The green building industry in South Africa is showing signs of maturation, with increasing numbers of architects, engineers and product suppliers showing interest in the sector, not only to discover more about it and understand it, but seeking ways in which to successfully implement and create greener buildings.
The recent Green Building conference, held in Johannesburg, also highlighted a shift in focus from solely on an individual building to also paying attention to how a building fits into the urban settlement, the infrastructure and the surrounding environment.
Conference chairperson and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) built environment principal researcher Llewellyn van Wyk says there is a need to move towards a ‘deep green’ industry system approach, where buildings operate systemically and in harmony with other systemic issues, such as indigenous ecosystems.
Van Wyk emphasises that most delegates attending such conferences are acutely aware of sustainability and all its related issues and, thus, knowledge sharing, with the focus on case studies, is increasingly important.
“Fortunately, the green building market is developing in Southern Africa and, so, it is now becoming possible to share local experiences, something that was not possible two or three years ago. This is an exciting development in itself,” he adds.
Conference organiser and Alive2Green CEO Lloyd Macfarlane agrees that green building has become more mainstream in the past few years, citing the increased number of new delegate registrations at the event.
“Whereas, in the past, the event attracted mainly the built environment professionals, we are now registering more delegates who are product and service suppliers, property owners and consultants. This, in our view, is a meaningful change because it will serve to accelerate the ‘green economy’ factor, which is ultimately the driver of change,” says Macfarlane.
“It’s no longer about why we must build green but, rather, how we must build green,” asserts Macfarlane, adding that green building enthusiasts seek objective discussions that will explain away the barriers to their applying the principles in their own businesses.
Another noticeable improvement in the industry comes in the form of products and suppliers. In previous years, architects and engineers involved in the industry complained about the difficulty in sourcing ‘green products’ for buildings, such as recycled steel, low-volatile organic compound paints, forestry products from sustainable sources and so on, which appears to have changed.
The sourcing of such products has become much easier as product manufacturers have responded to the demand from the industry for more sustainable and environmentally responsible products.
However, the growth of products and suppliers has drawn attention to another challenge – that of ‘ecolabelling’.
Macfarlane explains that product and service providers have expressed frustration with the lack of an effective type-one broad-based ‘ecolabel’ in South Africa.
Because there is no standard international ecolabel, many voluntary labels exist, to inform consumers of the environmental impact a product has.
Buyers of products, on the other hand, are experiencing difficulty in evaluating claims made about products, services and companies within the context of sustainability.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) has indicated that it is in discussions with the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs’ Indalo Yethu initiative regarding better understanding the need for the eco- labelling of building materials.
Precisely what will evolve from this discussion, however, is not certain.
Developing a South African database of green materials, including property values, is another major challenge, says Van Wyk. “Until we have life-cycle assessment data, we will always be a little wrong in predicting the true performance of our buildings,” he adds.
Another factor that will considerably promote the green building movement is the participation of government in the industry.
The DPW controls a substantial property portfolio, as government is the country’s biggest player in the property and construction industries, both as a consumer and a regulator. Thus, the opportunity to make a difference in the property sector of South Africa is vitally dependent on government buy-in.
Speaking at the conference on behalf of the DPW, Water and Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi said the concept of sustainable buildings has been attracting the attention of governments in developing economies, as it is a way of tackling multiple developmental issues.
She added it had significant benefits for relatively little additional cost.
Mabudafhasi noted that the DPW had developed a Green Building framework in partnership with the CSIR, following earlier work by the Property Policy Unit, and this had been submitted to the DPW for final review.
The framework would inform a government Green Building Programme to be established by the DPW, and would encompass a South African rating tool for public green building, which had been developed by the DPW and the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), as well as the Construction Industry Development Board.
The rating tool would take into account key government imperatives, such as sustainable building, job creation, development in underdeveloped areas, enterprise development and social cohesion.
It was expected that the framework would be used by all organs of State, and it set the tone for national green building indicators and guidelines. It also sought to introduce a green building skills development and training programme, enhance research and development on the subject, and establish centres of excellence on green buildings, she said.
Van Wyk has been involved in the creation of the framework, which, he explains, will translate into policy. He underscores that government involvement in the green building sector will create significant mass in terms of building, product development and data.
