Business India ×
 Climate Change

Green Buildings
Published on: July 7, 2020, 8:24 p.m.
Smarter Dharma changes the way buildings are designed
  • Green solutions for sustainable buildings

By Business India Editorial
L

ike a latter-day Howard Roark, Sriram Kuchimanchi, founder and CEO of Smarter Dharma, plans to change the way buildings are designed, built and lived in, using data and communications as the foundations for advancing green building. Circular thinking, in his words, is the key for future-ready India.

The company has developed a capacity to provide holistic green building solutions that increase builders’ profits, reduce operating costs and environmental impacts, and provide healthier spaces for occupants.

With the significant growth expected in the building market over the next decade – in 2017, the IFC reported that 70 per cent of all buildings that will exist in India in 2030 were not yet built – and the high environmental costs associated with property development, the need for easily accessible, economically viable sustainable building solutions is clear.

In India, building development and occupancy accounts for 40 per cent of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 30 per cent of all energy usage, 20 per cent of water consumed and 30 per cent of all raw material utilisation. This has resulted in a 64 per cent increase in mean temperature in 15 years, 32 per cent increase in bore-well depth annually and a 100 per cent increase in waste generation in 10 years. For occupants, this translates to 4 per cent increase in HVAC cost per temperature degree; 30 per cent increase in annual water costs; and 7 per cent increase in waste management costs.

Founded in 2012, Smarter Dharma’s initial focus was on providing consulting solutions to building groups – residential and corporates – and policy-makers, on carbon footprint and sustainability options. However, the company was always clear that it would be more than an energy consultant or energy audit provider.

From its early days, the team wanted to work closely with builders at all phases of construction, making sustainability an integral part of design, construction, marketing communication and ongoing maintenance.

Over the course of running multiple construction consulting projects, the Smarter Dharma team increasingly leveraged data to win new projects and became confident in its ability to communicate and support the adoption of holistic solutions that result in sustainable buildings and bottomline impact, either through reduction of capex, opex, or both.

Kuchimanchi was convinced that to mainstream green building and sustainability, the Smarter Dharma team would need to develop a more systematic and scalable approach, grounded in smart data, business analytics and strong communications.

“Sustainability is not a solution or a technology problem. It is a communications and internalisation problem. Communication, especially about climate change, needs to be personal, to connect with what people know and understand. Data needs to be presented to drive understanding and provide actionable solutions.”

For Kuchimanchi, this has been a hard-earned insight that has transformed the vision of Smarter Dharma – to use data-driven decision-making analytics to empower individuals, organisations and policy-makers to choose sustainability, both because it is the right human decision and the right business decision.

Since then, the business was restructured to focus on accumulating more data to develop its green building platform and institutionalise stakeholder engagement mechanisms.

Pairing a sustainable building platform with communications expertise, Smarter Dharma now works with customers from conceptualisation through the sales process, helping builders build more sustainable buildings at lower cost, with faster sales, at a premium price and with happier, more engaged customers.

The platform

Smarter Dharma is now building the world’s first Sustainability Resource Platform (www.sdplus.io). The platform uses data, analytics, business intelligence, machine learning, artificial intelligence, a beautiful interface and hard-won know-how to provide actionable insights and validated solutions to make sustainable buildings more economically viable and widely available.

Through a combination of static (ie., infrastructure, geography) and dynamic (ie. consumption, population, weather, energy and water usage) data, the Smarter Dharma platform is able to set sustainability goals and carrying capacity for projects on the basis of pin code.

Augmented with data on over a 1,000 proven sustainable products and building solutions, the platform can match this analysis with recommended solutions suited to the locality, at multiple price points and provide projections on the cost savings and cost of waiting.

For example, at a very granular level Smarter Dharma can inform a customer – whether home buyer, architect or builder – about the nature of the water table in a specific pin code, water source options, pre-construction water saving solutions, products for retrofitment and an analysis of the economics of different options.

This is particularly valuable in Smarter Dharma’s home ground of water-starved South India. Resource efficiency can be improved by 30-70 per cent through adoption of green building solutions.

