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Prashant Kapoor: The Challenge of Green Building in the Developing World

Last month I attended the CarbonPositive‘19 Summit, a gathering of engineering and architecture CEOs and sustainability experts, sponsored by Architecture2030 and Architect magazine. In his opening remarks, event organizer Edward Mazria offered up a startling statistic: today the global building floor area is about 223 billion-square-meters; by 2060, we will build an additional 230-billion-square meters. “We will, in essence, double the current world building stock,” Mazria said. 


Most of that growth will occur in the developing world: China, India, Asia, Africa, parts of South America. That’s a prospect fraught with both extreme peril (many of those countries are still burning copious amounts of coal) and opportunity. Turning those industries green, however, at the pace necessary, will be no easy task (”like rolling a very heavy rock up a very steep hill,” as one attendee described it). But Washington, D.C.-based architect Prashant Kapoor of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) is helping lead the charge. The Indian-born Kapoor led the development of EDGE, a green building assessment tool, as well as the EDGE certification program, a lower-cost alternative to LEED, created for the emerging markets. A week after his presentation at the summit, I talked with Kapoor about his work at the World Bank, green building in the developing world, and the urgent need for speed and scale.  

  

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
PK: Prashant Kapoor

MCP:

Exactly what’s your role at the IFC?

PK:

I work as an industry specialist. IFC is a private sector investment arm of the World Bank. Our role is to seed development through finance. We work with developers, local banks, local infrastructure companies and governments. My primary role is to help guide investment decisions in low carbon developments, sustainable cities, and energy saving companies (ESCO). I help launch products to finance green buildings and green urban developments, such as green mortgages, green bonds. I created EDGE, a free software application, and certification system to mainstream resource-efficient building growth in emerging markets.  Increasingly, I’m also trying to help create a market for green cities, working with city governments in the developing world. When IFC hired me, in 2010, it was difficult to quantify green buildings, because LEED was quite expensive for clients in developing countries. 

MCP:

And still is, isn’t it? 

PK:

That’s true. Our clients also needed something less time-consuming, less complicated. Besides certification, they needed to quickly figure out what works, and how much it will cost. There was a clear need for a mass market solution, a down-to-earth, measurable approach—one that could turn an ordinary building into a higher performing one, at very little cost. It had to be scalable in emerging markets where new building is taking place. 

And so we created EDGE, an online web platform. We wanted everyone to determine the best way to build green in a given location. We built a database with market-specific metrics and hid the complexity beneath the user interface, then offered it for free. To achieve simplicity for the user we established an IT platform anyone could use in nearly 150 emerging markets. 

Prior to joining IFC, I worked for almost 15 years in London. The climate there is fairly temperate and somewhat predictable. As a practicing consultant, I knew the climate inherently, so I could advise and make the numbers work. But when I joined the IFC, my first project was off the coast of Senegal, in the place called Cape Verde. It was hot and humid, and I didn’t have all of the numbers at my fingertips. We needed was to be able to advise our clients honestly and specifically to the local climate and needs, rather than just through some preconceived idea of what green was. 

MCP:

Or good intentions. Try leading with good intentions. 

PK:

Exactly. The architect for this hotel project in Cape Verde was, with all good intentions, using insulation and double-glazed windows and things like that, but it wasn’t doing much, because the climate was such that the outside and inside temperatures were the same. That got me thinking. How do you know what works? To really know requires a complex set of equations and we didn’t have the benefit of time. As an industry specialist, we have approximately one week to work on a project and decide whether we’re going to invest in it. 

We don’t have the time to do simulation modelling. We needed something that was easily applicable and scalable. Something that we could use globally, taking it from one country to another all the while remaining contextually relevant. To ensure that all our cost and weather data, for various countries, was correct and we could be confident about it. Once we could show them the cost benefits of certain green strategies, we got buy in. It was very exciting. As money starts to flow, investors get interested and that got us in front of more clients. While we were doing that, we realized that clients required to have some sort of validation that said: This project is green. That’s why we decided to create the EDGE certification platform. We started with nothing, zero, in 2010. Now we do close to a billion dollars in investments a year in green buildings. In certain countries like Vietnam, South Africa, Columbia, it’s been a roaring success. The market penetration in Vietnam alone is about 6 to 7-percent.  

MCP:

Architects who use the EDGE tool say it’s helpful at the beginning of a project. 

PK:

That’s good to hear. Because we wanted a transparent tool built on solid numbers, on building physics. The people that really get it are developers and building owners. For architects, this is useful in order to communicate quick decisions, early in the design. Often the big challenge for architects arises if the design has already been finalized. I know, from experience, architects have so much emotion attached to our designs, it’s very difficult to move away from that to increase efficiency. It’s important that we influence architects and designers before the form and shape of the building have been conceptualized.

MCP:

Once they’ve settled on a form, capital F, it’s hard to move them. 

