LEED in India Q&A with LEED Fellow Deepa Sathiaram | U.S. Green Building Council
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Deepa Sathiaram, LEED Fellow and executive director of En3 Sustainability Solutions Pvt. Ltd., has worked on over 450 LEED projects in India and over 50 LEED projects globally.

What's Deepa's key takeaway from all of this experience? "LEED sets a benchmark of excellence in performance which you do not get, nor will you get, with other standards. That puts you on a completely different level."

With USGBC executives on a multi-city visit to India this week, hear what Deepa has to say about the early days of LEED in India, greening existing buildings and the buildings that have yet to be built. 

Q. What has been the primary motivator to going green in India?

A. Energy conservation. Anything that can be done to save energy. That is the primary focus. The green movement grew here so quickly because there was a business case for recovering costs from an energy standpoint. The country grew so fast and energy could not keep pace with it.

Q. How has LEED kept up with growth in India?

A. The role of the green movement in India is to keep up with market demand. In the last ten years, a lot of multinational corporations have moved into India. They started saying: “We want to lease spaces in LEED-certified buildings.” Not for a love of the environment but builders and developers wanted these good, multinational clients who pay good leases. If the developers had a LEED certification, they had an edge. That’s how most of these commercial buildings started going with LEED. The tenants were asking for it.

Q. Was LEED just a hook to get multinational clients? 

A. At first it was but the builders and developers soon realized it was helping them beyond just securing high-paying tenants. They started to look at the return on investment: “Hey, I am getting tenants but it’s [LEED] also a good thing to do.”

Q. A lot of the early work with LEED in India was for new construction. What about existing buildings?

A. It’s one of the key areas of focus. The new buildings are coming up with better specifications and innovative designs. But 10 year old buildings in India? They are horrendous from a water and energy standpoint. Much of the equipment we see today was simply not available back then.

Q. How challenging has it been to make a LEED for Existing Buildings pitch in India?

A. There is a huge mindset here that it is complicated, overwhelming and painful. We have done many feasibility studies for prospective clients about their existing buildings, where they stand and what action is required. They often say it’s too difficult to do. That mindset needs to be broken. Even the owner/occupied building, those guys are reluctant to go with LEED EB. Existing building projects that advance often result from an owner committed at the highest levels of their organization that help push this through.

Q. How do you demystify the LEED EB process for clients?

A. One of the things I am trying to create is an association for facility managers. They are the employees of these organizations; the facility heads, the infrastructure heads. I am trying to see if we can do some sessions because they are the guys that need to drive this. We converted close to 350,000 square feet of an existing non-green campus that eventually went on to achieve LEED Gold a few years back. That was a huge learning curve as it involves the procurement department, facility maintenance, building security... It involves everyone and it’s a challenge to get all of these guys on the same page to implement everything. They did it because there was a high commitment from the board and chairman. This is why I’m trying to work with facility managers. At the end of the day, as a facility head, I am going to ask: “What is it that I get?”

Q. Are some buildings too damaged to bother with?

A. By doing some improvements, changes, modifications, that gets us to LEED EB quite easily. Many of these buildings were built 10-15 years back and they are due for a complete retrofit. We say to clients, “Look, if you are going to replace an existing system within this building why don’t you just pursue LEED EB?”

Q. What’s the landscape like beyond existing buildings in India?

A. Well, you have a lot of buildings that have yet to be built. Let’s say, we could have thousands of existing buildings that can go green. A lot of federal government buildings that are of importance—“heritage buildings” can go green. However, 70% of India has yet to be built. We will still need to build.

Q. How much influence will the new government have on green buildings?

A. They are very pro-development. Their agenda is to build India in the next five years so there’s a lot of development and infrastructure coming up and sustainability is already high on their agenda. We will see a lot of buildings go green.