Setting a Benchmark

Why eco-friendly building materials for interiors and exteriors are finding increasing usage in the construction sector, writes Mili Majumdar, Managing Director - GBCI India & Senior VP - USGBC

Mili Majumdar
When we built the GBCI India office, we wanted to set a benchmark for sustainability. GBCI is the premiere organization independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally and the global certification body for the LEED green building rating program. The LEED symbol signifies that a building is lowering carbon emissions, conserving resources and reducing operating costs, while prioritizing sustainable practices and creating a healthier environment.

As the owners and administrators of the LEED standard, it was important for us to set a clear example of what it means to be sustainable by pursuing LEED certification at Platinum, the highest level possible. The resulting 4,265 sqft office building earned 90 points under the LEED v4 Commercial Interiors (CI) rating system, making it one of the highest-rated Platinum projects in the world.

The LEED rating system was created to revolutionize the construction industry by providing everyone with healthy, green and high performing buildings. LEED rewards the selection of building materials and products that disclose full life cycle impacts, including the impact of raw material extraction and impact on human health. It also rewards products that demonstrate reduction of embodied carbon, reduced life cycle impacts, material reuse, and screening to avoid use of chemicals with known hazards to human health.

When it comes to sustainable building practices, it is essential that the building and construction industry, the architects and interior designers, strongly consider the selection of materials they use. Ideally, the materials and resources should not only do less harm but go further and regenerate the natural and social environments from which they originate

Mili Majumdar, GBCI India & Senior VP - USGBC

When constructing the office, we chose various products like glass partitions, tables, chairs, insulation and gypsum-board partitions based on their compliance with at least one of these requirements. One material we used that met all of these requirements, for example, was our carpeting. Our carpet manufacturer conducted a life cycle assessment to study its environmental impact, which is helpful in identifying key areas in the manufacturing process that can be modified to reduce the overall life cycle impact of the product. The carpeting also contains recycled content, which helps in reducing the quantity of construction and demolition waste being diverted to landfills by reusing waste. Plus, it reduces the amount of virgin material required in manufacturing and enables the shift toward a circular economy. The components of the carpet have also undergone screening to ensure that it does not contain chemicals with known hazardous impacts to human and environmental health.

Additionally, many of our material choices were also driven by the WELL Building Standard, which is a global rating system that focuses on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and enhance our health and wellness.

When deciding on which materials and resources to use, we should focus on three primary areas: conservation of material, environmentally preferable materials, and waste management and reduction. A building generates a large amount of waste throughout its life cycle, so meaningful waste reduction begins with eliminating the need for materials during the planning and design phases. When examining environmentally preferable materials, we should look at content that is locally harvested, sustainably grown, made from rapidly renewable materials, biodegradable or free of toxins. We should also aim to reduce the waste that is hauled to and disposed of in landfills or incineration facilities. During construction or renovation, materials should be recycled or reused whenever possible. During a building's daily operations, recycling, reuse and reduction programs can curb the amount of material destined for local landfills.

As humans, we spend 90 percent of our time indoors. So, the materials we use in building and construction not only impact the planet, but ultimately the people who live, learn, work and play in these spaces.
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