PK:

Exactly. If you can encourage and convince them to think about it at the outset, if the design brief has all the right ingredients for energy efficiency, then the rest of the design becomes so much stronger. 

MCP:

What else are you working on?

PK:

I’m working on a new product called “Green Urban Development” (GUD), which is a master planning tool. It takes into account the environmental efficiencies of mixed-use planning, location, transportation options, job creation and achievement of optimum density. In most developing countries land is seen as speculative, by nature. There is no space left in the city. If Bombay and Bangalore and Ho Chi Minh City have to double their housing stock, that won’t happen inside the city. They will be either urban extensions or new cities and towns. So how can we get those right?

We’re also developing a planning tool called EPIC (Environment Positive Innovation Cities). Cities, especially in developing countries, are often so caught up fixing their immediate problems that they don’t have the time and energy to look up, step back and see what is fundamentally flawed. Our ultimate goal is to get these cities on a path of carbon neutrality, which for them today is impossible to imagine. They really can’t imagine reducing resource consumption at this point. They can’t even get it down to plateauing. It’s almost doubling in consumption. 

MCP:

Are there solar and wind farms in India? 

PK:

There are, actually. India is investing in renewables, but at the same time also investing in coal power stations. Their population is growing rapidly, urbanizing and growing more affluent. So, although they might be adding renewables, the level of growth is outpacing those advancements. 

Kapoor slide7
MCP:

How do we keep them from making our mistakes? This is where a lot of the new construction is going to occur in the next 20 years. They can’t do it the way we did it. 

PK:

No, they can’t. That’s the trillion dollar question. The other question we should ask is: do we have enough today, in terms of just sheer ideas, to get them to a place where they’re reasonably comfortable? Because you can’t just tell them not to grow, or not to have an improved quality of life. Can you show them a future that has these things in place and that’s environmentally sensitive? If we just tell them, “Don’t make our mistakes and don’t grow,” that will not work and it is a little unfair. That’s the challenge. But what is promising is that the more populous emerging economies get it. They know that there is not much choice. And they’re working hard behind the scenes to make it happen. But do we have enough tangible, scalable actionable ideas, in terms of master planning, transportation planning and urban policies? Ideas that can still provide a good quality of life that are anchored in low carbon environments and can be implemented within a reasonable time frame and cost? I think the jury’s still out. 

MCP:

We can do it on an individual basis. We can even do it on a city by city basis. The big issue is scale. How do we scale it up? 

PK:

I agree with you. We’ve seen this being done: zero carbon buildings, even zero carbon cities, especially in Europe, where the growth rates are less than 1%. How do you achieve that in a city, with a growth rate of 10% per annum? To some extent it’s a technology question, but it also needs to be an equity question. For example, metros (trains) are being laid out in India and other places, but they’re just too expensive for the masses to use. If you put in electric vehicles, as a policy mandate, how do you make that work in the cultural context of Africa or Asia? That’s got to be cracked. Ten years ago, I worked on the engineering aspects for Masdar, the zero-carbon project for Foster and Partners in UAE. It was amazing to work on that project. The client had an unlimited budget, more or less, and they were open to new ideas. It was a dream project where we could think of all sorts of innovative things to do: autonomous cars, zero carbon homes. However, all of this comes at a cost. How do you make that work within the reality that you see in developing countries, where they have other priorities: education, health, housing? How do you get them to see this as value? 

 

Prashant Kapoor portait
MCP:

All of this is a market driven approach. Do we get where we need to go, in terms of carbon reduction, without a more top approach, a carbon cap? Do you think this is possible to achieve without a hard cap?

PK:

The top down cap, if implemented correctly, is the most effective way. And you know, Europe is showing us that. And to some extent, even China is. In other developing countries—Mexico, India, most of Africa, most of Southeast Asia—a top-down approach could actually make it worse, I think. For example, once a policy is passed, bureaucrats feel like: “Oh, the work is done,” and often end up with nothing being done at all, because we can’t always count on effective implementation. So it’s a vicious circle. There is even less motivation to redo the policy when the previous policies didn’t work. 

My honest feeling is that just LEED or EDGE, on a voluntary basis, is definitely not enough. We need both a top-down and a market-driven approach. But our work in developing countries has to save money, not just save the planet. If you look at most Indians who buy cars, they buy based on fuel efficiency. An average person in India knows the fuel efficiency of every car. So, if we can get them to see buildings the same way, then developers would cater to that market, and governments and banks would follow suit. You could get banks to allow these home buyers to borrow maybe $2,000 more, for a green house, maybe a zero-carbon house. Why? Because the homes would save customers money, lower the risk for the banks, and raise the property values of the homes themselves. That’s what we’re banking on. If you want to capture 50, 60, 70% of the market, you have to make this a value proposition, not just a brand proposition. 

 

Featured image: Singapore’s Asia Square Towers 1 & 2, designed by Denton Corker Marshall. 

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