Hariharan Chandrashekar

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Hariharan Chandrashekar (born May 1956) is an Indian environmental economist, eco-entrepreneur, writer, and policy advocate and urban analyst since the early 1990s. He is Chairman, BCIL group of companies, Chairman, AltTech.Foundation, and Strategy Advisor for the new Bengaluru Central University, apart from being mentor for companies and institutions in the sustainability space.

Dr Hariharan has founded and built businesses that mainstreamed technologies and solutions for zero energy development in built environment spaces and practices. As founder of Biodiversity Conservation India Limited, he has been a very early pioneer of green and energy-efficient buildings successfully to the group’s current asset base of Rs 500 Cr. These homes have reduced or eliminated dependence on city civic infrastructure for energy, water and waste management, and in the process created happy and healthy micro urban habitats. He has been steering, over the last 35 years, energy and water policy and making significant contributions to evolving methodology for sustainability practices in industry and academia. From his early work on authoring India's residential green guidelines to his more recent pathfinder work at Watergy, and the directions he’s shaking at the Bengaluru Central University are reflective of a phenomenal commitment that age or resistance of market has not withered.

A prolific writer and columnist, he has influenced a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and educators to take to green businesses since the turn of 2000. His work on watershed development, practicable and cost-effective solutions for both water management in the rural hinterland and incisive reports and features on the economics and ecology of urban solutions have influenced change in many segments.

Dr Hariharan has been a key resource person at the Indian Green Building Council which has risen from a mere 20,000 Square feet of certified green buildings to a staggering six billion Square feet in 2018. The architecture of water and energy, and the cascading links between Policy, Regulations, Practices and Solutions for end use has been documented extensively by him and by a host of other professionals who he has mentored over the years. Over a dozen doctoral dissertations at the post Masters level have gained from insights and experience he has offered for such aspirant and accomplished Doctoral students on urban sustainability practices.

Early life[edit]

Born in Bangalore, Dr Hariharan spent much of his formative years weaned on Gandhi, India's more recent history of the times, and stumbled into the city's underground group during the Emergency 1975-77. He had the privilege of working with Snehalata Reddy, George Fernandes and others who were eventually hailed as heroes post elections in March 1977. He certified as a Chartered Accountant in 1981 but moved to become a journalist working with the mainstream dailies of the time. Many years later, he moved to working on India's development concerns in the districts. Then came his stint at a program on econometrics, picking for his dissertation Gandhian economics and the villages of India.

The late 1980s to the mid 1990s saw him understanding the management of watersheds and development of groundwater resources. By 1995, he founded BCIL as an enterprise, moving away from the donor-supported work of the Academy for Mountain Environics, that he helped co-found in 1991.

Then followed his years of creation of many residential enclaves that demonstrated powerfully housing that imported no water and less than 30 per cent as energy, exported no waste and waste water, avoided the use of bricks and building blocks that were high on embodied energy. He devised and designed approaches to zero energy developed buildings for the first time in India, and arguably in the world. Today his work has extended from a quarter century of ‘mainstreaming sustainability’ with specific projects, to a new phase of ‘accelerating sustainability’ with multiple programs for educating young professionals among buyers in B2B and B2C segments across industry, agriculture, services and residential segments.

He is a sought-after speaker, and has addressed over a thousand forums and at least a million industry professionals and students over the last 15 years, while mentoring many hundreds on striking the balance between commerce and conversation.


His is a combination of demonstrated work on Zero Energy Developed housing, designing solutions with ZED approaches for new and existing buildings, and a body of writing over 20 years that has changed the way India has shaped policy to some extent on energy and water management. His interest and contribution in the area of resource policy, especially energy policy, has been enduring. His work as founder-chairman of BCIL has created a legacy of powerful demonstration of urban sustainability solutions. He is now dedicating time to work on accelerating sustainability with his work at the Bengaluru Central University and on Watergy at AltTech Foundation (see Watergy.in). His writings – over 200 articles and features in newspapers, periodicals and industry magazines, as well as short films on a variety of smart solutions—has inspired a new generation of green professionals.

He has worked professionally as an eco-solutions provider since the late-1980s and as a passionate advocate, He is a sharp analyst and patient mentor for consultants and organisations seeking zero energy development solutions.

He co-founded the Academy for Mountain Environics in Dehradun in the early 1990s, then Biodiversity Conservation India Limited in the mid 1990s, and in the early 2000s, established the AltTech Foundation. His work as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank on urban water supply for the largest slum in Dehradun, and later the creation of an Urban Energy Sourcebook for Asia's 78 cities, as well as a Blueprint for the creation of Energy Information Centres in India were benchmarks that other sustainability leaders have pursued in India. He has promoted energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy sources, and the generation of energy at or near sites where the energy is actually used. Decentralised solutions is the only way forward for cities and the farm sector in an India that is headed toward its worst crisis, is a constant refrain with him.

Hariharan does not see sustainability as an objective. It is (1) resource-efficiency in use of extractive resources for energy or water or a range of other materials, and (2) the blend of economics and ecology in every business decision, that have been his focus. He has believed only business and private enterprise can show the way for economically efficient and ecologically compatible products, services and solutions. He believes companies cannot exist only for making profits and leave the challenge of cleaning up the debris to governments, as most corporations have done in the last 50 years. The price of a product or service cannot be merely the economic cost, but should reckon with the ecological cost, too, has been his contention for three decades. Patrick Geddes and Paul Hawken have been celebrated for their views while Hariharan has upheld these and demonstrated it in the preeminence as a green leader that BCIL has earned in India

Many of BCIL's globally acclaimed housing projects – with over 45 awards from three continents and 8 nations – have saved millions of liters of water and dropped many million units of energy drawn from the grid with these ZED Practices that he has pioneered with economic success since 1994.

