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GBCSA Webinars in World Green Building Week

September 28, 2020

Leapfrogging to Net-Zero

As part of World Green Building Week, Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA)  hosted a series of Planet Shapers webinars from 21 to 23 September to mark the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) global campaign and support the 2020 #ActOnClimate focus.

World Green Building Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of green buildings as one the most effective means to achieving a range of global climate abating goals, such as addressing climate change, creating sustainable and thriving communities, and driving economic growth.

The series kicked off on Monday, 21 September with an #ActOnClimate webinar with WorldGBC CEO, Cristina Gamboa, and concluded on Wednesday, 23 September with a webinar highlighting green star projects in Africa.

South Africa also celebrated heritage day this week and GBCSA held a webinar as part of the series on Tuesday, 22 September, titled: “Our Green Building Heritage – From SA’s first Green Star rated building to now”. This webinar hosted a panel of sustainability experts that celebrated some of the green building milestones on South Africa’s journey since the first Green Star was awarded.

Panellists Alison Groves of WSP in Africa, Howard Rauff from Nedbank, Marloes Reinink from Solid Green Consulting and Xavier Huyberechts from GLH Architects all played a key role in the first Green Star rated building in South Africa back in 2009. Nedbank’s Head Office Phase II received the first Green Star certification in Africa – a 4-Star Green Star Office v1 Design rating.  It took another five years to see the first 50 buildings being rated and now we are rapidly approaching rating #600 in South Africa.

Huyberechts, an architect at GLH Architects, explains that sustainability is often ingrained in the organisation, but to use it in a more systematic approach, as is required for certification, proves to be more of a challenge.

The panel discussed how the slightly higher initial capital cost of building green was a concern in the beginning, but that it seems to be a thing of the past. “Especially when incorporated in the design from the start, there hardly is any additional cost anymore,” said Groves.

Groves added that the introduction of green certification has helped transform the market of green building materials. For instance, paint brand, Dulux, introduced low-VOC paints in the country, where it previously needed to be imported.  Building green has created the demand for more sustainable products.

Another effect seen since the introduction of the Green Star certification is that not everything may go as smoothly as planned, but that it can still serve a purpose. The approval for a blackwater treatment plant at Nedbank Head Office Phase II, for example, came two years after completion. Although it came too late for this project, it set a precedent for future use of this application elsewhere.

The biggest change in building designs since the introduction of the Green Star is the use of Photovoltaic (PV) panels that have become the norm in green building. According to the panel, there has also been a shift in terms of what is perceived important in a building. Wellbeing, correct design, energy and water-efficiency have now become ‘needs’ instead of ‘nice to haves’. They discussed how research shows that staff working in a healthier working environment is generally healthier, which has massive benefits in terms of productivity and the overall wellbeing of employees.

There is also a big move towards net-zero and net-positive buildings, which, with the recent water and electricity woes has great impact in the South African context. Also, considering possible climate change scenarios, becoming self-sufficient, or securing your energy and water supply has become very relevant.  Buildings go from being big energy consumers to being prosumers – while they are consuming, they also start producing energy.

There may be close to 600 Green Star rated buildings, but the reach is much wider, as not all buildings are rated. “Your building doesn’t have to be certified to be green, although a 4-Star is readily obtainable without too much additional cost. The investment usually pays out quickly in operational savings. The 5 and 6-Star designs, however, that is where innovation needs to come in,” said Reinink.

Huyberechts added that “commercial property developers have started to understand that the initial capital investment saves in the long run on operational costs and green buildings tend to sell quicker. It becomes business as usual.” GBCSA CEO, Lisa Reynolds, who moderated the session, said this is a call to action: “When a 4-Star building has become the norm, it is time to push the envelope. A re-write of the rating tool is on the cards. Watch this space.”

Although most of the Green Building action takes place in South Africa, the rest of the African continent is starting to catch up. “The continent is feeling a sense of urgency to build better buildings.” As WorldGBC CEO, Cristina Gamboa, put it during the first webinar: “There is a sense of readiness appearing in for instance Cameroon and Kenya, where we see projects emerging that are relevant for the location.

It seems to be the right moment for the continent and net-zero is not that far away as best practice. The third and last webinar of the week presented some interesting case studies from the continent. Elizabeth Wangeci Chege of WEB Limited spoke about green building in Kenya and Jutta Berns-Mumbi from ecocentric presented the Unilever Nigeria Interior v1 project.

In general, but certainly relevant in the African context, are the trends towards affordable housing that is resilient, adaptable for future climate change scenarios, as well as water and energy saving features. The panel discussed how local issues have urged us to become more independent from the grid. And fortunately, as Berns-Mumbi mentioned: “Africa finds itself in the fortunate position of being able to leapfrog”.



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