26 Oct 2016 14:39 IST

Buildings are about people and productivity

Ross Shuster, President-International of UTC Climate Controls & Security, talks about green buildings

Believe it or not, India’s green building footprint of 3.86 billion sq ft is the second best globally after the United States, according to the International Green Building Council (IGBC). At the recent Green Buildings Congress in Mumbai, some ambitious targets were set. The IGBC wants to take India’s registered green building footprint to 10 billion sq ft by 2022. Already there are over 3,000 green buildings.

Even as speaker after speaker at the conference highlighted the returns that green buildings give in terms of energy and water savings, Ross Shuster, President-International of UTC Climate Controls & Security (the arm with brands such as Carrier and intelligent buildings solutions which contributes $17 billion to the $56 billion conglomerate United Technologies) in his presentation focused on the impact of green buildings on the cognitive health of the occupants. As he says, it’s time to move the conversation beyond energy savings and look at impact on people.

Last year UTC sponsored a study by exposure assessment scientists at Harvard on indoor environments of certified green buildings versus non certified high-performance buildings and compared worker productivity. This year it followed it up by live tests in five US cities. The study shows that when we enhance ventilation and optimise indoor environmental conditions, there are improvements in the cognitive function of workers. Excerpts:

Do you think 10 billion sq feet green building cover by 2022 is achievable in India?

Globally, we see green building construction doubling every three years. Even in markets where construction as a whole has dipped, the green building cover has grown. The adoption is growing. About 10 years ago when we did surveys, a lot of people who were early adopters built green buildings because they believed it was the right thing to do. Then we saw business justifications in terms of energy savings and water savings. Over the years, technology advances have also made it commercially viable to get more savings. The other part of it is education. We find a lot of people over estimate the cost of constructing green buildings. In reality, the cost is only 3 or 5 per cent more than conventional buildings. And then they underestimate the financial payback. Typically, a green building has a five-year payback. For someone constructing a building that is expected to last 30-40 years, it’s very acceptable.

You have also done studies to measure paybacks in terms of people and productivity. Can you share insights?

We are excited about the next evolution. Energy savings, water savings are all measurable payback, which is great. But if you look at the costs that go into a building, 90 per cent of costs are not about energy or water, but about people and productivity. It has opened up a new science – buildingomics - and opened a whole new business justification beyond ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or water and energy savings but really about the cognitive well being of occupants.

Buildingomics is a Harvard term — they are looking at it as a holistic study of impact of buildings and conditions on cognitive effects on health and sleep patterns of occupants.

It’s interesting that glass maker Saint Gobain too shared a study on health impact of green buildings. Have you worked together?

There was no collaboration between us and Saint Gobain… but the fact that they have taken the same approach as us shows a convergence of thought.

But your study focuses more on worker productivity than health?

We actually looked at nine parameters including lighting, temperature, humidity, ventilation, particulate matter, so we did measure those that affect health. A heavy part of the study was on cognitive aspects and sleep patterns. It was the more scientific piece of it as we actually had people do tasks and exercises in different environments and measured performance. But there was also a questionnaire about how people felt, their perceptions about health within the building, any symptoms – whether they felt nauseous and so on.

Clearly, the health effects will be an offshoot of this in future studies. You need 10 years of research to go into those investigations that find linkages with diseases such as heart.

Five US cities were involved in the study? Will the results vary if you take it outside the US?

In the US we did it across five different climatic conditions to factor in the outdoor environment. But it was one country. Obviously, if we do it across more countries there could be more interesting findings.

How early are you brought into the process in designing a green building?

We are a very broad company in what all we do, some of our businesses are brought in early stage. We have a business headquartered in China – EMSI – that focuses on green building design certification. Through that arm of ours we are involved from Day One at the conception stage. In businesses like Carrier we come in later, though we can be part of the design team and influence decisions earlier too. Then obviously there are retro fits, where we are involved. There are cases where we have looked at ventilations in existing buildings.

Does EMSI have projects in India?

With Infosys we have had a journey for the last six years. For Infosys, through Automated Logic (a building automation company of UTC CCS) we have built a command centre in Bengaluru, from where 87 buildings across 10 campuses are monitored. Here, data is brought in from 170,000 points – could be temperature, a security camera, elevators, or power supply into the building. Do the maths — 170,000 data points translates into a billion data samples per month. A sensor sends off data every four minutes. Think of what all you can do with the data – from checking anomalies in power usage to savings on so many fronts. So far it has been used for energy conservation, but obviously there is opportunity to step up and take it to next step.

Given that outdoor air quality is horrific in many cities, do you think improving indoor air quality to such an extent might be counter productive as we will not be able to step out and take the pollution?

According to multiple reports 90 per cent of our time is spent indoors. Even out of remaining 10 per cent, 6 is spent commuting, which is mostly in controlled conditions. Why it is important is that a lot of the indoor time is spent sleeping. At that time if you have good air quality it definitely has great impact on your sleep and cognitive abilities.