He was conferred the distinguished Udyog Rattan Award for Excellence by the Institute of Economic Studies, New Delhi. The Week magazine chose him among '30 Indian Pearls' to commemorate their 30th anniversary. The Builders' Association of India conferred its Distinguished Green Builder Extraordinaire award on him. ADB recognises his work by declaring him to be a Water Champion for the Year for his seminal work on water supply for the largest slum in Dehradun. He is a core committee member of the CII India Green Business Council and co-author of the IGBC Residential Green Guidelines. He is a member of the Advisory council of the S&T Park, Pune. He is also member of the National Advisory Council of the CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development.

Over the last decade, he has served as consultant for governments of Uaranchal, Kerala and Nagaland on eco-conscious infrastructure and environment policies, apart from serving as consultant for water supply development for the Manila-based Asian Development Bank and the Paris-based ADEME, a French institution for promoting energy efficiency in buildings. He has launched many successful sustainable initiatives over the last two decades.


Softening Ecological Footprint

At 2 per cent the energy generating capacity of the external utility-scale grid, a solar grid at your office or home can generate the same quantum of units, at an investment that will offer you an IRR of 27-30 per cent over a mere 5 years. That is technology with massive payback. This is resilience.

Hariharan, in his work at BCIL has brought many firsts to the Indian building industry. Earth tunnel ventilation for air based cooling for a 75-homes apartment; grey water to health-grade water treatment for a 500-home campus; dual plumbing and treatment system to ensure better quality treatment of water; zero deep aquifer use with zero import of fresh water managed in a 100-homes apartment that continues to be water-sufficient after ten years of full occupation in an area that has thousands of apartment homes depending on imported tanker-water everyday through the year; use of district refrigeration systems for an apartment and soil compressed earth blocks on a scale that made it the world's largest; solar system for common amenities way before India even had a policy on local energy generation; a biofuel-based 20KW system for supplanting power needs which was equivalent to 1 MW of external grid on energy units generating capacity.

With urban India quickly moving toward rationalising energy tariffs a lot of Hariharan's work of the last 25 years is gaining immense relevance. While the demand-side strategies on water management that he has created with his own unique stamp to it, his lateral thinking on many of these aspects emerging on both the water and energy scenario has gained prominence in recent years. Many of his published articles argue that India is now at that important crossroads where it can take away more than one-half the load from the utility-scale grid to mini- and micro-grids that will meet energy needs without the external grid at all, and offer resilience to habitats, both urban and local, for the far term. All this needs, as the AltTech Foundation tirelessly insists, a commitment to energy conservation: The first fuel should be energy efficiency, is a refrain he has been endorsing strongly in every industry and academic forum.

Dr Hariharan has been a beacon of such enterprise of the far future, particularly for residential energy technologies that are prime examples of soft energy technologies and rapid deployment of simple, energy conserving, residential solar energy technologies which is fundamental to any energy strategy for India.

All of Hariharan's work at BCIL and The AltTech Foundation has constantly shown that the insensitive energy path that involves inefficient energy use and centralised, non-renewable energy sources such as coal and uranium is not the future at all. He has proven with demonstrated systems that localised impacts are more "gentle, pleasant and manageable" than centralised ones. These impacts range from the individual and household level to those affecting the very fabric of society at the national and international level.

He has been alarmed by the massive shift to electric vehicles and the world considering this to be a “clean technology”. The dependence on battery charging for such electric vehicles on dirty power has only shifted the dirty part of power and the disaster and design that can kill so many people so far away in the coal beds or central India or the sensitive east coast and the north east of India that harbour uranium.  Similarly the new threat from data centres that are being created in India with a density of energy use that is wholly unprecedented— 20 MW to a mere 100,000 Sft of a building—is a disastrous threat that is not being signalled yet for the media is not even reporting his, he worries. “Between these two developments of EVs and Data Centres in India, the demand for utility scale grid power has shot up catastrophically by 300,000 MW each, or 600 GW,” he laments. The entire current energy generation capacity in India stands at 250 GW!! The case that India is building in sinister ways without the media and the public at large not even aware of the catastrophe that is being paved is the massive dependence on coal and uranium for the next 20 years when the rest of the G10 world is moving away from these resources for reasons that have been painfully established by Fukuyama and other disasters.  


Many companies are already enjoying the financial and other rewards that come from saving electricity. Technology or solutions installed are not shared. On the other front, progress in converting to electricity saving technologies has been slowed by the indifference or outright opposition of some utilities and electricity supply companies. A third obstacle to efficiency is that many electricity-using devices are purchased by people who won't be paying for their running costs and thus have no incentive to consider efficiency (builders of residential housing for e.g.).

The fact that truly is galling is that many customers "don't know what the best efficiency buys are, where to get them, or how to shop for them". Hariharan hopes to have Watergy fill this deficit at multiple tiers—training beyond benchmarks into solutions, voluntary engagement from industry leaders, measuring and certifying buildings already occupied. These are the focal objectives of AltTech Foundation.

Citizen participation[edit]

It is not for want of solutions that urban India is refusing to change. The writing on the wall has been clear on climate change and impact. Many buildings have shown how they can go carbon-neutral, with savings of millions of dollars. Large institutions are becoming more rigid and inflexible, or worse, sometimes don't care.  Participation by  "citizen organisations” in public causes and their engagement to rouse governments and companies is something he's working on.


Many of the awards listed here were conferred upon the projects, for Hariharan did not see value in individual accolade.

Articles and features[edit]

This is a list of features which are authored by Hariharan and published in various mainstream media and industry magazines.