Jun 19, 2024

Jun 19, 2024

Reimagining green building certification: The AI powered approach

Written by:

Sep 1, 2023

Vishnu Shashank and Meghana Santosh

Vishnu Shashank and Meghana Santosh

The construction industry must address its environmental impact as climate change worsens. Green buildings offer a promising solution, but current certification processes are complex and inefficient. This article proposes an AI-powered certification system to streamline green building certification.

The construction industry must address its environmental impact as climate change worsens. Green buildings offer a promising solution, but current certification processes are complex and inefficient. This article proposes an AI-powered certification system to streamline green building certification.

The construction industry must address its environmental impact as climate change worsens. Green buildings offer a promising solution, but current certification processes are complex and inefficient. This article proposes an AI-powered certification system to streamline green building certification.

As climate change intensifies, the construction industry faces a critical challenge: Reducing its environmental impact. Green buildings offer a promising solution – these are structures designed and constructed to minimize environmental impact and maximize resource efficiency throughout their lifecycle.

But a major barrier hinders their widespread adoption – the complexities and inefficiencies of current green building certification processes. While these processes are essential for guaranteeing environmental benefits, they are often cited as a significant bottleneck. Getting a green building certification takes substantial time, resources, and specialised expertise. This inefficiency translates into a missed opportunity for a wave of sustainable construction.

This article discusses these challenges and proposes a transformative solution: an AI-powered certification system designed to streamline green building certification.

A building’s life cycle starts and ends with a large amount of carbon emissions, energy consumption and waste production. To begin with, the fact that most builders, architects and designers are not aware or trained in building sustainable spaces bleeds into the building design, along with the materials and processes used to build.


Once constructed and the building starts operating, the ecological inefficiencies further manifests in the form of high energy consumption, waste management and water usage. At the end of its life cycle, as the building is finally demolished, the materials used seep into the environment as pollutants.

Now imagine the compounding effect that is unleashed by a city full of these unsustainable structures. It is this ecologically costly cycle that makes the building and construction sector one of the biggest drivers of global warming, accounting for nearly 37% of the global emissions. In India the sector accounts for 1/6th of the national GHG emissions and 35% of the country’s total energy consumption. 

The promise of green buildings 

The significant ecological impact of traditional buildings necessitates a sustainable alternative. Green buildings emerge as a promising answer. This takes a holistic approach that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative on the natural environment, and on the people who inhabit these spaces everyday. 

So what are the potential benefits of green buildings? Let’s consider the impact of 1 billion square feet of green buildings (roughly equivalent to 20% of Gurgaon's developed area):

  • Capture 12 million tonnes of CO2: an amount equal to the annual carbon footprint of approximately 6.7 million Indians.

  • Conserve 15,000 gigawatt hours of energy: enough to power 15 million average Indian households for a year.

  • Save 45 million litres of water: a volume sufficient to irrigate 1,500 hectares of cultivated land.

Despite the environmental benefits of green buildings, assessing and certifying their eco-friendliness presents a complex challenge. Detailed and comprehensive criteria are established to evaluate a building's sustainability. To comply with these standards, builders frequently rely on consultants who assist with various aspects, including design, paperwork preparation, site visits, consultations, and even permit liaison – all of which contribute to the high cost of consultant involvement.

Green building standards are established and verified by organisations like GRIHA, IGBC, and LEED. These bodies are also responsible for certifying buildings following a rigorous review process. Traditionally, physical verification and certification are conducted by the standard bodies themselves. An additional layer of verification then occurs at the Urban Local Body (ULB) level to access subsidies and tax benefits.

What is hindering adoption?

Various issues and market forces influence the decision to adopt these buildings, including scale, interest, and finances. However, a common problem across the board is the tough certification process. Achieving certification demands considerable time, money, and effort.

The challenges as specified by the stakeholders are the following: 

  • Demands a lot of human effort: Continuous monitoring at each stage from design to certification. It also requires creating compliance documentation for each parameter, site visits and consultations.

  • Time intensive: 6 months to 1 year alongside construction, and continuous monitoring post construction phase.

  • Shortage of skilled experts: Expertise is only held by limited architects and consultants concentrated in tier 1 & 2 cities, creating accessibility challenges for widespread adoption.

