According to estimates of the Technical Group-12 constituted by the erstwhile Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA), the urban housing shortage in the country at the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan was estimated to be 18.78 million. The group further estimated that more than 95% of this shortage pertains to houses for economically weaker sections (EWS) and lower-income groups (LIG).
Affordable housing shortage continues to be a major concern in the country today and can be correlated with the rate of urbanisation taking place. Affordable, climate-resilient and sustainable buildings are the need of the hour to offset the serious risks posed by the growth of urban sprawls.
Two decades ago, the advent of the global green building movement was triggered by the need to curb imprudent resource consumption in modern buildings and targeted affluent sections of the society with technological solutions that were highly efficient but costlier than conventional options. This resulted in a populist public opinion that associates sustainability with expensive technological advances.
Urbanising countries all over the world have an increasing challenge of providing more and more adequate shelters in urban areas. In urban India, there currently exists a wide gap between the demand and supply of housing (both in terms of quantity and quality). Over the years, various state governments and real estate developers have focused on increasing the affordability quotient of sustainable housing. Incentivisation of the green building sector is seen as one such positive move in transitioning towards sustainable social housing.
Affordability is at the core of sustainability. This entails that if something cannot be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, or recycled, it should be restricted from production. Thus, sustainability is not an option but is the only way forward for indigenous low-cost innovations.
Consumers must create market demands for sustainable housing by objectively considering sustainability. Unfortunately, lack of understanding sparks suspicion around proposed solutions being truly green or not.
Linking sustainability with quality rather than pricing can create opportunities for upcoming housing projects, especially since India's socio-economic milieu warrants different perceptions of affordability. The underlying idea is that people should be able to maintain comfortable living standards within an affordable sustainable housing.
(The author is CEO, GRIHA Council)