By Paula Melton
Infosys's newest office building, SDB1 in Hyderabad, is 80% daylit despite the forbiddingly hot climate. Infosys also installed radiant cooling in half the building and high-efficiency variable-air-volume (VAV) air conditioning in the other half in order to see which performed better—and whether radiant cooling could be used in India without the severe condensation issues feared by engineers. The radiant cooling is 33% more efficient than the VAV cooling.
Disruption: it can be a way of life in developing economies, as massive blackouts across India recently demonstrated. But when Rohan Parikh, head of green initiatives at Bangalore-based Infosys, uses the word “disruption,” he means something completely different.
“It had to be unreasonable; it had to be a paradigm shift,” says Parikh of the company’s green building goals. He calls the method “disruptive design” and describes the results as “an extreme conversion process” involving “design first, education second.” The goals include LEED Platinum certification as a minimum standard for all buildings, 50% reduced energy consumption, carbon neutrality, 100% renewable energy, and net-negative water consumption by 2018.
The company’s most recent sustainability report shows a promising start, though there is still a long way to go—and overall impact is increasing as the company grows (Infosys already has 12 campuses in India alone and is building two to three million square feet per year). Although consumption and emissions have gone up since 2007, the increases are far below expectations: the company is emitting 111,859 megatons less carbon and using 124 million kWh less electricity and 1,021 million liters less water than it would have if it hadn’t changed its building and business practices.
If the targets sound extreme, the means of reaching them can be truly radical. For example, explains Parikh, the company has moved to performance-based contracts, effectively forcing project teams to practice integrated design by withholding fees if performance goals are not met. “We understand you’re the creative guys,” Parikh says he told prospective architects of its most recently completed building, SDB1, “but the only way you’re going to work with us is if 80% of the floor space is daylit and the solar heat gain is limited to 1 W/ft2
.” The real kicker? You lose 25% of your fee if any building occupant requests a window blind. Because architects, engineers, and owners worked so closely together, the performance goals were met, he says, and SDB1 has become the company’s model for its next generation of campuses (Infosys has also completed deep energy retrofits of existing buildings).
Infosys's emissions and resource use are low relative to expectations, though overall impacts continue to increase with growth.
It’s not just about energy. Building a new campus affects nearby villages, many of which are already resource-poor. “We come there and we highjack everything in that area; we take away all the resources,” Parikh laments. “If we start digging groundwater, then we are going to be taking somebody else’s groundwater.” This realization has led to the company’s goal to “sequester more fresh water into the ground than we consume” on all its campuses. Parikh also highlights waste as a serious problem, and Infosys is now piloting biogas plants using compost on two sites.
Why such a hands-on approach? “We can go buy green energy and become carbon neutral tomorrow,” he said, but the company opted for more direct involvement because “it should be a model that can be replicated by others.” Even though a quarter of its growing population has no electricity, India is already the world’s third-largest energy consumer, and the need for longer-term thinking about energy and water was on international display at the end of July 2012 when hundreds of millions of Indians lost power due to a combination of factors, including drought. Unlike many corporate leaders in the U.S., Parikh does not dance around the probable consequences if we don’t slow climate change and address global water shortages; after all, shaking people up is what “disruptive design” is all about. “We cannot wait for governments to act,” says Parikh. “Unless we change, the world is headed toward doom.”
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September 1, 2012
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