First certified Ecodistricts in Africa
The S&J Industrial Estate secured EcoDistricts endorsement for both its Imperatives Commitment and Declaration of Collaboration on the 31 March 2022; and it secured the final endorsement required to reach full certification on the 14 June 2022.7
With this project, Solid Green’s Department of Sustainable Cities & Research, headed by Adrie Fourie, reached a significant milestone in the client support it provides on a precinct scale. The Department, along with their client, the S&J Industrial Estate NPC, celebrated being the first project outside North America, and the first in Africa, to secure an EcoDistricts™ Certified endorsement.
The S&J Industrial Estate EcoDistricts Steering Committee (SJEDSC) was established in 2021 by JSE listed diversified REIT Redefine Properties and Abland Property Developers. The SJEDSC has been working with the Solid Green team to drive the process for creating a strong framework to progress towards a model rooted in community sustainability, ecological awareness, and conservation.
Anelisa Keke, chief sustainability officer for Redefine, comments:
Our purpose is to create and manage spaces in a way that changes lives, and we are therefore entrenching ESG into everything we do. This requires an integrated approach to making strategic choices that will sustain value creation for all stakeholders through focusing on what matters most. The EcoDistricts success is a crucial stepping stone and endorsement of the progress we are making to ensure a better future for all South Africans.
Chris Roberg, Director of Abland responsible for S&J Industrial Development, says:
To be part of the team that has taken land that forms part of the undeveloped mining belt in Johannesburg and convert this to an Industrial Estate which has now been recognised as an EcoDistrict initiative is extremely exciting and a great achievement to all involved. This aligns with Abland’s drive toward sustainability which is evidenced by various commercial projects which have international Green Star ratings.
In parallel to working with the S&J Industrial Estate EcoDistrict, Solid Green had been working with the City of Johannesburg, to develop and test the EcoDistrict™ Methodology for the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) for the Orange Grove Special Development Zone, as part of the city’s innovative approach toward a low carbon city.
As part of the COJ appointment, the Solid Green team created a modelling protocol for a tool that was developed in line with the EcoDistrict requirements, to calculate an area’s energy use profile along with a CO2 emissions inventory. The COJ project team generously gave permission for the S&J project to apply this same tool to their project, to be able to learn from its application to a different project area, in order to further support the use of forward-thinking certification systems such as the EcoDistricts Protocol to guide neighbourhoods in their efforts to reach carbon neutrality.
The successful conclusion of the certification component of the S&J Industrial Estate EcoDistrict process is an exciting start to the long-term journey for this project. The project will now be required to submit biennial progress reports beginning on the second anniversary of certification and continuing every two years thereafter.
How EcoDistricts works
The EcoDistricts approach is regarded as a new model of public-private partnership that emphasizes innovation and deployment of district-scale best practices to create the neighbourhoods of the future – resilient, vibrant, resource efficient and just.
The Protocol puts a comprehensive lens on every urban regeneration decision, drives the delivery of meaningful performance outcomes, and sets the conditions for sustainable, collective impact. Above all, the Protocol is designed as a flexible performance framework rather than a prescriptive standard, recognizing that every community has the ability and need to advance a place-based sustainability agenda. District teams can tailor the Protocol to local circumstances, set performance targets based on local conditions and aspirations, and measure progress against the Protocol’s Imperatives and Priorities.
The protocol is structured around three core elements as illustrated by the three colours used in Figure 2 working from the inside out:
First up are the three IMPERATIVES which form the inner circle of the figure, and which are the guiding principles that will drive design-making and implementation: Equity, Resilience, and Climate Protection.
Next up are the six PRIORITIES which will enable the district to achieve meaningful outcomes and which link directly to interventions or projects being planned or implemented on the ground, namely Place, Prosperity, Health & Wellbeing, Connectivity, Living Infrastructure and Resource Regeneration.
And finally, the external ring represents the three IMPLEMENTATION PHASES: Formation, Roadmap, and Performance.
Performance focuses on measuring impact and gauging a district’s progress towards its performance targets. This is an ongoing phase during which reports are shared regularly in the community and publicly on the EcoDistricts Registry. A district’s biennial progress report becomes the basis of measuring impact over time and supporting peer-to-peer learning.
Certification includes three core submission requirements after project registration. The required documents are developed in line with the guidance provided by the EcoDistricts Certified Handbook. They are then submitted for third-party verification sign-off, and an endorsement is secured for that step.
As soon as the project secures endorsement for the submission documentation for all three steps, it will be EcoDistricts Certified. In order to maintain certification, districts must submit biennial progress reports beginning on the second anniversary of certification, and every two years thereafter.
Three important lessons learnt
There is a plethora of lessons that can be taken away from the work done with S&J EcoDistrict that we, as a team, will keep in mind with regards to future projects. Some of the key take aways include the following:
Importance of collaboration:
Once you make an ambitious triple commitment to ensure equitable, resilient and climate protected urban scale development, a lot of factors come into play that require a multi-disciplinary and bi-directional approach. This requires all interested party representatives to be included in the conversations. This can be seen as challenge when there are opposing views; however, the opportunity is to find goals and strategies that satisfy the main imperatives.
Creativity and exposure to better practices:
The challenge that comes with working with a sustainability framework as opposed to sustainability rating tool, is the non-prescribed strategies and benchmarks to be implemented to demonstrate your commitment to a sustainable EcoDistrict. The challenge is reminding the team and ourselves, as consultants, that the scope is wide and imagination can run wild on what this development can really be if it is driven by the commitment to equitable, resilient and climate protection principles.
Process over perfection/benchmarks:
Process is everything with precinct scale development. When you have a development that runs over numerous years, with a variation of individuals involved in the project, it is very easy for initial principles to get lost in everyday obstacles. The EcoDisticts protocol provides a framework that developers can use to ensure their goals and mechanisms are set in the initial phases to guide future decisions and withstand the various ebbs and flows that come with precinct development processes.
In committing to the EcoDistrict certification process, the S&J Industrial Estate has set a new benchmark for precincts in southern Africa. Solid Green is proud to have been part of this process!