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The Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA) is leading the way in the journey to net zero buildings. Towards that end, GBCSA recently announced the official launch of its Net Zero Programme and the certification of the first four projects under its Net Zero Pilot Certification scheme. We take a look at latest developments on the green building front and how GBCSA is helping South Africa become a world leader.

The GBCSA is one of 14 green building councils participating in the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero project, which aims to promote and support the acceleration of net zero carbon buildings to 100% by 2050. Net zero carbon buildings are defined as highly energy efficient buildings, with remaining energy demand supplied by on-site and/or off-site renewable sources, or through offsets. The GBCSA has gone a step further by launching its Net Zero Certification scheme, which rewards projects for completely neutralising (net zero) or positively redressing (net positive) their environmental impacts under four categories: carbon, water, waste and ecology. Net Zero certification is awarded over and above any Green Star certification a project already has. The first four projects to be certified as Net Zero under the pilot programme in South Africa are the Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre in Midrand, Gauteng, which is net zero rated in both carbon and ecology; Estuaries Plaza in Century City, Cape Town, which is net zero water; and Greenfields Industrial Park in Cape Town and Two Dam in Montagu in the Western Cape, which are both net zero carbon.


GBCSA CEO, Dorah Modise, says: ‘By launching the net zero programme, the GBCSA has set a new frontier for property owners and tenants to be rewarded for going even further along their sustainability journey – now property owners and investors can be recognised for being net zero or net positive carbon, water, waste and ecology. We are thrilled to already have four projects that have achieved certification under this new programme in the pilot phase.’ Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council, said: ‘We’re excited to see GBC South Africa officially launch its Net Zero Programme, which includes certification, training and advocacy for net zero carbon, water, waste and ecology in buildings. The work our Green Building Councils are undertaking through the Advancing Net Zero project will change the way the world’s buildings perform. ‘South Africa is one of the global leaders in green buildings, and this Net Zero Programme will certainly contribute to continuing this trajectory. We urge and challenge property owners and investors to reimagine how they design, build and operate their buildings by aiming to be net zero carbon, and working with the GBCSA to do so,’ he added. All participating green building councils are creating specialised training for green building professionals and will be supporting the development of net zero carbon demonstration projects in their countries. Training in SA kicked off in July and the recently certified Net Zero projects were showcased at the Green Building Convention taking place in Cape Town this week.


While laudable and positive, the GBCSA’s advances towards net zero or net positive buildings across the range of its major criteria underscores how far the world as a whole has to go to get building sectors nationally, regionally and globally all moving in the right direction. At the recent GBCSA Convention 2017 in Cape Town, Professor Mark Swilling pointed to the issue when asking ‘where will humanity get the 89bn tons of natural resources each year to fuel our consumption in 2050?’ It’s not a question with an easy or obvious answer – at least one that doesn’t automatically include a continued upswing in building resource utilisation, with accompanying eco-cost impacts. 2050 will arrive in a hair over 32 ‘quick years’, warned Swilling, and by then the earth’s population is set to double over its current estimated 7.3bn, requiring a staggering 89bn tons of natural resources per year if we do not change our ways. To cope with the pressure, urban authorities need to be prepared to learn how to adapt, Swilling added.


Many cities are trying to adapt, but the question remains, are enough urban centres moving quickly enough and radically enough to head-off an impending resource-crunch, along with the inevitable carbon and other eco footprint impacts that run in tandem with such resource consumption. ‘The world has broken out in a rash of experiments across all dimensions of urban life. We cannot continue to see cities simply as opportunities to channel finance into property development, or to spend money on out-of-date infrastructure,’ said Swilling. ‘Local government and GBCSA members need to talk about not just green buildings, but about green cities. Cities should be our focus, so that our impact is greater than singular buildings,’ agreed Parks Tau, President of the SA Local Government Association.


