In Line with COP26 Commitments, Business Charter Launched by Indian Companies

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Mumbai: At the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in November 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 highlighted India’s proactive stand in the fight against climate change, sending a clear message to historical emitters. Action from the private sector will play a critical role in achieving this target and a key sector where urgent action would be required is the building and construction sector, which contributes approximately 25 per cent of India’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. In an effort to set the ball rolling and help this sector make its low-carbon transformation smoothly and holistically, World Resources Institute (WRI) India, along with partners, Alliance for an Energy-Efficient Economy (AEEE), EcoCollab and Mahindra Lifespaces, launched a voluntary business charter ‘Value-chain Approach to Decarbonizing the Building and Construction Sector in India’ recently.

This business charter took shape after consultations with 150+ key stakeholders through June-July 2021 on four key themes: designing net-zero buildings, construction and operations, occupiers’ perspectives, material efficiency. The consultations helped arrive at six priority action areas that will facilitate the process of transitioning to a net-zero building and construction sector.

This business charter has been endorsed by Anand G. Mahindra, Executive Chairman, Mahindra Group, and has received support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The charter has already been voluntarily adopted by 16 signatories including prominent industry leaders such as Mahindra Lifespaces Developers Ltd., JSW Steel and Lodha Group, urging others to join the movement to decarbonize the building and construction sector.

India’s building and construction sector, one of the primary GHG emitters, is likely to grow over the next few decades owing to urban migration, expanding middle class, and policy push for public housing. The nation’s urban population is expected to grow to 590 million in 2030 and the real estate sector is poised to become the third-largest construction market in the world by 2025, contributing 13 per cent to the country’s GDP.

Houses built now will have a life span of 40 to 60 years.  Hence, decisions taken now will have an impact on the thermal comfort, energy use and GHG emissions over the lifetime of these buildings. Transitioning towards a net-zero building and construction sector is of paramount importance to achieving India’s climate goals.

Until now, this sector has largely focused on piecemeal solutions.  However, there is a need for a holistic approach to mitigating emissions across the lifecycle of the building. The building and construction sector is complex and fragmented, and there are many steps along the lifecycle of a building. In addition to this, there is a diverse group of stakeholders, including architects, energy modellers, material manufacturers, developers, contractors, property owners and occupiers, working in an integrated manner. The transition to net-zero in the building and construction sector would require collaboration and commitment from the entire value chain to significantly reduce material and energy demand, increase energy efficiency and adopt renewable energy. Businesses are uniquely positioned to influence this value chain to adopt a low-carbon pathway.

Currently, the lack of implementation of low-carbon strategies including existing energy efficiency guidelines, data on embodied emissions of various materials, pilot demonstrations or case studies are key barriers. There is also a lack of consumer awareness and capacities across stakeholder groups such as architects, contractors, and site engineers. In the newly released Business Charter, stakeholders identified priority action areas across the value chain:

  • Adopting science-based emission reduction targets and climate-responsive design strategies
  • Mainstreaming climate-aligned building codes and standards as well as low-carbon materials
  • Improving operational efficiency and enabling the low-carbon pathway through policy support

Signatories will lead the way forward together on these actions by first devising a plan of approaching each of these priorities through working groups and other such industry-led engagements.

Speaking during the launch, Dr OP Agarwal, CEO, WRI India said, “The Government has set an ambitious and progressive climate target for India, and sectoral transformation is key to achieving this goal. This Business Charter for the building and construction sector is one of the first guiding documents, that aims to push an emission heavy sector towards adopting low-carbon, climate-smart solutions. That several leading businesses have voluntarily owned this charter shows the seriousness with which the private sector is embracing this transformation. Going forward this charter aims to become a guiding toolkit of sorts for other sectors to adapt from.”

In his video message, Anand Mahindra, Executive Chairman, Mahindra Group said: “Businesses that judiciously plan their green portfolio, businesses that are on the path to providing alternatives, businesses whose products and services embody and encourage environmental and social responsibility, businesses that have built new models of sustainability are the businesses that will sustain, and indeed thrive, in the future. I call upon the Indian industry, their CEOs, and all real estate businesses and stakeholders to join forces to raise our ambition.  Let us accelerate the necessary business transformation to put the Indian building and construction sector on a net-zero pathway.”

Arvind Subramanian, Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra Lifespaces: “Net Zero is an opportunity, not an obligation, for the real estate sector in India. With much of urban India yet to take shape, we have a real possibility to decouple growth from carbon emissions across our towns and cities. As pioneers of environment-friendly homes and industrial developments, we believe in the power of effective stakeholder collaboration in accelerating India’s journey towards Net Zero. The Decarbonization Business Charter is an outcome of Mahindra Lifespaces’ collaboration with WRI, EcoCollab, and AEEE. The combined commitments and actions of the signatories of this charter will help galvanize positive steps today, for a better urban future tomorrow.”

Dr Satish Kumar, President and Executive Director, AEEE: “If we aim to decarbonize the building sector, then there is a need to look at the sector in a holistic manner, covering greenhouse gas emissions from operational and embodied carbon along with the impact of the building sector on water and air.”

Priya Shankar, who leads India Climate & Environment programmes at Bloomberg Philanthropies said: “The Indian building and construction sector has an opportunity to leapfrog and adopt innovative green practices. This will help address climate change and promote sustainable development. We welcome this charter which showcases the way to climate action for Indian businesses.”