With a new Prime Minister at the helm and raring to kick start his dream project of building 100 Smart Cities, the question of sustainable living will have to come back to centre stage of urban planning.
So what is sustainable living?
Human beings have always had a symbiotic relationship with the earth’s natural resources. Sustainable living is about creating a harmony and balance between the two by optimizing and re-cycling all natural resources.
Sustainable living involves the use of natural resources like solar energy, wind, water, soil and all other natural resources that come from the earth. A lot of problems that we face today are mostly man-made caused by ignorance, selfishness and greed. There is urgent need to understand the importance, challenges and limitation of natural resources, before we start to discuss its utilization.
Through time, mankind has only thought of using earth’s natural resources without thinking about its subsequent impact or sustainability. Take the use of wood. Rampant felling of trees across the world, including the resource rich Amazon, has contributed to global warming, which is beginning to show its devastating effect on weather patterns from the Arctic to the deserts of Australia.
Excessive farming and construction has resulted in the depletion of soil nutrients and water holding capacity of the soil. With population increasing exponentially, generation of food to feed this ever growing population is going to be a major challenge. This will also put pressure on almost all natural resources that earth has to offer and can alter the harmony and balance beyond the damage already done.
The demands of urban living is using up fossil fuels at a rapid pace and is having a negative impact on the atmosphere and the air we breathe. Rainfall patterns have changed, as a result, freak weather phenomenon is being witnessed. Areas that received scanty rainfall are getting floods, whereas areas that receive high rainfall are increasingly getting reduced rain. This in turn is impacting food production, thereby putting greater pressure on the earth’s resources.
Urban living has seen greater use of concrete which uses cement as its main input. After water, concrete is the largest consumed substance and cement production results in 5% of the global generation of carbon di-oxide, a greenhouse gas.
Sustainable living as part of sustainable development
If India wishes to build 100 new smart cities then sustainable development will have to form its basis, with sustainable living at its core. Today, technologies are rapidly emerging which entail optimal utilization and recycling of all natural and man-made resources.
This is the most precious of all natural resources and the most misused. Smart cities of the future will need to harness rain water through rain harvesting techniques. Vertical living is increasingly becoming the standard, therefore, each building unit must have rain water harvesting that connects to a larger water storage facility, within the residential complex. The water storage has to be separate to meet two requirements, drinking purpose and other uses. The rainwater can be collected and filtered for drinking water, while waste water collected from toilets and kitchen can be stored, filtered and reused to meet all other needs such as internal washing and cleaning and outdoor irrigation and cleaning purposes. Each residential complex must be designed to minimize the dependency on municipal water supply.
At a larger level, micro irrigation techniques have to be made the standard for agricultural production. The current pattern of using tube well water is excessive and similar results in output can be achieved by using drip water irrigation and other techniques, thereby drastically reducing the water consumption. This will have a positive effect, as less water means the ground water table will not deplete at the rate it is currently.
Toilet technology has improved dramatically and adoption of these innovative toilets can go a long way in saving and recycling water. The solid waste can be further recycled to produce manure and bio-gas, which can be re-cycled within the residential complex.
What are green building technology and ceramic paint
There are several building technologies being experimented with, based on local needs. In India, where majority of the land falls in warmer zone, the demand for air-conditioning is increasing rapidly. India has to explore using a combination of technologies like geothermal cooling, which utilizes cooler air available sub-surface and brings it up through a network of pipes that run through the walls and floors and then resends the used warmer air back. This is perhaps the best way to minimize use of the regular air-conditioner that consumes a lot of electricity.
This along with the use of hollow bricks and walls, made from alternative materials with minimal use of cement, can bring down room temperature by as much as 5-8 degrees Celsius. This in turn will mean lesser need for air-conditioning. Alternatively, use of geothermal cooling will completely eliminate the need for air-conditioning. Currently the cost of piping for geothermal application is relatively high, however, with large-scale adoption, the production costs can come down to sustainable levels. In addition, natural materials like bamboo chips, cork, waste paper, hemp, and even lighter synthetic materials like carbon fiber, can be used as alternative building materials.
For exterior application, there are paints that have been developed that use nano ceramic beads to reflect/deflect the heat from the sun. This technology is used by NASA to protect its spaceship from the searing heat of the sun. The same is now commercially available and its use can reduce external wall temperature by at least 5 degrees Celsius and internal wall temperatures by 6-8 degrees Celsius. All these technologies used in conjunction, can reduce the electricity demand significantly.
Mass housing has to be designed to be self-sustaining and off-the-grid, to the maximum extent possible.
Globally, the investments made in renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, have resulted in greater efficiencies and lower costs. With time, the break-even points in terms of cost will come down further. India must make it mandatory to adopt these in all future projects and set up an incentive programme to promote these in already established cities and towns. Unless we can significantly bring down the usage of electricity, the pressure on earth’s natural resources will continue, with disastrous consequences.
What are micro farming and hydroponic farming
India has the second largest population in the world next only to China. The bad news is that India is on its way to becoming the world’s largest and this means that we will have to develop innovative ways to increase our per capita food production dramatically or we will have a food crisis emerging within a few decades. The time to plan and prepare is now. All future urban development has to factor in self-sustaining food production to a certain extent.
There is an urgent need to eliminate use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides in food production and replace these with organic inputs, without compromising the per capita output. Furthermore, organic soil nutrients need to be extensively used to counter overuse of soil.
This means that we will have to adopt newer micro farming techniques such as vertical farming, for both outdoor (rooftops) and indoor. These are small food production units that use LED lighting instead of sunlight and is grown indoors. There is a lot of work happening in this area.
For instance, hydroponic farming does not use any soil at all. Instead, it uses water mist that is micro nutrient rich to nurture the plant. This is helpful to grow leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes in smaller quantities. This opens up possibilities to allocate certain spaces within high rises, to grow food that can at least partially, meet the local demand of residents. If laws make it mandatory to encourage hydroponic farming and similar technologies, the pressure on general farming will reduce considerably.
Sustainable development must be the norm
India is about to unleash a massive urban development programme across the country and it must not lose this opportunity to make these cities smarter and sustainable. The solutions are all there and with mass adoption, the costs will come down further. All it takes is imagination and political will. We owe this to the next generation.