Green Articles

Are South Africa’s built-environment professionals embracing green building practices?

Posted at May 31, 2012 | By : | Categories : Green Articles | Comments Off

This article featured on Engineering News gives a really good background with what has been happening with Green Development in South Africa.

By: Christy van der Merwe

6th July 2007


With ever-increasing global emphasis on the need for climate-change mitigation, South African built-environment professionals are beginning to take seriously the ambition to lessen the carbon footprint associated with buildings and residences, especially by using design and technological innovation to decrease energy consumption and limit waste.By developed-economy standards, South Africa is still lagging far behind in its adoption of green-building practices. However, government and the private sector are becoming increasingly conscious of the need for environment-friendly building practices, and corporations are starting to cotton on to the benefits of acting sustainably.Still, there are few examples of commercial property development that have fully embraced green-building techniques, despite increasing governmental, media and civil-society pressure and awareness about the climate-change issue.

There are, however, signs that a ‘sustainable building’ philosophy is taking hold, and that South African built-environment professionals are beginning to make real, if modest, strides in this regard. Although emission mitigation is a priority, as a developing country facing issues of crime and unemployment, there are other important social and economic issues that built-environment professionals need to consider.

Sustainable building looks at the aspects of energy efficiency and environmental impact, but, in addition to that, states that design and construction should take into account social equity, such as skills transfer and training, employment of local and historically disadvantaged individuals, as well as economic prosperity, or local procurement, from paint to locally manufactured vehicles, so as to benefit the South African economy.

“There is no rocket science involved in green building and ecodesign. We have vast amounts of information and knowledge available on the subject; now all we need is a body to facilitate growth and adoption of these principles in South Africa, where green building is still the exception rather than the rule. Common misperceptions such as green building being a costly exercise are not necessarily true, as there is a great deal that can be achieved simply by using good design,” Spire Property Services MD Bruce Kerswill tells Engineering News.

Top-level management of corporations are also starting to interrogate the long-term cost benefits of sustainable building practices, particularly in the areas of energy saving, and in lessening environmental pollution. Further, they are increasingly cognisant of the very real public-relations and image-building spin-offs from an overt demonstration of a corporate’s environmental consciousness.

For this reason, many sustainable projects, mostly of a small scale, are taking place and green-focused built-environment professionals, once dismissed as tree-huggers and activists, are gaining credibility and market acceptance.

“The year 2007 is going down as a watershed year for sustainable green building and ecodesign in South Africa. Business in this area of the industry has picked up incredibly fast,” Green by Design consultant Eric Noir tells Engineering News.

Green Building Council being established
An outward sign of the changes taking place is evidenced by the fact that a Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) is in the process of being established, and is expected to be in operation by early 2008. The aim of this non-profit organisation will be to promote green building in the commercial property sector in South Africa, and it will seek affiliation with the World Green Building Council (WGBC), which provides assistance and sets standards on a worldwide basis

The council will have the ability to act as a forum where government, property developers, architects, scientists, landowners and consultants can come together to work towards understanding the reality of sustainable green building in a South African context. “The establishment of the GBCSA is a move that will bring the country’s commercial industrial property industry in line with global environmental practice. As an industry, we need to start thinking seriously about the environmental impact of developments; we need to think green concepts within develop- ment plans in advance of government regulations,” notes South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa) CEO Neil Gopal.

Buildings can range from being considered ‘slightly green’, to ‘very green’, and these degrees of green need to be quantified. “What is lacking in South Africa at the moment are the standards and benchmarks to assist with green building, and this will be greatly helped by the establishment of a green building rating system, which will be the top priority of the newly formed GBCSA,” explains Kerswill, who is facilitating the launch of the GBCSA.

A green building rating system identifies various measures that can be taken to produce a green building, sets targets to be achieved for the different measures, awards points for the achievement of targets, totals the points to give a score and then awards a rating on the basis of the score. Measures to produce a green building can be taken in the areas of management, indoor environmental quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, and emissions.

“The GBCSA will work towards getting a rating system that is basic and useable, more like the bakkie than the Rolls-Royce of rating systems, implemented as soon as possible. This can then be improved over time and with experience,” states Kerswill.

