Q&A: GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL SOUTH AFRICA - JSE MAGAZINE

Q&A: GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL SOUTH AFRICA

Brian Wilkinson, CEO of the Green Building Council South Africa, on reaping the rewards of sustainable construction, local world-class design projects and the crucial role of the state

Q&A: GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL SOUTH AFRICA

Q: What, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind green building?
A:
The green-building movement addresses what are becoming the major issues of our time: excess energy consumption and the related CO2 emissions from burning carbon fuels; the pollution of air, water and land; the depletion of natural resources; and the disposal of waste. A wealth of local and international research makes the indisputable case for green building. Not only do they contribute to environmental sustainability, health and productivity, but green buildings are also cost-efficient to operate.

Q: The operation of buildings accounts for about 40% of global energy use. Why is it so high?
A: Buildings are one of the main contributors to climate change. They consume 40% of the world’s end-use energy consumption, generate 40% of its solid waste and consume 12% of its fresh water through their construction and on-going operation. It does require a fair amount of energy to construct and operate a building project and ensure the happiness of its users.

Q: Judging by the increase in Green Star developments, It appears the country has certainly embraced the concept of green building. Why do you think this is?
A:
SA is in a unique position when considering the greening of the built environment. The energy crisis pushes consumers to explore alternative solutions and puts their consumption into question like never before. We are being ‘forced’ to look at how we use energy both in our homes and at work. Our partners, associates and Green Star certified projects are already reaping the rewards of their green investments through lower operating costs, higher returns on their assets, minimised churn and increased productivity – all while doing their bit for the environment. Green buildings have been proven to make sound economic sense. Our market is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of green building and applying these practices more and more.

Q: There seems to be a perception that green construction costs more. Is this accurate? If so, what are the pay-offs for going the green route?
A:
Findings in the US, Australia and now SA clearly show that there is minimal difference between the cost of green buildings compared to conventional buildings, and that green buildings show the potential to achieve better investment returns and higher valuations. As the market becomes more aware of the benefits, we expect more traction and positive future prospects.

‘The current energy crisis pushes consumers to explore alternative solutions, and puts their consumption into question like never before’

All lights in common areas have been replaced with LEDs, with both owners and tenants benefiting from cost savings. A financing option was also made available to tenants enabling them to retrofit to LED in their premises. Waste is sorted and correctly disposed of. Ecological gardens, including a vegetable garden and fruit orchard, are maintained with borehole water pumped on site. Furthermore, 68% of the office park tenants have signed a ‘green lease’, which encourages collaboration and governs the relationship between the building owner and the tenant to manage and operate the building along environmentally sustainable principles.

Q: As the largest owner of buildings in SA, What role can the state play in the process of both upgrades and new builds?
A: It’s not only the biggest owner but also one of the largest occupiers of office buildings. The government is a key stakeholder. It can play a crucial role in not only driving the development of green buildings within its own portfolio, but also in incentivising the private sector by occupying office buildings that are green rated. The opening of the head office of the Department of Environmental Affairs in Pretoria is a positive step taken by government. The landmark building is a 6-Star Green Star SA-rated project and represents a major commitment by government to green building and sustainable development. For any building to achieve a 6-star rating is a feat that should be celebrated because of the high standard of green building design and construction applied. Especially for a government building, this is a precedent-setting move by the leadership of our country and a progressive demonstration of consciousness for the green movement. However, a disadvantage would be the lack of legislation from government. There is no directive, so the private sector is taking the lead with different degrees of interest and importance.

Q: How has the SA construction industry reacted to the green-build process?
A:
The Green Building Council South Africa was founded in 2007 and, in that year, certified only one green building project. In April 2014, we celebrated having reached the milestone of 50 certified projects. One year later, we’re celebrating having doubled that amount. This is a clear sign that green building has gained rapid momentum in SA. The Green Star certified projects have also demonstrated world-class, innovative implementations.

Q: What is being done to help drive green residential-housing projects for the underprivileged?
A: The council is breaking into the residential market with Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) – a green building-certification programme in partnership with the World Bank Group and International Finance Corporation. EDGE seeks to help facilitate a transformation of the property sector in rapidly urbanising countries by influencing design considerations. To achieve the standard, minimum savings of 20% energy, water and embodied energy in materials must be met.

‘As the market becomes more aware of the benefits, we expect positive future prospects’

The launch of EDGE affords us an ideal opportunity to benchmark ourselves against our international counterparts who have already introduced services related to residential energy efficiency and green buildings. Currently in its pilot phase, we see this as benefiting housing consumers from different housing segments, builders and developers as it will transform how homes are designed and built in the country.

With EDGE, builders can assess the most cost-effective ways of bringing green features into their designs, financiers can offer better terms to developers and green mortgages for homeowners, and governments can do their part through incentives and improved regulations. The incorporation of EDGE allows homeowners to easily quantify and manage their savings, with the key benefit being a more cost-effective and efficiently operated home.

By Patrick Farrell
Image: Hanlie Huisamen