Eco-friendly Construction Practices: Myth and Reality

Posted on December 3, 2010 in unEarthed

By Sakshi Abrol:

Ask anybody what picture comes to their mind when mentioning an eco-friendly resort, and they shall reply, “Any lodging edifice carved out of wood preferably cottages (with thatched roofs) set up in a background of a lush-green arena facing sea or mountains providing spine-tingling activities for adventure-seekers and a relaxing, soothing and rejuvenating environment for peace-seekers is an eco-friendly resort.” Ideologically correct or seemingly so, the above mentioned definition for an eco-friendly resort is not only technically absurd and incongruous but a complete reliance on it as parameters for an eco-friendly resort has dangerous implications clinged to it vis-à-vis the natural environment under consideration. There is no denying the fact that the term eco-friendly was coined to help protect nature but it will not be an exaggeration if I say that the phenomenon has been used by some self-seeking rational individuals to further their interests.

Construct a sea-facing thatched roof cottages out of wood amidst an area full of trees, with varieties of flora and fauna buzzing with life in the backdrop and it is approved as an eco-friendly resort with the least consideration to the fact that the cottages have air-conditioners, bathrooms have electric geysers and the kitchen designed by a tech-savvy person and all other sophisticated appliances which of course work on electricity. It is obvious to the point of banality as to what extent we have been fooled by the resort owners who boast of being concerned for the nature. The irony however is that even the intellectual white-collared elite is also completely misguided by the false impression or the illusion so formed. It is sometimes overlooked that eco-tourism is a highly consumer-centered activity, and that so called environment conservation is a means to further economic growth. In a nutshell, eco-friendly construction practices going by the status quo of it are a myth, mere eyewash.

To demystify the concept of ecotourism, one has to open up to a wider and logical purview of thought processes and subsequent opinion-formation. In simple words, ecotourism is “the practice of low-impact, educational, ecologically and culturally sensitive, environmentally sustainable travel that benefits local communities and host countries.” And eco-friendly resorts are the means to an end i.e. to facilitate eco-tourism. The quintessential requirement of an eco-friendly resort as advocated by LEED India is that it should strive to lower operating costs and increase asset value, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve energy and water, be healthier and safer for occupants, reduce harmful greenhouse emissions and most important of all, the structure and its working should be an articulation of the owner’s commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

An introspective outlook brings to the fore the fact that even to build a hut, ecology is disturbed in the sense that first trees are cut down and it is only then that wood is used for construction purpose. Annual maintenance calls for more deforestation as wood is vulnerable to the changing seasons and gets spoiled due to moisture. It does not end here but has more to it. Building of individual cottages not only requires a greater plinth area but also adds to the quantum of trees cut down to make way for construction. Also the mandatory pre-requisite condition for any construction to be branded environmentally friendly is not fulfilled due to individual construction of huts. Water cannot be conserved, to be precise. A deeper probe into the matter reveals that any cottage made up of wood will inevitably have a high ceiling and will also have holes however well it has been constructed. Thus the chloro-fluoro carbons and other poisonous gases emitted by the refrigerator and the air-conditioners will leak to the surroundings thereby lowering its efficiency and consuming greater power.

Now anybody who is critical of my writing will definitely pose a question – What is the use of an empirical assessment of a predicament if it gives no solution to the problem? In other words, what is the way out? So, the first thing that I should bring to your notice right at the outset is that nothing can be done until and unless we shun away our ulterior motives and genuinely think about Mother Earth. We should always remember the fact that we are not the ultimate masters, we have inherited this earth from our ancestors and we owe it to our successors. Let’s stop playing this murky and dirty game with nature which will in turn boomerang heavily upon mankind one day.

The use of energy-efficient appliances, recycling bins in all rooms and public-areas, 100 percent recycled paper products, energy efficient lighting, the use of non-toxic cleaning products are simple yet effective methods to get going. Even an RCC building can be eco-friendly if it uses renewable sources like sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic techniques and also ensures growth of plants through green roofs, rain gardens etc. Many other techniques, such as using packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of conventional concrete or asphalt facilitate the replenishment of ground water.

The question that is being contested upon is… by using all the up to the minute gadgets and technology that pose a great threat to the earth’s reserve of non-renewable resources have they not made a mockery of the whole concept of eco-friendly resorts.

Image courtesy: http://webecoist.com/2010/01/03/get-outta-town-10-super-helpful-eco-travel-links/

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