Professional Leadership towards a more Resilient Future

Professional Leadership towards a more Resilient Future

As public health leaps to the fore in both local and global social and economic agendas, Marloes Reinink believes that in-depth collaboration is critical between the public and private sectors in planning, building and managing cities – as we navigate the increasingly complex road towards a more resilient and inclusive future.

“Climate risks have become part of the mainstream building conversation over the last decade, further highlighted by serious power and water management issues,” says Reinink, founder and director of Solid Green Consulting.

In planning for a post-COVID-19 building strategy, health-related risks, and specifically the management of threats in densely built-up areas, will join the Resilience conversation – requiring new design and construction methodologies to align with the inevitable changes to regulations that we will see in future.

I believe this is a challenge to the built environment community to take a leading role in effecting meaningful change. This would fundamentally include working with the public sector in proactively defining policies that address all aspects of occupant health and wellbeing. Not only for individual buildings but, essentially, for rapidly-growing cities in terms of spatial equity, movement (of both people and goods), and the provision of clean air and clean water – among many other factors.

Photo credit Boogertman + Partners

Climate Change & Human Health

Reinink says that the link between climate change and human health has been proven beyond any doubt.

Recent research shows that those who are most vulnerable to health hazards, namely those living in under-served communities, are also those who are most at risk from climate change. This includes the health risk posed by air pollution, which is linked to higher rates of death in people with Covid-19.

For years, it has been widely acknowledged that the design and management of buildings and public spaces are critical to enhancing users’ health and wellbeing – both in terms of productivity, and mitigating disease and absenteeism. “In commercial building typologies, salaries are the biggest cost to companies, so an improvement in staff health and productivity will bring a direct return,” Reinink emphasises. “And, in times of almost unprecedented economic uncertainty, this is an area that should receive increased attention from business decision makers.”

Moving forward, two criteria that will need immediate attention in commercial and public buildings (healthcare and education) are Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and the specification of suitable materials. IEQ covers natural ventilation and daylighting, good airflow and air filtration; while appropriate material choices include materials with low VOC content, materials that are easily cleanable, and materials that can be easily replaced as needed.

Photo by Nic Lehoux for the Bullitt Center

Social Distancing & Remote Working

Reinink also believes that the current shift in global paradigms will significantly affect how work and schooling are carried out, particularly for organisations and institutions that have not yet fully embraced the concept of remote working and flexible hours. In a hybrid physical/digital world, organisations will need to be extremely agile and spaces will have to accommodate hyper-flexible user behaviour, vast improvements to user health and safety, as well as the flow of resources and people as part of disaster risk management strategies.

This more dynamic way of operating has been part of Solid Green’s way of working since the renovation of its Rosebank office, which was awarded a LEED Platinum certification for commercial interiors and South Africa’s first 6-Star Green Star SA Interiors v1 certification in 2016. The company’s decision to move to its own premises in Parkhurst in 2020 presented a further opportunity to integrate key Health & Wellbeing requirements to enhance people’s physical and mental health and fitness. These include:

  • Air quality, which is being addressed through openable windows, natural ventilation, and sensors for air quality control (CO, CO2 and VOC).
  • Drinking water promotion and filtration.
  • Nourishment, through the availability of fruits and vegetables, food production in the garden, and mindful eating.
  • Light quality, with sufficient daylight, views to nature and glare control.
  • Movement, with the inclusion of ergonomic workstations, a good Walk Score for the area, and a multi-use space where yoga can be practiced.
  • Thermal comfort and control, with comfort monitoring.
  • Sound mapping and good acoustics, which requires an acoustic plan that identifies and addresses internal and external noise sources.
  • Mind, through access to nature; spaces exclusively for contemplation, relaxation and restoration; and sleep support.

Designing an interior environment to accommodate flex-working was high on the agenda from project inception. Several different work settings have been included: 8 (unallocated) work stations that will be occupied on a first come, first served basis; a standing/high chair seating area for 4 people; one large table for 4 people, and a relaxed seating area with 2 seats.

The project, currently under construction, will pursue a CORE Green Building Certification through the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and a Net Zero Carbon certification through the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA).

Boogertman + Partners’ head office, Johannesburg. Photo credit Boogertman + Partners

Public Private Collaboration

In the article ‘Climate, COVID-19 and the economics of decarbonizing buildings’, authors Casey Talon and Carsten Petersdorff state:

A collective effort is required to redefine specifications at the design and build stage of projects… we have an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the entire approach to designing, constructing and managing commercial buildings. If the collective of government, business, real estate and shareholders can agree on the importance and benefits of decarbonization priorities, the COVID-19 recovery era can be positive for climate change.

Reinink agrees and adds that, as the links between urbanisation, climate change and public health become more apparent, current building practices will fall under scrutiny – and stakeholders will need to work together in navigating the way forward.

The property sector is already taking a proactive stance on motivating for the sector to be deemed an essential service. We, as sustainability specialists, have been working to promote more responsible building practices for years. It is now up to us to advocate for the role of the built environment in recovering from this pandemic and preparing for future disasters – by being actively involved in decision- and policy-making.

Oxford Parks courtesy of Intaprop

In Conclusion: Building to enable Health

“It’s not a discussion about sustainability versus health. We must work together towards creating sustainable buildings that are enablers of health,” Reinink emphasises.

Human health, our actions and the natural environment are completely interdependent. Now, more than ever, we must prioritise the responsible use of the Earth’s natural resources and drastically reduce carbon emissions – both in the built environment professions and in our daily lives. The quality of our future depends on how we respond to the challenges with which we are now faced.

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