Building a greener future

Building a greener future

SHEQ in the construction industry usually focuses on compliance in terms of people wearing hard hats, using the correct equipment and doing their utmost to prevent accidents (all very noble causes). But what about the actual buildings?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) emphasises that buildings have an array of ecological effects on our planet. Not only do building processes impact the environment and ecosystem surrounding these sites; but the design, construction, operation and maintenance of these structures consumes large amounts of energy, water and other resources – all while creating significant amounts of waste.

According to the US Green Building Council – a member of the 100-strong network of green building councils from more than 90 countries, which forms the World Green Building Council (WGBC) – buildings account for 36 percent of the country’s total energy use and 65 percent of its electricity consumption. In the US, these structures produce 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, use 30 percent of the country’s raw materials and generate 30 percent of its waste (which amounts to 123 tonnes annually).

So, even after buildings are constructed, occupants and building managers face a host of challenges as they try to maintain a healthy, efficient and productive environment.

The WGBC, the largest international organisation that aims to facilitate the global transformation of the building industry towards sustainability, adds that buildings devour about 40 percent of the world’s energy. The WGBC states, however, that the green counterparts typically reduce consumption between 50 to 70 percent, which in turn reduces greenhouse gases.

But the benefits of green buildings don’t end there, as shown in the WGBC’s latest report: The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of the Costs and Benefits for Developers, Investors and Occupants. Herein the Council highlights all the advantages these environmentally friendly structures have for the different stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of a building.

A major reward is financial gain; it’s been shown that green buildings save money through reduced energy and water consumption and lower long-term operations and maintenance costs. The report states that energy savings alone typically exceed any cost premiums associated with their design and construction, within a reasonable payback period.

The WGBC points out that there has been an overall trend towards the reduction in design and construction costs associated with green construction as building codes around the world become stricter, supply chains for green materials and technologies mature and the industry becomes more skilled at delivering these ecological units.

The WGBC’s paper also notes that there is an emerging body of evidence suggesting that the physical characteristics of buildings and indoor environments can influence worker productivity and occupant health and well-being, which results in bottom-line benefits for businesses.

But it isn’t all about the money. The report concludes that a greener built environment can help to curb climate change, ensure energy security, resource conservation and job creation as well as guarantee a better quality of life overall.

So it makes perfect sense to go green when it comes to construction and South Africa isn’t lagging behind. Locally, people can wear their hearts – or perhaps Green Stars – on their sleeves as the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA), which was formed in 2007, is paving the way towards the transformation of our country’s property industry. It aims to ensure that buildings are designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way.

The local Council is doing this by providing the tools, training, knowledge, connections and networks to promote green building practices across the country. It’s also developed the Green Star SA rating system and is the official certification body for Green Star SA projects.

The GBCSA developed this rating tool to provide an unbiased standard measurement, in a “common language”, for green buildings in South Africa, and to recognise and reward those who are adhering to environmentally sustainable norms in the property industry.

This ecological rating system looks at a number of categories to assess the environmental impact of a project’s site selection, design and construction – with certification being awarded for 4-, 5- and 6-Star Green Star SA ratings (representing Best Practice, South African Excellence and World Leadership).

Building owners can also apply for the rating by submitting the necessary documentation to the GBCSA. The Council then uses independent assessors to evaluate the project and allocate points based on green measures that have been implemented.

One benefit of a Green Star SA rating is that it provides some major green bragging rights to owners, developers and tenants. This is wonderful as society and businesses are all becoming more concerned with climate change and sustainability.

But the GBCSA is taking things even further, stamping a lekker local South African twist on the green building industry with its launch of a new pilot socio-economic category for Green Star SA rating tools in Gauteng.

Sponsored by Old Mutual Property, this new category is the first set of socio-economic criteria for building rating tools focused on a developing country’s context. The pilot is also to be used as an international framework for adaptation in other developing countries.

Old Mutual Property managing director, Peter Levett, says he is delighted to be associated with such a progressive initiative. “The introduction of the pilot socio-economic category is a critical move toward building a more sustainable property development environment in the developing world.” He adds: “We applaud the Green Building Council South Africa for leading the way in the quest for a more positive socio-economic impact from the property industry.”

Testing for the pilot phase will last until December. Projects that achieve a rating for the new category will get additional recognition for this, along with their Green Star SA rating.

The GBCSA states that it is important to include social and economic factors as it addresses broader sustainability issues, which are particularly relevant for South Africa and other developing countries.

The Council adds that societal challenges such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education and skills and poor health can all be addressed, to some degree, through the process of designing and constructing green buildings.

GBCSA CEO Brian Wilkinson says: “In the same way that Green Star SA tools have inspired transformation towards greener practices in the property industry, we trust that this socio-economic category will help facilitate greater realisation of the socio-economic upliftment potential of building projects.”

So with the many advantages of going the green building route, and socio-economic upliftment being thrown in the mix, the South African construction industry can move away from mere SHEQ compliance and toward a sustainable future – filled with better environments, happier occupants and sites that worry not only about keeping everyone safe in the present (which is very important), but about their future as well.

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