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Schools of the Future should be bright Green!
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Schools of the Future should be bright Green!

Green buildings are becoming quite the norm in South Africa, and updated legislation is on the way to make the energy efficiency of buildings even better. But how does this apply to schools? Marloes Reinink and Chilufya Lombe ask if it will ever be possible for schools on low budgets to be green and sustainable.


Fifteen years ago, the CSIR was tasked by the Department of Education to design a school in each province that went beyond the standard departmental design. The main requirement was that sustainable design practices were applied. Marloes Reinink says, “As part of my masters’ at the time, I assessed how sustainability can be defined for schools. I developed the Sustainable School Assessment Tool which was based on the Sustainable Building Assessment Tool (SBAT) developed by Dr Jeremy Gibberd at the CSIR. The tool looked not only at environmental issues, but also at the social and economic issues of building a school.

Ethekwini Primary School

A school has a large impact on the community it serves; and what you teach the kids will be taken home. For example, one of the eleven schools had a very beautiful and productive garden where a group of ladies was growing vegetables. When we visited the school a year later, we saw that vegetable gardens were popping up at people’s homes around the school.

By the time a child leaves school, they have spent more time in an educational building than anywhere else, with the exception of their home. To this end, the buildings in which we educate our children have a measurable impact on their wellbeing and development.

World Green Building Council (WGBC)

With climate change becoming more and more relevant, and Greta Thunberg representing the youth at high level political forums, it is important that learners at a young age start to understand how it will impact their lives and how they can make a difference. Buildings are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and two of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are Quality Education (Goal 4) and Sustainable Cities and Communities (Goal 11). So, it would be extremely beneficial for learners to be taught about sustainable building, health and wellbeing in the classroom.

Research has shown that certain green building factors positively influence learners’ performance at school. The four most important of these are Indoor Air Quality & Ventilation, Natural Daylighting & Lighting, Thermal Comfort, and Noise & Acoustics.

But, can we build green schools at an affordable cost? We live in a country that gives us the best climate to work with to design well-performing schools from a Thermal Comfort and Natural Daylight point of view. We need to go back to basics to fully make use of the climate, good orientation, the right amount of glass and good external shading. If we apply these basic passive design principles, we can design schools that are naturally lit – which is good for student performance and saves on construction and operational costs – and thermally comfortable, without the need for air-conditioning (a costly item to install and operate).

And schools should be self-powered, as they are operational during the day when the sun is shining. Designing classrooms to be thermally comfortable and energy efficient provides enormous financial benefits during the operational lifecycle of the building.

Solid Green has been involved with a couple of school projects over the last few years and is also embarking on two new school projects. Streetlight Schools – Jeppe Park Primary was the first school in South Africa to achieve a 4 Star Green Star SA Interiors v1 As-Built Rating, demonstrating ‘Best Practice’. This school , located in the Johannesburg inner city, hosts some of the city’s poorest children, but they are taught to be proud – of themselves and their school.

Streetlight School Jeppe

At Streetlight, Solid Green donated our expertise and worked closely with the architects to include sustainability within the school. We also paid for the registration fees for the Green Star rating, as we believed it would provide the school with marketing benefits – which paid off when the school was awarded GOLD under the Eco-Build category at the Eco-Logic Awards 2019.

Streetlight School Jeppe

Solid Green is also involved with two new projects – the design of a new school building at St Stithians College in Randburg, where we have been appointed to assist with ensuring that thermal comfort, energy efficiency and sufficient natural daylight are achieved in the classrooms; and the renovation and extension of JL Dube Highschool in Durban for the Cotton On Foundation.

Together with the architects, Fieldworks Design Group , we are starting the journey with an exploration of sustainability goals for the school, which will be inspired by the Living Building Challenge principles and Net Zero thinking. The Cotton On Foundation is funding the upgrades and extension to the school, but also stays involved with the project and assists with improved leadership skills of the Principal and School Governing Body. They further invest in food gardens and a kitchen, to make sure that the children receive a nutritious meal every day.

Sustainability must always be holistic. At Solid Green, we believe that the design and construction of financially feasible green schools is not only possible, but essential. In addition, the lessons around sustainability, in terms of a healthy diet, wellbeing and productivity can only benefit children as they grow. And we believe that teaching children about climate resilience and sustainability will be highly beneficial in the future, as they eventually move into the workplace and make their own decisions that will impact future generations.

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