Moving Into A Smart Space

The proliferation of 'smart' projects are more a response to consumer demand.

The government's plans for developing 100 Smart Cities over the next five years is now heading for reality with the Prime Minister formally announcing the scheme along with the other schemes of Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and 'Housing for All'.

While the task seems ominous, at a micro-level, there are several smart developers ahead of the curve, who developed projects along 'smart' lines over the last few years. This has been a response to increasing awareness and the push from companies in India towards 'green' and sustainable office and residential spaces.

"The increasing adoption of global best practices and latest technologies in the building construction sector has by and large been embraced by the real estate community for some years now," Lalit Kumar Jain, CMD, Kumar Urban Development and past Chairman, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), said.

A recent survey by Honeywell India of 2,000 buildings across 10 Indian metros which evaluated building 'smartness' across the parameters of being green, safe and productive found that although the country's airports and hotels led the way with smart building technologies, the overall smartness of buildings in India is low.

The survey found that most buildings scored highest on green elements (45) while safety was lowest (21). "India could save billions each year by incorporating modern technologies in buildings that drive green, safe and productive outcomes," said Anant Maheshwari, President, Honeywell India.

Smart building technologies are still new to India and adopted primarily by large commercial buildings. But, according to the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), green real estate in India has grown from a mere 20,000 square feet in 2003 to over 3 billion square feet of registered, pre-certified and certified projects in 2015. Of this, green office spaces account for 200 million square feet primarily in metros.

Indian developers are not 'going green' merely because more and more MNCs consider moving only into certified green office spaces. The demand for green office spaces is equally high among Indian corporates and some of the Indian MNCs have included green office spaces in the corporate sustainability objectives.

Shubhrangshu Pani, Managing Director - Infrastructure Services, JLL India, said, "There is no policy or incentive for 'smart' projects and making buildings smart requires that much more capital. But occupiers drive the need for 'green' buildings which are sustainable and environment-friendly. The occupier profile has changed and in metros, occupiers now demand a certain level of 'smart' projects."

Among other large players, Tata Housing claims to follow 'green standards' for all its projects from its value homes to the ultra-premium luxury projects. Its strategy has been to build green homes using alternative technologies and alternative materials which are sustainable. Having mapped its carbon footprint, it aims to become carbon neutral by 2017-18.

While developers have been doing their bit at the micro-level, Mr. Jain said "to integrate this under the 'Smart City' framework is the job of the policy-makers. The big challenge is to figure out how to integrate urban infrastructure with mass public transportation systems and e-governance to create self-sustaining cities."

(This article first appeared in The Hindu dated June 29, 2015)