Building for the future

Building for the future

South Africa’s green-building boom is not only good for the environment, but for business too. By Silke Colquhoun

It’s happening all around us. The signs are clearly visible in the key card that turns on the LED lighting in your hotel room. They are behind the scenes in the heat pumps that are replacing hot-water geysers, in the reclaimed construction materials and in the passive design of houses, offices and hotels. The green-building revolution has quietly taken hold in South Africa.

Across the nation, new buildings are being designed and built – and existing ones retrofitted – according to green principles that strive to minimise the environmental impact during the structure’s life cycle. This is achieved mainly through reduced energy consumption, waste recycling and water conservation.

Case in point: The Silo district 

The true ‘greenness’ of a building only reveals itself at closer inspection. Take, for instance, the Silo District at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, which houses the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in a ‘reimagined’ historical grain silo. Earlier this year, the district was internationally recognised as ‘an important example of sustainable design’, receiving a 2017 Green Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum and the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

Two Silo office buildings have been awarded the highest possible certification – six stars in the Green Star SA rating – by the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA). Sixstars reflects ‘world leadership’, while an impressive five stars stands for ‘SA excellence’ and four stars for ‘best practice’.

At first glance, the award-winning No. 5 Silo office building looks like a warehouse designed in a modern industrial style. The true green beauty lies in the fact that the building operates at optimum efficiency. The central atrium is naturally ventilated, the high-performance glass facade ensures the best possible use of natural lighting, and the LED lighting has occupancy sensors to avoid energy wastage and reduce light pollution of the night sky. Special water-
and energy-metering systems monitor the
consumption of these resources and help keep it in check.

The landscaped rooftop invites office workers to relax in the indigenous garden, while photovoltaic solar panels generate clean energy. An advanced centralised heating-and-cooling system uses Atlantic seawater to heat and cool the building.

The building is constructed with 40% less cement than a conventional structure of the same size. The steel and timber have been reclaimed wherever possible; as have the fire doors, which were fashioned from wood reclaimed from a University of Cape Town building.

Another vital, but often overlooked, aspect of green building is the structure’s proximity to energy-efficient transport. The No. 5 Silo is close to the MyCiti bus service and also offers secure bicycle parking and charging points for electric cars.
SA is going green

‘Each formal green-building certification marks more progress towards climate-change mitigation and better environments in South Africa’s metros, cities and towns,’ says GBCSA CEO Dorah Modise.

Traditionally, buildings contribute dramatically to climate change. According to the GBCSA, they account for 40% of the world’s total energy usage, generate one third of all carbon emissions and consume 12% of all fresh water through their construction and ongoing operation.

The organisation, now in its 10th year, has modelled the Green Star SA rating on the Australian example. It’s a benchmark for rendering buildings – be they office, retail, residential, public or school – more environmentally sustainable. The growth in Green Star certifications in Africa has been exponential: from the first in 2009, to 100 by May 2015 and 250 by June 2017. Most of these are commercial buildings, with a number of property owners and developers growing their green portfolios quite significantly: Growthpoint currently has 66 Green Star certifications; Standard Bank has 16; and Redefine has 15. Other investors include Abland, Atterbury, ATTACQ, Nedbank, Rabie, Zenprop, Menlyn Maine, the V&A Waterfront and Tower Property Fund.

An increasing number of corporates also own or rent green offices. Among these are Vodacom Midrand, BMW head office, Absa Towers and Group Five head office in Joburg. Examples in the Cape are Old Mutual’s Mutualpark, Aurecon Century City and Woolworths’ Palmyra Junction store in Claremont (which was the first retail outlet in the country to achieve a five-star rating).

Why it makes sense

‘South Africa is emerging as a leader in green building’, according to World Green Building Trends 2016. The report by Dodge Data and Analytics states: ‘Respondents believe the green activity thus far is just laying the groundwork for an overall shift in the market, with nearly two thirds (61%) reporting that they expect more than 60% of their projects to be green by 2018. If this degree of commitment to green building holds, SA will be a leader in the global green market in the next three years.’

However, it also goes on to mention the challenges of finding enough skilled green professionals, and trying to reduce water consumption.

Modise recently gave the following reasons for SA’s green building boom: ‘Most notable are the glaring resource constraints and escalating utility prices. Electricity shortages and, most recently, the drought have increased the level of awareness across the board, and the property sector is just one sector that is beginning to show leadership in sustainability thinking.’

In addition to the high-tech aspects of green building, there are basic methods such as passive design (improving energy efficiency through natural ventilation or sunlight and building orientation) and green leases (where tenants are required  to pay according to their energy usage). Alison Groves, sustainability consultant at the WSP Group Africa, says: ‘Green leases are definitely growing in importance as the first step in changing mindsets towards sustainability and getting the buy-in from tenants for retail, commercial or residential use, alike.’

Perhaps coming as a surprise, the cost of building green was on average only 5% more than conventional building in 2014, according to GBCSA’s Green Building in SA report. And looking at the investment returns, environmental benefits and long-term paybacks regarding running costs and energy savings, Modise makes a valid point when she asks: ‘What is the price of not building a green building?’

Photography: Samantha Pinto/

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