While other platforms for construction data exist, they are complicated to understand, difficult to navigate, sometimes narrowly focused and challenging to draw solutions from. The poor user interface of these platforms led to Kuchimanchi’s primary insight about sustainability – communications play a critical role in creating behaviour change and ultimately market creation.

While the government had previously laid emphasis on Green Building, the realities of business – costs, validation of techniques, and customer demand – meant that while many builders met the checklist of requirements, sustainability was often added to building projects as an afterthought.

Green Building technologies and techniques added for compliance are generally evaluated and selected based on minimal building requirements across different sustainability silos (waste, water and energy) rather than through a comprehensive and holistic approach. This often results in more expensive suboptimal solutions. Green Building pre-certification was widespread, yet conversion to post-construction certification was very poor, and in many cases was used primarily as a customer marketing tool.

India updated its Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) for commercial buildings in 2017 and its ECBC-R for residential buildings in 2018. The ECBC includes energy performance standards for commercial buildings, requires renewable energy sources to be integrated into building design, and makes it mandatory for new buildings to demonstrate energy savings of at least 25 per cent to be code compliant. At the same time, the Sustainable Housing Leadership Consortium has been created, a first-of-its-kind voluntary private sector consortium that aims to mainstream green buildings in India.

The combination of these advances and Smarter Dharma’s demonstrated successes meant that by 2018, Smarter Dharma started seeing significantly more in-bound interest from construction organisations. Builders like, Assetz Properties, began asking more specifically about the carbon impact of their construction design and decisions, how to create more carbon savings, and how to communicate these to the customers. This market evolution overlapped with a growing awareness on the consumer side as well, of the long-term health, financial and environmental implications of their residences.

As a testament to the value Smarter Dharma creates, it has worked with customers and stakeholders across construction, manufacturing, hospitality and services – Mittal Constructions, Assetz Properties, Brigade Builders, Logistimo, Collier and Swiggy, amongst others. As an organisation it has powered 2,580 MW of energy savings, 21,028 MGs of water savings, waste reduction of 14,120 tonnes, and the mitigation of 31,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Kuchimanchi and Smarter Dharma have been recognised for their future-ready and systems-driven approach to sustainability by a number of organisations. Kuchimanchi is an Ashoka Fellow, an AutoDesk Social Fellow, and part of the Brigade Group’s REAP Accelerator. Kuchimanchi also plays an active role in the ecosystem as a member of the IGBC core committee and teaches the GRIHA domestic building rating system.

Smarter Dharma, in its current avatar, is well-positioned to both deepen and broaden its focus by simultaneously drawing more data points into its platform and engaging more users with its sustainability insights and solutions. It continues to work collaboratively with organisations to test, validate and add solutions.

Mittal Auriga, a residential construction in the heart of central Bengaluru, is the city’s first carbon-neutral building, and a powerful example of the power of partnering for sustainability. As with all Smarter Dharma solutions, the building combines traditional practices with modern technologies, in a measurable, comprehensive way.

Some of the solutions incorporated:

● Solar power across common areas and distributed solar water heating; independent grid tie solar set up for each apartment, resulting in excess electricity generation. All appliances, including refrigerators are supported by renewable energy

● Charging points for electric vehicles

● Natural phytoid-based sewage treatment system, which doesn’t require power for filtration, and enables grey-water re-usage

● Built-in Rain Water Harvesting systems, adapted to Bengaluru’s water-deficit status. As a result, the building has no need to commercially buy tanker water and is fully self-sufficient from a water perspective

● On-site waste segregation and composting

● Reduction of construction impact through the use of traditional flooring materials

● Vertical and terrace gardens to eliminate heat island effect, grow food on-site for the tenants, also providing a circular system for waste management

● Mandatory health check-ups, bank accounts, food and sanitation facilities for on-site construction staff

Savings from the building material carbon offset include 2,279 trees and on an annual basis, the residential building is projected to save 4,000 KW of energy, 1.8 lakh litres of water with a reduced carbon footprint of 4,707 kg of CO2. 


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