Building And Living Sustainable Made Easy
Last week, i attended the USGBC annual conference at Boston, it was a great experience to meet like-minded people and exchange words of wisdom. But more importantly it was a proud moment because a week before Greenbuild was for the first time held in India. It was at that moment it struck me – What lies in our past are some excellent lessons of a sustainable living.
“What gets measured gets done, what gets done gets improved and what gets done & improved gets replicated” – Mahesh Ramanujan , CEO USGBC.
India, a synonym for culture and diversity, here sustainability is rooted since the ancient civilizations. Indus Valley Civilization is a great example, with its visionary urban planning, complex drainage systems, great building techniques and a balanced social system with excellent administration.
The houses in Indus Valley Civilization were strategically designed to prevent dust and noise.
Harappan Buildings were the first to have attached bathrooms with flush toilets – Credit: ancient-civilizations.com
Historians believe that the decline of the civilisation had many reasons and one of them is changes in climate and ecology, such as changes in course of Indus river leading to declining monsoons affecting agriculture and water supply in the city. Don’t you fear the history is soon going to be repeated?
However with this fear we should also address that the history gives us several clues, whether it is use of local materials, passive design techniques or a sustainable lifestyle. For instance, the Pol housing in Ahmedabad – Inside is one main street with several crooked streets providing shade on the streets.
These houses have interconnected terraces were all social and cultural activities take place. Hence each cluster is designed in a way that it forms a gateway giving an unique identity to it. The houses have ample cross ventilation and there are several informal squares which form community spaces within the cluster. The use of perforated screens called “jali” not just protects from the harsh sun but also gives a character to the house. They form landmarks to navigate instead of sign boards and markers. Did you ever think about this excellent design strategy in terms of master planning?
The Pol, a small residential unit consisting of a single
street -usually a dead end street- with a group of houses
protected by a massive gate at the entrance
In today’s time, we don’t really have choice but to build green. Health and wellness of buildings are not options but conditions that need to be fulfilled. It is the new “trend”. Today India has various definitions of building sustainably. Looking at some of our recent eco villages can be a great inspiration. In present time, a large number of people are migrating from villages to neighbouring cities but what if we reverse the scenario and build self-sustained villages.
For instance, The Payvihir village in Maharashtra with help of NGO Khoj turned 182 hectares of barren land into forest. The Villagers undertook soil and water conservation works, plantations and also ensured a mix of natural regeneration and afforestation. Problems like unemployment and migration were tackled by providing village development jobs to the locals. The forest attracted a lot of flora and fauna. This is a live example of how afforestation and regeneration of lost flora and fauna improves livelihoods and governance of a pla
Children of Payvihir planting trees – Credit: thebetterindia.com
Therefore, wIth such smart master planning examples we need to question what kind of development do we really need? There are two models of development, an expansion model and a sustainable model. The expansion, as the word suggests is linear approach whereas the sustainable model is cyclic, there is no end, it is iterative. We have to choose for ourselves, but before that just remember Earth has finite resources and there are limits to growth.
Each of the 26 indicators and how they affect the overall GPI -Credit: Donella Meadows Institute
Linear and Cyclical systems
The important difference between built and natural systems is the way we centralize and simplify our activities. Huge mono-crop farms, landfills and incinerators are examples of this approach. These singular activities tend to create negative environmental impacts by disturbing natural processes and overwhelming nature’s capacity to absorb waste products and use them in productive processes. Linear systems also generally involve huge transport costs between the production, consumer and place of disposal.
Not our way of construction but all our systems need to move from the current energy-intensive, high-tech, large-scale, central managed approach side of the Continuum toward low-energy, low-tech, small scale, decentralized approach at the community (and possibly even individual) scale. Achieving this will involve Waste processing and Waste recycling activities.
Besides the environmental gains, a major benefit of this approach is that it makes better use of human and living capital, in that the reduced technological and energy costs of the latter approach can be used for social benefit. Worldwide there is a increasing emphasis on the need to create jobs and sustainable livelihoods. Waste, plastic and organic waste in particular, can create jobs and opportunities to re-use the nutrients and energy in waste for productive purposes.
Even housing can be provided through recycling, just like the company Gaias Homes in India proves at the moment, building houses out of recycled plastic waste – turning garbage into ( Living ) Capital – help society strive, while making profit.