What makes Coimbatore’s SIERRA E facility one of the world’s highest ranked green building?
As our car nears the entrance of SIERRA’s E facility building, an automised gate opens to let us in and closes behind us. “When we around 100 mts away from the gate, the Smart Building App on our mobile phones signals the gate to open,” explains J.G.Giridhar, CEO and managing director of SIERRA, India’s highest ranking green building. It has been awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certificate by Green Business Certification Inc, the certifying body for all LEED projects worldwide. “Globally, we are at number two with a rating of 103 out of 110 under LEED NC v2009 rating system for green buildings, devised by US Green Building Council. The first on the list is Pixel in Australia,” he says. The awards are given away in multiple categories and Sierra has won it under ‘New construction and design’.
The walls of the facility are made with recycled and eco-friendly autoclaved aerated concrete blocks and fly-ash bricks. The insulation comes from cool roof tiles, a layer of foam concrete, and a solar panel roof which saves on Air Conditioning.
Over 70 per cent of construction materials were sourced from within 800 km’s, thus being watchful of the carbon footprint. Giridhar gives an example to better explain this. He says, “When you buy from Salem Steel Plant instead of Jindal, you naturally cut down on carbon footprint, and the green standards also encourage the use of rapidly renewable materials (like bamboo and cork that have a life span of 10 years) and FSC certified wood. Most of the construction waste was either reused or recycled,” he adds.
There is minimal human intervention in the running of the building. Abundant greenery ensures a cool breeze. A drip irrigation sprinkler automated by Building Automated System (BAS) waters the plants at regular intervals. While the building of the software development company is spread over 24,000 sq.ft, the air conditioned work space is 18,538 sq.ft. and across three floors. “According to LEED requirement, 25 per cent of land has to be kept for vegetation. We plan to install bird feeders shortly in the garden,” he tells me as we walk to the parking area.
There are free electric charging points for cars and bikes. Electric vehicles, two-wheelers and carpooling are encouraged. Besides a free shuttle service, there is a subsidised bachelor accommodation close by. And, green incentives are given for employees who shift their home to a neighbourhood near the office. “The objective is to cut down on carbon footprint at every level,” stresses Giridhar.
A fully-automated visitor management attends to visitors. While pre-registered visitors can check in with details like their mobile number, an instant OTP and a selfie, new visitors have to show the visiting card in front of the camera next to the touch-panel display and sign in. This improves security and discourages entry of blacklisted visitors. The main entrance to the building has a motorised shutter and the power is switched off to the entire building at the press of a button.
The lift is operated by regenerated power and a vertical garden greets visitors at the reception.
The interiors are airy and well-lit and decorated with plenty of indoor plants like Areca Palm, Raphis Palm, and Schefflera venulosa to improve oxygen levels and control dust. All floors have metallic mats that scrape dust, dirt, pollen and other particles from our footwear.
Giridhar takes me on a tour of the smart facility :
Monitor, and save
At the reception, an energy dashboard on the wall displays the data (daily, weekly and monthly basis) of energy used by various equipment, the indoor air quality, amount of green power generated, carbon foot print… Everything gets measured here to improve awareness. It is also a reminder to take corrective actions in case we fail to save energy.
A booking system allows employees to use the conference room. Everything else falls into place automatically. For example, the canteen will get an alert on the number of attendees, parking staff will be notified of extra vehicles of guests, and so on. Inside, a touch panel controls the automated blinds which encourages the optimum use of natural sunlight while ensuring t here is no glare or heat.
The building has many windows with high-performance glass that ensure that the interiors (86 per cent of the occupied space) have natural daylight. The skylight provides daylight for the central part of the building. About 97 per cent of occupants has access to nature views. Studies have found out that this improves productivity.
There are no switches for lights and it is controlled by occupancy-sensors and LUX based ones (where the lights turn on only when there is insufficient lighting in that area).
The AC uses Variable Refrigerant Flow or VRF System and the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 13.85% which is believed to be one of the world’s best. The fresh-air that is pumped from the roof using Heat Recovery Ventilators passes through three levels of the filter to ensure that it is free from particulate matter. There are sensors to monitor carbon dioxide levels within the building and outdoors as well. An IoT device called the Foobot keeps a close watch on workspaces. It senses the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), humidity and Particulate Matter.
The roof of the building houses a 60 KW conventional on-grid solar power plant. The efficiency of the panel is optimal when the temperature is maintained at 25 degrees. The Building Automation System automates a sprinkler system to cool down the panel by three to five degrees using water that is reused.
The façade of the building is fitted with Amorphous Silicon (thin-film) – Building Integrated Photo Voltaic (BIPV) glass panels that produce solar power in low light conditions. The façade generates additional solar power. And SIERRA E facility is the first in South India’s to go for this installation from Onyx Solar, Spain.
Waste segregation at source recycles paper waste, E-waste, and plastics. An organic waste converter makes compost for the gardens in the facility. There is a rooftop organic vegetable garden and employees get free manure if they should so desire. No waste goes to the landfill.
There is a fully automated filtration plant for fresh water and rainwater. The building uses 50,000 litres of rainwater that goes through seven levels of filtration and is good enough to be portable.
Waste water, grey water and sewage are recycled using the Advanced Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) from KLARO, Germany. The treated water is used for flushing and gardening. This way, around 3.5 lakh litres of water per day is saved. There are green toilets are in place. There are also waterless urinals that help save about 1, 50,000 litres of fresh water per urinal pan per annum.
The Canteen Management System streamlines the operation right from taking orders, planning menus and minimising wastage. They use locally sourced organic produce including fruits, vegetables and milk. They do not use sugar and a display in the eating area informs diners about the calorific count and nutritional value of each meal.
The path ahead
Create a website called greenestbuilding.com that gives a complete info on the design and construction. “We want to build awareness and motivate other industries to go green. I was inspired when I visited one of our client’s platinum rated buildings in the Middle East. With an intelligent design, going green is not expensive,” assures Giridhar.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage sustainable design. LEED rating system is spread over 165 countries. There are about 90,000 projects worldwide registered for LEED rating and 37,000 have been certified as of date.