  • Expensive process: Building green can be 5 to 15% higher than a conventional building with an average payback period of 3-5 years. Consultant costs, material and design costs are some of the contributors. 

  • Lopsided incentive structure: Minimal localised incentives from the ULBs and market for mainstreaming Sustainable building practices.

  • Information barrier: Consumers, developers, construction managers, and ULB’s lack awareness and capacity.

Reimagining green building certification: The AI powered approach

The current green building certification process, despite its importance, is often complex and time-consuming. This can be a major barrier to widespread adoption of sustainable construction practices. Here's where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in as a game changer.

Green building certification relies on a checklist of standards that outline specific building materials, design principles, and construction methods. One's compliance is then scored to determine a building's overall level of sustainability, based on which certification occurs. The image below represents this:

AI could go through these parameters and with the documentation provided verify, score and certify with ease. The below image outlines the AI process for a GRIHA parameter:

Similarly, the AI feasibility of each parameter within the GRIHA green building standard has been analysed by us. Along with the feasibility the documents, processes and AI capabilities required to do so have also been laid down in this AI feasibility worksheet. Through this exercise we were able to ascertain the core AI competencies required to verify most of the compliance parameters:

While certain functions within the compliance and certification process require human intervention, automation of the remaining can help experts streamline the process and make it faster, error free and efficient. 

Traditionally, verifying compliance with these standards involves manual inspections, paperwork review, and back-and-forth communication – all activities that AI can significantly streamline. Imagine a system where AI can review a building's documentation (like invoices, certificates, and floor plans) using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This would eliminate the need for manual data entry and reduce errors.

AI trained on building codes and green building standards could analyse photos and videos from the construction site, flagging any potential issues or areas that don't meet compliance. This would free up human experts to focus on complex decisions and problem-solving, while also ensuring a more thorough and consistent evaluation process.

By automating these tasks, AI can drastically reduce the time and resources required for green building certification. This translates to lower costs and a faster turnaround time, ultimately making green buildings a more attractive option for builders and developers.

So who does this help?

As we were designing the tool, we wanted to lay down incentives for each stakeholder in the pipeline by tackling challenges they encounter routinely. 

The foundational block that we are currently working on is the certification co-pilot that could verify compliance, linking the consultants and the certification body. This tool could take data, verify compliance and certify with ease. This layer would begin the automation of certain key pieces of the certification pipeline, helping both bodies carry out their tasks faster and more efficiently. 

Once the certification tool is fully built out, this could be extended to the Urban Local Body level. Here a ranking of projects could be done and based on the score, the builder can be pushed up in the permit approval waiting list, saving valuable time. The tool could also then be extended to enable builders to source sustainable materials and design in line with the standards, without relying on external parties. Consultants could also be incentivised to use the tool as it reduces the effort and resources spent on liasoning for permits, consultations and site visits. 

Way forward

We are seeing the impacts of the climate crisis play out in real time with increasing occurrences and intensity of heat waves all over the nation, all while rapid urbanisation is transforming our cities into concrete jungles. We introduced earlier the impact that a single building's lifecycle can have on the environment and the compounding effect; this is precisely what we want to solve for. By making the process of certification faster and cheaper, we want to scale the adoption of green buildings across the nation.

We need your help in making this a reality and to usher in a sustainable future powered by AI. We are looking for domain experts, architects, builders, consultants, AI/ML experts and market researchers.  To learn more about our work and to contribute, access the links below and reach out to meghana@peopleplus.ai / vishnu@peopleplus.ai.

Additional resources

Access the project deck here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10o8E93Yp8EM6o7b3wSwI6dJFk7DbwMM2/view?usp=sharing
Access the AI feasibility worksheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ACInZjybHO91J53p1HrEaPxn8wKxdPAppkET2UgFlZw/edit?usp=sharing
Access the Github repository here: https://github.com/PeoplePlusAI/Green-Building-Copilot/blob/main/README.md
To learn more and collaborate reach out to meghana@peopleplus.ai or vishnu@peopleplus.ai

References



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People+ai is a non-profit, housed within the EkStep Foundation. Our work is designed around the belief that technology, especially ai, will cause paradigm shifts that can help India & its people reach their potential.

Join the Community

People+ai is a non-profit, housed within the EkStep Foundation. Our work is designed around the belief that technology, especially ai, will cause paradigm shifts that can help India & its people reach their potential.