SA corporates are proving that there’s a strong business case for green building


FirstRand has one. Sanlam, Old Mutual, Absa and MTN have one too. Allan Gray and Vodafone have particularly high-rated ones and Nedbank has just revealed its fourth one, with two more to follow. Certified green office buildings are emerging as the latest ‘must-haves’ for SA’s corporates. But it’s not a fad – it’s a necessary development that makes both ecological and economic sense.

In business terms, there is a strong argument for building green from scratch as well as greening existing buildings, says Frank Berkeley, former managing executive of Nedbank Corporate Property Finance. His bank was the first building developer in the country to receive a Green Star SA rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). That was in 2009, and this August Nedbank opened its fourth green building. It overlooks a lake and offers preferential parking for ‘energy-efficient’ staff in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg.

‘It is widely accepted that a property built or retrofitted using truly green design principles has the potential to deliver reduced operating costs of around 30% per year. We have seen this level of annual operations cost-saving delivered consistently by the majority of the Green Star-rated buildings that we occupy, or those that we have financed,’ says Berkeley.

Building green can cost 3% to 12% more than the conventional way, depending on who you ask. But there’s a consensus that the extra financial outlay is recouped quickly.

Brian Wilkinson, GBCSA CEO, agrees. ‘Going green is not just about the environment. The bottom-line benefits of building and operating green buildings are particularly important considering South Africa’s rising energy costs and water scarcity, coupled with lower risks, improvements to employee productivity and, ultimately, better investment returns and higher property valuations.’

In addition, potential carbon taxes and stricter building regulations are encouraging property developers to ‘future proof’ their investment.

‘We dream of owning an office portfolio of predominantly green-rated buildings,’ says Rudolf Pienaar, Growthpoint’s divisional director: office portfolio. ‘As green-rated buildings become the norm, clients will be focusing on the total cost of occupation per employee rather than gross rental.’

Mike Ruttell, executive director of development at Redefine Properties, says that his company applies green building principles, and specifically energy efficiency, across its portfolio as far as possible. ‘Our green building benefits both our tenants and our environment by drawing less from the grid and less from tenants’ pockets too.

‘It also supports the sustainability of our performance because better, greener, more energy-efficient buildings attract better quality tenants, specifically multinationals who make occupancy decisions based on a building’s green rating and its owner’s green credentials. This means by applying green building, Redefine is more competitive in the market place,’ he says.

urbanisation Pull-Quote‘Most developers build a single green building and neglect the spaces between these buildings’


The GBCSA’s Green Star SA rating tool, which sets the standards and guidelines for green building, has received strong support. 

Wilkinson says: ‘Some very big players in the sector have pioneered the way to a better place for people and the planet. But of most significance is the take up by government bodies, big businesses, banks and property developers.’

In February 2014, GBCSA celebrated the 50th Green Star certification since its inception six years earlier. The rating tool uses four main categories (design, as built, interiors and building operational performance) to rate green buildings, new or retrofitted. Performance is measured in the following areas: management; indoor environment quality; energy; transport; water; materials; land use and ecology; emissions; and innovation. In terms of certification, 4-star stands for ‘best practice’, 5-star for ‘SA excellence’ and 6-star for ‘world leadership’.

By September, the number of certifications had risen to 64, with many more in the pipeline. Most are 4-star, but 15 obtained a 5-star and four even a 6-star rating. However, a single project can receive multiple ratings: one for ‘design’ and one for ‘as built’, which measures how the building is actually constructed.

The No 1 Silo project at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, is one example. Home to Allan Gray, it is one of only three 6-star rated projects in the  country and the only one to achieve this in both the ‘design’ and ‘as built’ categories. Meanwhile Vodafone’s Innovation Centre in Midrand and the new Pretoria head office of the Department of Environmental Affairs also received a remarkable 6-star rating for their design.

The green features of the Allan Gray development, situated next to a historic grain silo, include a cooling system that draws Atlantic Ocean water from the harbour into the building. Other innovations are waterless toilets and electric-car charging points.

The panoramic glass façade also scores high on originality as the architects had to overcome the challenges of glare from the sea and sky as well as potentially high temperatures in summer and heat loss in winter. The solution is an outer skin of clear double-glazing that envelopes the main façade. High-tech blinds track the sun as it moves across the building, making optimal use of light. The 70 cm cavity between the inner and outer skin can be ventilated or heated, depending on the weather.

A roof garden with vegetables and herbs contributes to the heat insulation and affords spectacular views over the city.

Further inland, in the industrial heart of SA, another groundbreaking green development is under way. It will see people cycling freely on dedicated bike lanes, walking and playing in the park and safely using public transport. Everything will be environmentally friendly; a place where people can live, invest, work, shop, exercise and be entertained.

What sounds like utopia is an ambitious development in Pretoria East called Menlyn Maine, hailed as the continent’s first entirely green precinct.

‘Nobody else is building anything like it in Africa. We believe our concept will have its followers,’ says Henk Boogertman, MD of Menlyn Maine. He expects his green city to be finished by 2020/21 at a cost of approximately R9 billion.

While there is a trend to use recycled building
materials, there is no legislation or certification

The 340 000 m2 precinct aims to achieve at least a 4-star Green Star rating as well as an LEED Neighbourhood Development rating through the US Green Building Council, which rates neighbourhood design in terms of smart growth, new urbanism and green building. Furthermore, Menlyn Maine is one of 16 cities worldwide in the Clinton Foundation Climate Positive Development Programme, which supports large-scale urban projects that drive economic growth while meeting sustainability targets with net-zero operational emissions.

The first corporate tenants, Nedbank and Sage VIP Payroll & HR, have already moved into their 4-star rated buildings in the precinct. Regus, the virtual office provider, is about to occupy its new green office and BMW will follow soon.

Boogertman, who is also the architect behind the conceptualisation of Menlyn Maine, explains that the focal point will be the R1.5 billion Central Square development, due to open in September 2016. The precinct will feature shopping and dining space, a 240-room business hotel, Virgin Active gym, 400 upmarket residential apartments, office space, scenic parklands and a Sun International casino with five–star hotel and 8 500-seater indoor arena.


‘It’s a fresh design and unique in the sense that it’s tailor-made for its particular position,’ says Boogertman. ‘Most developers build a single green building and neglect the spaces between these buildings. We look into the design holistically, to green all the spaces and make them people-friendly. For instance, the pavement has been designed with blind people and wheelchairs in mind.’

He adds that Menlyn Maine is well connected to public transport, with several Gautrain bus stops, city bus stations and a taxi terminal.

‘It’s a brownfield not a greenfield project, so we had to demolish 105 houses to make space for the development. We are recycling the materials in the new buildings where possible,’ he says.

While there is a trend to use recycled building materials, there is no legislation or certification for green materials in SA construction yet. However, several manufacturers are making an effort to join the green building movement. Cement company PPC, who just moved into their new 4-star rated building in Sandton, launched the Cement & Concrete Cube, a dynamic information sharing and collaboration platform that will make the interaction between team members and others more efficient.

BASF has come up with a thermal insulation material called Neopor and paint manufacturers, notably Plascon and Dulux, are providing low-volatile organic paints. Also, builders are using high-density polyethylene pipes as a chlorine-free, recyclable alternative to PVC.

All in all, it’s been an exiting year for green building in SA. The future looks promising, especially as the GBCSA chairperson, Bruce Kerswill, was elected as the new chairperson of the World Green Building Council. This should raise SA’s international profile and further boost investment in the green building sector.

By Silke Colquhoun
Image: Fredrik Broden/