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Since its inception just on a decade ago, South Africa’s Green Building Council has moved from the fringes of the construction sector to become a major player in shaping how future buildings are thought about and built. Indeed, the GBCSA has impacted the entire built environment community and stakeholders as the notions of low-impact, sustainability and resource protection and renewal, along with an improving positive built environment experience, have taken root. This report reflects the state of play.

Green building as a concept is no longer an idea lurking on the sidelines of an industry sector that remains fairly stable amid turbulent macro-economic conditions – and which is, even under constrained growth conditions, still producing numerous ‘green’ buildings, private and public, every year. As real-time savings and efficiencies are repeatedly demonstrated in newly built or revamped structures, so the related sustainable building principles which have driven those positive changes have increased in relevance and importance. It seems likely that in not too long a period –perhaps a matter of just several years – the great majority of new structures will be incorporating core green building elements or being put up entirely around the conceptual framework they provide. Similarly, existing buildings are also increasingly likely to be revamped according to Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) standards and guidelines.

In a recent assessment of progress made, the GBCSA underlined what all this means in actual savings – not just in spreadsheets and glossy come-ons to potential investors, but in real-time, measured effects. So, for instance, water-saving measures, as endorsed by the GBCSA and incorporated into buildings they certify, already save enough water to meet the daily needs of 550 000 people each year. This has been achieved in just 300 resource-efficient buildings certified by the GBCSA, says the organisation’s CEO Dorah Modise. ‘GBCSA is meaningfully contributing to the planet,’ Modise told conference delegates at the 10th Green Building Convention, held in the Century City Conference Centre in early October.


In 2018, the proportion of green buildings will climb from 2017’s 41% to 61% of all South African building project activity. That is a huge leap for a single year and represents green building fully ‘coming of age’ in South Africa. The GBCSA certifies buildings according to the Green Star rating system. These buildings are recognised for their resource efficiencies, which are rated in minute detail using sustainability indicators on every aspect of each development, from light and water fixtures, to paint and carpeting. Local job creation is one very positive result.
‘If developers want a high Green Star rating for their building, then the Local Content category points, gained for using a local supply chain of sustainable materials and skills, is a key contributor,’ Modise explained. As established corporates order new green products from SMMEs, the general skills base increases to accommodate the growing demand. Helping to drive this ‘virtuous cycle’ is a growing number of GBCSA-accredited sector experts – in 2017 one training group alone consisted of 200 individuals.


Most South African firms give the motivation of their green builds as ‘the right thing to do’, comments Modise. However, with extended irregular rainfall affecting the country, and especially the Western Cape, along with the continued hikes expected in electricity and fuel prices, the ‘right thing to do’ is also often the most financially prudent. Beyond cheaper running costs, green buildings also show a higher return on investment. ‘Green buildings consider people first, and we urgently need to build better to enable thriving communities, better businesses, efficient cities and a sustainable economy,’ says Rudolf Pienaar, GBCSA Chairperson. ‘The GBCSA is perfectly positioned to build a better world in South Africa – and the rest of the continent. The GBCSA strategy has matured since the South African Property Owners Association’s initial sponsorship paid for the development of a rating tool relevant to South African conditions. ‘Today there are 10 rating tools, including a world-first framework to build better places for people,’ says Pienaar. The GBCSA continues to grow ‘exponentially’, says the organisation.

‘It took six years to certify the first 100 buildings, and just two and a half years to certify the next 200. Plus, we’ve signed up all the municipalities in the country through an agreement with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA),’ adds Pienaar. Beyond those achievements, Local Context Reports have been developed for Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia and Mauritius to initiate growth in their green building sectors as well. The success of the GBCSA as an economic and social imperative depends on collaboration, says the GBCSA. Citing the hurricanes across the Americas, the crippling drought in the Western Cape and recent violent storms in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Pienaar emphasises that the effects of global warming are very real. ‘A significant 23% of greenhouse gases stem from buildings, and if we don’t act now, and fast, there will be no chance of achieving reduced carbon emission targets,’ he warns.

The negative consequences of not meeting such targets are literally too horrible to contemplate, as recent disasters of various kinds, local and distant but all linked by climate change, have shown. Growing awareness surrounding the linkages between human activity and related climate responses is providing a driving force for change in many fields, not least the building sector in South Africa and many other countries and regions around the world. So look forward to an every-increasing number of buildings which, even if they don’t overtly declare themselves to be ‘good and green’ from their external appearances, will be contributing positively to a sector that appears to have taken on our climate and eco-related challenges with gusto – with long-term benefits for all of us, not merely their owners and those who live or work in these structures.


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