With the assistance of the WGBC as well as its Australian and New Zealand counterparts, which already have rating systems drawn up, it is hoped that a rating system could be realised for the GBCSA in a shorter period. There are different ratings for office blocks, retail centres and residential developments, and the rating system will need to be adapted to South African conditions, but this should not pose a problem, as the GBCSA will be working alongside the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which has already conducted research on the subject, including the development of the Sustainable Building Assessment Tool (SBAT).

“The SBAT supports the implementation of more sustainable practices in the building and construction industry in developing countries and in South Africa, in particular, and includes social and economic criteria as well as environmental sustainability criteria,” explains CSIR built-environment project leader Jeremy Gibberd. The tool, which is currently used as an indicative guide to the performance of buildings in terms of sustainability, suggests a framework whereby property owners and designers assess the sustainability of their project

Government green
Although the construction of new sustain-able green buildings is a priority, retrofitting of existing buildings can yield remarkable energy and resources saving results. In some cases these changes can increase energy efficiency by up to 70%, decrease piped water use by 80%, and lower discharge-to-sewer by 70%. The costs involved in the refurbishment of existing buildings can be paid back through the amount that is saved on utility bills, as an energy-efficient building is cheaper to operate than a normal building.

The South African government has agreed that it should lead by example in this regard, and has plans to retrofit about 106 000 buildings that are used by government departments throughout the country. This process is currently under way and over 100 buildings in Tshwane, the Western Cape and the Free State have already been completed.

Driven by the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME), in conjunction with the Department of Public Works (DPW), it was decided to start with the biggest buildings, mainly office blocks, so that the biggest savings could be realised first. “The progress is relatively good, and is expected to further improve once individual line departments start receiving their own utility bills, because at the moment all bills are received and paid for by the DPW,” says DME energy efficiency director Elsa du Toit.

This initiative is in line with the DME’s energy efficiency strategy, which has set an overall target for energy demand reduction of 12% of the projected energy consumption, to be met by 2015. The specific target set for commercial and public-sector buildings is a reduction of 15%, and in the residential sector, a reduction of 10% is expected. It has been highlighted that, in most cases, the sectoral targets comprise conservative estimates of the likely impact of technical interventions coupled with the impact of energy- management initiatives.

“These targets are challenging but achievable. A review of the national and sectoral targets will be undertaken every three years to check progress and address areas where additional input may be required from stakeholders,” affirms Du Toit.

Corporate green
Corporations are starting to adopt more progressive social investment models, and sustainable green buildings are slowly becoming more prevalent.

One of the pioneering Southern African examples of sustainable green building practices on a commercial scale is to be found in central Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by Mick Pierce and modelled on ant hills, the East Gate shopping centre and office complex, which opened in 1996, incorporated energy-efficient measures, such as making use of passive cooling, which uses only 10% of the energy needed by a similar conventionally cooled building.

A leading example in South Africa is the BP head office at the V&A Waterfront, in Cape Town. Winner of the 2005 Sapoa award in the category innovative office developments, this building consists of three wings in a T-formation and makes the most of natural light and air flow.

Photovoltaic cells and thermal solar panels provide 10% of the building’s electricity when the sun shines, and movement-sensitive, low-energy lighting throughout the interior turns off when staff leave their workstations or vacate meeting rooms, ensuring that empty parts of the building are not lit unnecessarily. The building has a 1,3-million-litre underground water tank that stores run-off water from the roof area and is used to provide water for irrigation and ablution. The use of recycled materials, procured as locally as possible as often as possible, as well as materials minimising pollution, was one of the most challenging aspects of the construction of this building.

Gold and green
Also stepping up to the green plate more recently was South Africa’s leading gold producer, AngloGold Ashanti. The company ensured that its new head office, Turbine Square, in Newtown, Johannesburg, which it has occupied since May, followed sustainable green building requirements.

Scooping the prize for best building overall at the 2007 Sapoa awards was the new Woolworths national distribution centre situated in Midrand, and this facility is also an impressive example of sustainable green building. “This facility shows that despite tight timeframes and constraints, there are tremendous opportunities to implement initiatives to contribute to a sustainable built environment,” comments Noir.