Swilling used urban ‘metabolic analysis’ to understand how resources are used globally and found that if humanity’s consumption habits do not change, then resource requirements scale from the current 40 billionn tons to more than double that quantum – each and every year. Adding to the issue is the equal inevitability that less land will be available to supply the required resources.
In 2050, for instance, cities will more than double their current surface area to cover 2.5 million square kilometres. Such will eat into the most productive agricultural land which are normally found on urban outskirts.


The most grievous outcomes of an uncontrolled rush towards future ‘ungreen cities’ may be averted. It is even possible, with sufficient political will and effort, that a sustainable growth scenario can replace the currently unsustainable one – a future in which everyone, more likely almost everyone, lives in a green building, uses bus-rapid-transit (or similar mass transport systems based on low-impact or zero impact energy) and all this powered by a series of mini-grids connected to renewable energy sources. Scientists such as Swilling have done the maths and it is positive: ‘We found there would be a 40% saving in total quantity of resources consumed,’ said Swilling.

The challenge will not be introducing sustainable technology or systems, but rather the reconfiguration of governance necessary to bring about the change. ‘We need an entrepreneurial mode of governance that allows experimentation. And, in my view, our cities in Africa have an extraordinary opportunity to do things differently. We are still going through the big decisions on the types of urban systems required, and we can learn from cities in more developed countries. Are we going to emulate older outdated nodes or are we going to anticipate and act? Are we going to say we don’t need private cars, we don’t need sprawl, we can do zero waste, we can do net zero multi-storey buildings?’ Swilling challenged.


What of South Africa, where local governments require financial surpluses from water and energy to cross-subsidise other service delivery efforts? ‘As an advocate for sustainability I am equally an advocate for long-term municipal sustainability,’ Tau said.  ‘This is why, during my tenure as Mayor of Johannesburg, I asked City Power for a new business model. I asked for reduced greenhouse gasses, increased revenue and increased collections. It was a long multi-year conversation. Now, consider if City Power were a facilitator of microgrids and so enable demand-side supply?’
City Power used to be in a strong position to create billions for the City of Johannesburg’s budget, but Parks forecast that by 2022 this opportunity would be gone, ‘so it needed to start thinking about another plan’. Similarly, while urbanisation places municipal services ‘under massive stress, there is an opportunity,’ added Tau. ‘For example, amend building codes to meet GBCSA guidelines.’


‘Change (as in climate and what it drives) is a hockey stick and we’re getting to the exponential bit,’ said Jason Drew, Founder of Agriprotein. ‘We’ll see more change in the next five years that we can imagine.’ Future businesses are moving away from the extract-manufacture-throw away product cycle and multi-generational product development, he said. A new way of doing business has begun where durable products can easily be repaired, shared and operated in a closed-loop cycle. ‘Today the world’s richest cities have huge bike share programmes, and the world’s largest hotel company, which helps to find beds for 80m people annually, doesn’t own any infrastructure but instead invites ordinary people to share their second most valuable asset: their spare room,’ said Drew. In 2008 Drew started a closed-loop business involving flies in Tulbagh. ‘After many years of failing we started to understand how to grow flies. Today our factory in Philippi receives tons and tons of organic waste from the City of Cape Town, which fly larvae then turn into fertiliser, and the flies are processed to create fishmeal or animal feed oil,’ explained Drew.
Agriprotein’s fly larvae factories are being commissioned all over the world, and Dubai will use them to become the first zero-waste to landfill city in the world by 2021. ‘We can repair the future, and we can do this in the most unusual ways,’ concluded Drew.


One of the issues facing all urban developers is how cities have been allowed to grow. For the most part, private- and public-sector land investment in cities concentrates on keeping ‘the haves away from the have-nots’. This had led to urban sprawl and continuing with such a system will continue to will to encourage urban sprawl which will consume more arable land and make sustainability that much harder to achieve. This is the overall message of Professor Edgar Pieterse, who added: ‘Words such as ”security” and ”exclusive” that are used to advertise eco estate living basically mean that they are situated as far from the poor as conveniently possible,’ Pieterse, the SA Research Chair in Urban Policy and founding director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, told green building champions.


