Pioneering Urban Ecological Regeneration
In an important step towards sustainable urban development, we are proud to have collaborated with architectural firm MSSA on South Africa’s First Net Positive Ecology Project.7
Having been appointed to perform four Net Positive certifications for dsm-firmenich – Carbon, Water, Waste and Ecology – Solid Green approached MSSA to support in achieving the Net Positive Ecology certification for the existing building and site. The project has achieved a notable milestone as the first GBCSA certified, Net Positive Ecology Level 2 – Operational Ecology (Measured) project in South Africa.
Embarking on Ecological Restoration
The journey of this project began with the intention of reversing local extinction through sustainable architecture. The brief called for a locally indigenous landscape that achieved the GBCSA’s Net Positive Ecology rating for an existing site. As the team at MSSA embarked on their endeavour, they were cognisant that landscaping played a pivotal role in achieving this mission. The project sought to transform the dsm-firmenich headquarters’ landscape into a thriving ecosystem that could help regenerate the endangered Egoli Granite Grassland vegetation type, which once covered substantial portions of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs.
The Egoli Granite Grassland represents a critically endangered ecosystem, a remnant of a once-vast natural landscape that has been dwindling due to urbanisation and human activity. The project’s goal was to revive this ecosystem within the urban fabric, bridging the gap between nature and human development. The rating required that approximately 15% of the site be regenerated, the equivalent of just over 1,500m².
Innovative Design and Client Collaboration
The design incorporated over 140 different locally indigenous species, totalling more than 4,000 individual plants. This diversity aimed not only to reverse local extinction but also to create a resilient ecosystem that could provide habitat and sustenance for a variety of local species. The project is testament to the potential of indigenous landscaping, debunking the myth that there are limited options for incorporating native plants in urban settings.
The transformation, however, was not merely aesthetic. South African grasslands, characterised by their unique appearance and seasonal variations, were to be revitalised. The landscape design emphasised diversity over aesthetics, challenging conventional notions of beauty in landscaping.
The client’s commitment was important, as maintaining the landscape’s health requires ongoing efforts to prevent invasive species from encroaching on the native vegetation. Aside from aesthetics, with this type of project having very little financial incentive, the human aspect of better health is really the only inspiration, so having an open-minded client was refreshing.
Says Marc Sherratt, Sustainability Architect and Managing Director at MSSA, “One of the project’s highlights was the innovative spirit of the client, dsm-firmenich. Often, sustainability initiatives can be perceived as burdensome, but in this case, the client embraced innovation wholeheartedly. This mindset paved the way for the project’s success, demonstrating that environmentally conscious choices can also be aligned with business goals.”
Transforming Urban Spaces with a view to the Future
The project was not without its challenges. As with any ambitious endeavour, obstacles had to be overcome. Weeds posed a threat to the newly established native landscape, necessitating regular maintenance to ensure their control. The process also demanded a delicate balance between respecting the site’s history and transforming it into a thriving habitat.
The certification underscores the value of high diversity, locally indigenous landscaping in urban environments. It challenges the conventional practice of relegating landscaping to leftover spaces and limited budgets, showcasing the potential of cities as sanctuaries for endangered wildlife.
“We are proud to have worked with MSSA in accomplishing this achievement, which has far-reaching implications, not only for the client but for the entire green building industry and the cause of reversing local extinction,” says Marloes Reinink, Director at Solid Green Consulting.
The success of the project, which took approximately 12 months from concept to certification, lays the groundwork for future phases and similar initiatives, demonstrating that even in an urban landscape, a connection to nature can be rekindled. The research and reporting methods employed in this project will be shared in the Ecological Regeneration credit of the Green Star SA New Buildings rating tool, providing guidance for future landscape designers.
Looking ahead, this certification’s impact on the green building industry could be transformative. It accentuates the importance of quantifiable sustainability measures in an era where greenwashing has become a concern. As the private sector takes on a greater role in conservation efforts, this project shows how seemingly simple interventions like urban landscaping can contribute significantly.
Fostering a Paradigm Shift through Collective Responsibility
In our endeavours to reverse local extinction, this is an important project. It challenges us to reimagine our cities as interconnected ecosystems, where human progress harmonises with nature’s rhythms. The efforts of MSSA and dsm-firmenich remind us of our collective responsibility not only as Solid Green, but as custodians of the Earth, urging us to create urban environments that not only sustain human life but also celebrate and support the myriad species that share our planet.
Carbon, Water, Waste and Ecology are the four net positive categories that dsm-firmenich is targeting and the fact that this is the first certification for the site makes it special to the team. This is more than a certification; it’s proof of the importance of collaboration, innovation, and commitment to a sustainable future. As it stands, this project has created not just a physical landscape, but an example of how urban ecological regeneration can be achieved.