To achieve its greater objectives of social equity and environmental stewardship, Woolworths invested about R10-million in sustainable initiatives for its distribution centre, with a payback period of possibly less than ten years being expected. The distribution centre makes use of a massive grey water system, which ensures that no potable water is used for flushing toilets, and a rain water harvesting system and borehole water treatment system, which provides most of the building’s water needs and the landscape irrigation needs for almost ten months of the year. The warehouse makes use of intelligent lighting technologies and solar panel water heaters.

Small-scale green
Sustainable green building on a smaller scale is becoming more apparent and is spurring innovation in South Africa.

On practising green architecture, architect and founder of Eco Design Architects & Consultants, based in Cape Town, Andy Horn, has drawn up a manifesto for green architecture.

The manifesto proposes six broad principles for a greener approach to architecture, and these are, firstly, socioeconomic principles, or the promotion of social, economic and cultural upliftment; secondly, land principles, ensuring use that is respectful and in symbiosis with the local environment and its resources; thirdly, water principles, affirming the protection, conser- vation, efficiency and reuse of water; fourthly, energy principles, guaranteeing the conservation, efficiency, and renewable use of energy; fifthly, health principles, focusing on nonpolluting environments and healthy materials; and finally, holism principles, ensuring the use of holistic principles and intrinsically recyclable processes and materials.

Horn and his team of architects and consultants have been involved in a number of smaller sustainable green projects, such as the Nieu-woudteville caravan site upgrade, which, in 2005, won a silver medal in the Holcim Awards for sustainable construction in Africa and the Middle East. He also works on projects assisting other architectural practices in going green, such as East Coast Architects, responsible for the Seven Fountains primary school in Shayamoya, near Kok-stad, in KwaZulu-Natal.

The school, funded by Oprah Winfrey’s Angel network, makes use of a grey water system, uses see-saws and merry-go-rounds to pump water, and has landscaped gardens that supply vegetables for school meals. The school also makes use of solar panels and passive solar design with insulated brick to improve thermal comfort, while reducing energy consumption.

Horn assisted on the technical and training side of the use of adobe earth brick and natural plasters for a large two-storey multipurpose classroom. The use of adobe brick for building not only helps to regulate temperature, but was made locally, using local materials, thereby cutting down on transport costs and providing 34 local unemployed women with skills training and employment.

Smaller buildings and residences are often more thorough in implementing the principles of sustainability. “We are seeing a significant amount of truly exceptional work happening at grass roots level,” confirms Noir.

Benefits of going green
The most obvious benefits of implementing sustainable green building are those of lowering the impact on the environment and curbing emissions, as well as lowering the costs of operating a building by cutting costs of water and electricity.

What is now emerging as a major benefit of working in a green building is the fact that a more sustainable green built environment increases productivity. “Studies in the US are showing that employees working in green buildings display an increase of up to 20% in productivity, and green hospitals are typically discharging patients on average two days earlier than patients with similar conditions recovering in conventional hospitals,” relates Noir.

Green buildings eliminate ‘sick-building syndrome’, and staff, working in places with more fresh air and natural light where there are less toxic emissions from materials used, are becoming more productive, proactive and interactive.

Also important to realise, however, is that the way in which a building is inhabited is important. The effi- ciency of a green building is nullified if the users insist on wasting water or use an air conditioner irresponsibly. In many instances, a change of management policy needs to be implemented to allow people to exploit the benefits of occupation of a green building.

Future green
Green building in South Africa has yet to reach its full force, and is certainly gathering momentum.

There are substantial projects in the pipeline, such as an eco industrial park in Lanseria, with 150 warehouses, which is a vast scheme that could have a ripple effect in the market.

Eskom is also looking into a new office block, and it is likely that this could be a leading example of energy efficiency, as sustainability of the building is said to be a high priority for the State-owned utility.

“Built-environment professionals have the ability to act sustainably and overcome perceptions of people who are sceptical of efforts of implementing green building. Consultants, architects and designers must be adamant in ensuring that comfort and convenience are not compromised, because a sustainable green building that can be delivered at no loss of profit or convenience is sure to be embraced,” concludes Noir.