Next Level Green: Sustainability Leapfrogging

Next Level Green: Sustainability Leapfrogging

At the GBCSA’s Virtual Green Building Convention 2020, Marloes Reinink presented ‘Next Level Green: Sustainability Leapfrogging’, which looked at how crisis can be a positive catalyst in driving proactive change towards a more regenerative built environment.

Held from 28-30 October 2020, the Convention took place online under the theme ‘Near Possible: Mapping the Path to a Sustainable Future’. Marloes spoke under the Leadership track sponsored by Nedbank, which aimed to explore life beyond the Covid-19 pandemic towards recovery and building a sustainable future.

As Solid Green celebrates its 10th Birthday this year, Marloes opened her talk by reflecting back on how far the green building sector has come in the last decade, with the GBCSA having significantly expanded its portfolio of certification tools, and having certified 550 buildings to date.

“Following the initial years of the green building movement in South Africa, it became apparent that there was a huge need for operational guidelines on going green, as our existing building stock is much larger than our new building stock,” she observed.

This was addressed with the Existing Building Performance (EBP) tool. The number of existing buildings certified has quickly increased, because some developers have had their portfolios certified in batches of 30 at the time.

The EBP tool doesn’t only apply to buildings under renovation. It focusses on the operation and maintenance of any existing building. After the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that this will definitely form a large part of industry activity, as we have realised that we do not need MORE office space but rather better-organised space planning. Indoor Air Quality is also becoming more important – and that is also covered by the EBP tool. I also think that the Green Star Interiors tool will receive more attention, as there will be a larger focus on Health & Wellbeing in tenanted spaces.

Another factor that has positively influenced the sector is the understanding that green buildings do not have to cost more. According to research conducted by the University of Pretoria in collaboration with the GBCSA and Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS), the cost premium on going green has diminished progressively over the last few years, and Green Star buildings can now be delivered for a premium of only 1%.

According to the GBCSA article, ‘Certified green offices hold value in tough rental market’, the latest MSCI South Africa Green Annual Property Index reinforced the benefits of green buildings for developers: “Certified green buildings showed a 34% higher capital value per square metre, more resilient capital growth and a higher net operating income per square metre compared to non-certified office buildings.” This means that the sector’s early adopters can finally see the benefits of their investments made real.

The GBCSA’s launch of its Net Zero Tools in Carbon, Water, Waste and Ecology has been a major advancement for the sector. “We have the perfect climate to generate Net Zero Carbon buildings,” Marloes comments. “I really believe that we need to fundamentally change our design thinking to align our designs with our climate. This will enable us to generate zero energy buildings without breaking the bank.

Image credit World Green Building Council.

“Over the years, I have learned that crises are often necessary to change people’s mindset and behaviour. We needed Eskom to deny us electricity and implement loadshedding to increase interest in energy security. We needed Cape Town to run dry to increase people’s awareness of how precious water is, and to realise how efficient we can be with water.

“And the most recent crisis – the Covid-19 pandemic – has forced us to rethink a larger diversity of office space types in future and whether office expansions are necessary at all.”

This new paradigm has made working from home more acceptable; and has significantly reduced the amount of time spent on commuting. Importantly, while there was already a growing emphasis on Health & Wellbeing in the green building industry, the pandemic has been a catalyst to really emphasise these issues. These crises have resulted in sustainability being high on the agendas of government and corporates.

Marloes feels that we should be making bigger strides to tackle building sustainability, and that climate change and global warming should receive the same urgent attention as the pandemic. She suggests the following actions in advancing these goals:

  • Education – integrating a locally appropriate Green Building curriculum into university programmes; and expanding accessible education for building professionals, clients and the broader public through initiatives like GreenED.
  • Challenging Targets – with a view to creating regenerative buildings and urban environments that are ‘socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative’, as per the Living Building Challenge goals.
  • Unlocking the Sun – in a country with an abundance of sunlight, ‘energy budgets’ should be created for each project, driven by the available solar power in order to maximise energy efficiency. The recent announcement by government giving municipalities the go ahead to directly purchase energy from Independent Power Producers is a major step in the right direction.
  • Integrated Design – green measures must become an integrated part of the design and construction process. Integrated design prioritises cost effectiveness over a building’s lifecycle, and engages all project team members in identifying useful interrelationships between systems.
  • Finance – this involves firstly changing the perception that green buildings are expensive; secondly, applying lifecycle analysis; thirdly, developing innovative financing structures; and fourthly, incentivising professionals to design the most efficient high-performance buildings.
  • Embodied Carbon – this is the amount of carbon released by the sourcing, manufacture and transport of building materials, and is rapidly gaining relevance globally with building certification tools and material calculators to calculate embodied energy becoming more advanced.

Image credit Skanska AB.

“We should not wait until climate change hits home hard before we act,” Marloes concludes.

We need to treat climate change as a crisis NOW so that it gets the attention and treatment it deserves. We need to challenge our vision and start setting more challenging targets for our buildings if we want to make a meaningful impact that ensures a sustainable world for future generations.

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