Citing Cape Town as an example to illustrate Pieterse’s point, City of Cape Town Councillor Brett Herron, Transport and Urban Development mayoral committee member, said that cheap and abundant land on the urban outskirts of the city has encouraged sprawl. He added that it becomes clear that Cape Town is an inefficient city when one travels, especially during peak hours.
‘This inefficiency creates pockets of poverty on the outskirts of the city. In South Africa’s push to provide 4.5m new homes since democracy, we have compromised on location. So, families are forced to commute too far. They typically live in a 40m² home, 40km away from jobs, and spend about 40% of household income on transport. It’s clear that where people live matters. The spatial planning injustices of the past have a bearing on their future,’ he said. ‘The National Treasury has obliged metros to use the Built Environment Performance Plan, to show how they will reverse the apartheid (development plan),’ Pieterse explained. ‘The assumption is that transit-orientated development improves mobility, it will accelerate the speed of change and break with the past.’
In line with this, Cape Town authorities have focused investment on the Metro South East area. ‘We are looking intensively at location of housing so that the families benefit by receiving it,’ Herron said.


The current model will take between 20 to 30 years to lay the basis for real estate-driven urban integration and reconfiguration. ‘How will the profound development challenges of the city be resolved through this approach?’ he asked. ‘Our zeitgeist is summed up in one word: “Gatvol”. We are gatvol. Look at the amount of social protest, the rise of anti-racism sentiments and movements. Our economic stagnation means that [social] movement is stuck in neutral.’ SA’s townships’ dysfunctional education and health systems have turned them into spatial traps, he added.
‘The paradox is that the investment in public housing is capped by state spending. The more we redistribute to try and get the poor into the city, the more we reinforce spatial inequality. What we need to recognise is that the challenges we face get more acute with each public- and private-sector rand invested.’


The housing crisis can drive the economy and we need to stimulate the market – especially as there are not many other feasible options, Rob McGaffin, founding member of the UCT Nedbank Urban Real Estate Unit, said in his contribution. Referring to the Cape Town example, McGaffin noted that it is ‘fortunate’ to have a housing problem in that it created opportunity.
However, to realise the opportunity, housing must move from a social to a commercial concern. ‘We’ve got about a 320 000 housing unit shortfall,’ he said. This demand could be utilised to make necessary sustainable structural changes.

McGaffin said that the rental market catering to the 70% of Capetonians earning less than R20 000 per month needed to be catalysed, so that rent for family living spaces can be below R5 000 per month. ‘We need to build more homes within the city footprint, and closer to jobs and economic opportunities. ‘It is hard to achieve this in our current context because the value verses cost equation doesn’t work, and developers can’t cover the costs,’ added McGaffin.  As cost was key, sizes must be reduced. Therefore, it was necessary to stop focusing on new builds. With the cost of land acquisition, infrastructure and regulatory approval, new builds are the most expensive type of development and only represent 1% of total stock, advised McGaffin. ‘Uber reworked the existing stock of available cars, and this same trick can work in the housing market,’ said McGaffin. Single-storey homes are increasingly being converted to double-storey across high-rental yield areas. City authorities need to bring this trend to a tipping point, which will result in effective localised wealth redistribution, create an economic pillow to pinched homeowners and, with very little new infrastructure or regulatory processes, close the gap on housing shortfall across the economic spectrum, he said. 


Jodi Allemeier, Programme Lead for the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership, said that to be exposed to new, innovative urban policy perspectives that will enable SA cities to heal from past structural divisions, municipalities must be more inclusionary in their planning. ‘We must realise that many of the groups that should most be represented in policy discussions are not appropriately capacitated to add their voice. The burden is on them to influence policy and design, but they’re focusing on struggling to make ends meet every day.’


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