Some industry commentators have complained that government has been slow to get on board with green building and related issues, such as energy efficiency.
One of the major issues highlighted by delegates at the conference is the inability of the industry, and government, to fast-track and implement initiatives that will incentivise stakeholders, such as tax and rates incentives, and feed-in tariffs.
“Government is learning too. We must also remember that green building protagonists have not articulated the argument well, tending to trot out the regular buzzwords used internationally. True green building offers so much more than that, and I think what government is now listening to is how green building can assist government in meeting its national objectives,” Van Wyk tells Engineering News.
Stimulation of the green economy, in its many forms, has been identified as a major imperative in South Africa’s New Growth Path. It is a fledgling sector that could greatly assist with job creation as well as technology development and environmental protection in the country.
In addition to public buildings and offices, government could make a significant difference in taking the green building industry forward if it incorporated green building elements in low-cost housing developments. Simple interventions, such as building orientation and construction of an effective building envelope, could make considerable differences in this market.
Van Wyk has been working on a pilot project in Kleinmond, which incorporates green building elements into low-cost homes. Construction and civil work are expected to be completed at the end of August, where after which monitoring of the project will take place.
Despite the challenges in the industry, there is no denying that green building is gaining traction in South Africa, and a number of new projects are currently under construction, have recently been completed or are in the pipeline.
Delegates at the conference were eager to share examples of local projects of all sizes and descriptions, as well as to glean knowledge from foreign participants on major international projects, such as the Masdar City initiative, which is located about 17 km from Abu Dhabi and aspires to be one of the most sustainable cities in the world.
About 6 km2 in size, when complete, Masdar City will house some 40 000 residents and hundreds of businesses, and will integrate the full range of renewable energy and sustainability technologies across a living and working community.
The city has a research university that is a source of innovation, technologies and highly skilled graduates.
The Masdar Institute, developed in cooper- ation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is already operating in Masdar City, and its students are the city’s first residents.
Other major partners include Siemens, which will establish its Middle East headquarters and Centre of Excellence in Building Technologies R&D centre; GE, which will build its first ecomagination Centre; Schneider, which will operate an R&D centre; BASF; the Swiss Village Association; and the Korea Technopark Association. The International Renewable Energy Agency will be head- quartered in Masdar.
The project was objectively discussed and, while certain conference participants were wowed by some of the green technology initiatives at Masdar, others questioned whether new projects, which used previously unoccupied land, should be considered green projects at all, or whether green buildings should be those that are developed on brownfield sites and do not contribute to urban sprawl.
Locally, the recently completed 8 500 m2 South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) head office, in Pretoria, was high- lighted as one of the examples of local green building. The head office was designed by Activate Architecture.
Activate Architecture was also responsible for the design of the Lebone II College of the Royal Bafokeng, which recently won the South African Property Owners Association Award in 2011 for social development and transformation. Situated in the platinum-rich North West province, the college campus has capacity to accommodate about 800 learners, and incorporates a number of green design elements.
The new Aurecon head office, in Cape Town, is one of the most recent buildings to achieve a Green Star rating for the design of the building. It received a five-star rating from the GBCSA, and is the first building in South Africa to be rated higher than four stars for design.
It is also one of the first offices that will incorporate a ‘green lease’ – a relatively new concept, which is an agreement between landlord and tenant to ensure that the building is operated and maintained adequately, and that the green building elements are fully engaged to allow the benefits of the building to materialise.
This also indicates a maturation of the industry in that it is not simply the design and construction of a green building that is under scrutiny, but also the proper management of these facilities.
Another green building under construction, which will be the first in South Africa to aim for a six-star design rating from the GBCSA, is the new Vodafone innovation centre, which will be located in Midrand. The centre itself will house research and development teams working on reducing the group’s carbon footprint across its global operations.
Other more recent projects, incorporating green design elements mentioned at the con-ference were the Turbine Hotel and Spa at Thesen Islands, in Knysna, which was designed by CMAI Architects; the Dube Trade Port head office building called 29º South, in Durban, designed by Shabangu Architects; and the Gibb Africa consulting office, in Nairobi, designed by Urban Edge Architects.
Thus, while it is clear that there are examples of individual buildings incorporating green elements, there still is a need for these to gain critical mass and start influencing the systemic development of areas to include surrounding infrastructure.