Habitat Observatory

    Eco-Wise Builder Greens Tamil Nadu

Owing to training he received in eco-construction, Ulaganathan is now a mason supervising 20 workers and taking orders for affordable, environmentally friendly houses in his state of Tamil Nadu. As the Indian real estate market booms, new housing presents an excellent opportunity for implementing green construction techniques. Capacity building for masons is a crucial means of both providing shelter and ensuring livelihoods in an ecologically responsible manner.

Having started out as a humble wage earner in the village of Kuliyapalayam in the 1980s, Ulaganathan gained exposure to the eco-construction during his stay in the green township of Auroville in Puducherry, and acquired essential skills that helped him to get ahead. “I was working with construction experts as a daily wage labourer,” says the mason. “I didn’t have any idea about eco-friendly buildings. But, during the construction of Auroville green buildings, I had on-the-job training from the architects and trained masons there.”

After receiving the training and experience he needed to become a full-fledged green mason and entrepreneur, in 2004, Ulaganathan began working on his own projects with the help of only three hired labourers. He now has twenty assistants earning a daily wage of IRS 340 each, and has also built his own house as an entirely eco-friendly structure.

Ulaganathan uses ferrocement and clay bricks for his green buildings, and constructs pillars out of locally available wooden planks. Through capacity building he received at Auroville, Ulaganathan learned to reduce the consumption of expensive and non-renewable materials, so he adds coconut fiber and iron waste in making the ceilings and blends limestone into the cement flooring.

Since his training and experience have made him conscious of resource scarcity and the need for energy efficiency, Ulaganathan also emphasises the use of rainwater harvesting techniques and the need to plant trees around residential structures. Architect Pallavai Nath of Auroville explains this simple but frequently overlooked concept: “The presence of trees near the house reduces the inside temperature. Hot air goes out and cool air spreads in our rooms.”

Ulaganathan’s customers are happy with his approach and performance: Ms. Vimla Bruno, whose green home was constructed by the eco-mason in Lawspet in 2007, says “Our house is cool and clean compared to other houses in our locality. The plants around the house keep the place cool.”

Stressing that green building is an affordable option, Ulaganathan asserts that “Even in cities like Chennai, you can construct a green building of 400 sq ft on a Rs 5 lakh budget.” In fact, he has built green homes for a number of his middle-class relatives, who could afford to make only modest investments. Ulaganathan has completed 50 green buildings over the past decade.

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    Bharatlaxmi Stoves Save Lives in Village of Nandal

The Nandal Village of the Satara District, Maharasthra State, India has more than 500 households. Nandal has now become smoke-free. Every family in this village is now a proud owner of a Bharatlaxmi Stove, which is reducing its fuel consumption by 30% and their smoke emissions by 80%, as compared to their older traditional stoves. The women also report a 30% reduction in cooking time, in addition to other health benefits of reduced indoor air pollution.

According to WHO, every year 500,000 women and children die prematurely in India due to various ailments arising from long-term exposure to smoke in rural kitchens. The culprit is the traditional cookstove rather than the fuel (mostly waste woody biomass), which is actually renewable and environmentally friendly. Thus, when a rural family switches from a traditional stove to an improved stove, the impact on the health and lifestyle of its women is enormous. The cost of improved stoves is always the main barrier for effecting this shift—therefore, even a small donation can make a large impact.

The Village of Nandal has become smoke-free due to the financial assistance of Cummins Diesel Foundation and the technical know-how of the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute. The stoves have been supplied by Samuchit Enviro-Tech Private Limited. Each family has contributed about INR 100 (approximately USD 2.5) worth of materials for stove installation. The total cost for installing each life-saving Bharatlaxmi Stove was no more than INR 700 (approx USD 15). The project will go on to create more smoke-free homes in the vicinity, installing 500 additional stoves in nearby villages.

Mr. R.D. Hanbar Deshmukh, Vice President, ARTI expresses his appreciation for the corporate support that has helped to make Nandal smoke-free: “We are very grateful to Cummins for giving us this opportunity. Gifting an improved cookstove is an ideal activity for any corporate for generating goodwill and initiating development activities in the rural community. A cook stove touches the life of the rural woman, and an improved cook stove that eases some of her hardships is greatly appreciated. The stove donors are given access right into the rural family’s kitchen, and therefore right into the people’s hearts.”

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