Building a Greener & more Sustainable Post-COVID World

By: Mili Majumdar, Managing Director, Green Business Certification Institute, India & Senior Vice President, USGBC

Mili is currently responsible for technical adaptation and customization of the portfolio of rating systems of GBCI for APAC region, and is also responsible for customer coordination, education, training & developing market mechanisms for adoption of tools & rating systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left its indelible mark in every corner of our planet. It has robbed the lives and livelihood of millions of people and has altered the way we carry out our lives each day. The world has had to pivot to social distancing, wearing masks, working from home (when privileged enough to do so), and meeting virtually over digital platforms.

The pandemic has also taught us important lessons and has highlighted the need to build a society based on the fundamental foundations of health and wellness, sustainability, resiliency, and equity. The pandemic has brought into view the inequities in the infrastructure of our communities and cities. The lack of equitable access to basic resources, particularly for the underprivileged was exposed in new and unprecedented ways. Cities and communities that had the requisite healthcare infrastructure and proactive planning were able to better mitigate the impact of the pandemic and curb the spread of the virus more effectively. Those that did not have access to safe buildings, healthcare and transportation did not fare as well and exposed their populations to much greater risk.

Healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy. That’s why we must take this opportunity to adapt our homes and workplaces in a way that can make our communities resilient and strong enough to endure similar challenges in the future. This becomes even more significant in the wake of our gradual return to office and other buildings. Social distancing and face masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future so we have to create spaces that accommodate and enforce public health guidelines so that people feel safe and trust the buildings they enter and occupy.

Services such as elevators and lobbies in commercial and residential buildings also require changes and we are already witnessing the adoption of measures such as disinfection, temperature checks and other safety measures. These safety measures need to continue and remain consistent.

Workplace protocols, trainings for at-risk employees, and sustainability requirements in building operations are also a critical and urgent need. Maintaining good indoor air-quality through the installation of improved air conditioning systems is also a central necessity. These systems should be able to reduce the levels of pollutants and spread of microbes inside the workspaces. Multiple guidelines on temperature and humidity set points in reoccupied spaces, air distribution methods, air filtration and disinfection using UV rays have been released by organizations such as the ASHRAE (American Society for Heating, refrigeration and Air Conditioning) and its Indian counterpart ISHRAE.

Water quality within the building premises is another key area of concern. Many offices have been closed for months due to the lockdown, which might lead to stagnant and contaminated water systems. These water systems have to be recommissioned to ensure the safety of returning workers.

The creation and availability of green spaces in residential and commercial areas is also important.  Spending time outdoors can improve the air you are breathing and stimulate physical movement that can improve the general health and well-being of people. Green spaces also have a positive impact on mental health and resiliency as well.

In addition to changes to our cities and office buildings, we also need to look to how we can make our homes more resilient, keeping in mind newly essential needs such as working from home and home isolations of sick family members. Flexible spaces, access to ventilation and ample daylight are some of the changes, which can greatly improve physical comfort and mental well-being.

All of us have hope that one day, we will all be back together again. Together at the workplace with colleagues. Together at home with friends and family. And together knowing that we have learned tremendous lessons from experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic that will help us better navigate a healthy, sustainable, more equitable future for all.