It was recently that time of year again for the South African Green Building industry, when professionals from all over the country gathered for the annual GBCSA Green Building Convention. Here, Jennifer Dean shares more.

Held in Century City in Cape Town in November, the event was both sobering and inspiring in its efforts to educate and motivate its delegates. Several of our team members were fortunate enough to attend the event in person. The theme ‘The RE-Generation’ was threaded through all aspects of the convention, from the numerous talks that one could attend to the main stage made from recycled components from other events. It brought the message home – that regeneration is needed in the built environment in order for society to thrive.

1. View of the recycled stage

A reality check

Much has changed in the two years since Covid and we have seen how destructive we, as the human race, are to the planet. Floods and extreme weather events have led to increased risk in all sectors –buildings, cities, infrastructure, investments, economies and countries – nothing and no one is immune. Tessa Brunette of Arup reminded us that we only have “23 months from November 2022 for global carbon emissions to fall and keep global heating under 1.5C.” As you read this, we are designing buildings for 2030 – a year which is set as a target (by the World Green Building Council) for all new and refurbished buildings to be NET ZERO in operation and achieve 40% REDUCTION in embodied carbon in South Africa.

2. A slide from Tessa Brunette’s presentation – “no Planet B”

We have the tools, we have the materials, and we have the opportunity. One of the most charismatic and inspiring speakers, Dr Antony Wood of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), offered insights on tall buildings, pointing out that “tall buildings should relate to the specific characteristics of place – physically, environmentally and culturally.” With key drivers such as population growth and shifts in demographics, perhaps the tall building even becomes a suburb, a city that is flipped from the horizontal to the vertical.

We need an urgent mindset shift

What we need is a mindset shift, a rewiring of sorts. Marc Sherratt from MSSA Architects reiterated this through an African, context specific approach to architecture, reminding us of the emotional connection we have with materials.

So, you might ask, why haven’t we changed our mindset, or better yet, are we changing fast enough? The Four Horsemen of Change, as highlighted by Andre Nel of Pick n Pay, give us an indication as to the motivation and reasons behind change (or lack thereof). These are threats that are sudden, short term, clear and something with which we feel a connection. Give something value, as Linus Naik from the Don’t Waste Group points out, then someone will do something about it.

Driving transformation

The point is, we need to act now – no more waiting. This must be the ‘decade of implementation’. It’s not all doom and gloom! Version 2 of the New Build Tool, to be released in early 2023 and sponsored by Balwin Properties, is aiming to do just that. It’s a step in helping to drive and transform the market, enabling clients and professional teams to navigate new challenges and trends. The tool has had a makeover, and incorporates eight categories – Responsible, Healthy, Resilient, Positive, Places, People, Nature and Leadership. Three of the categories were directed by none other than Adrie, Annelide and Dash, with Alex, Cebisa, Elrie and Nomamfengu also forming part of the taskforce.

6. Some of the V2 tool’s task directors and members

It wasn’t all hard work!

During the opening Plenary, a little game called ‘But first, let me take a selfie’ was announced, which was based on the tool’s categories. Test your observation skills, they said. It will be fun, they said. Well, they weren’t wrong. Marloes and I, the only eligible non-taskforce members from the team, raced around looking for the hidden posters. And while we didn’t win the coveted tickets to next year’s convention, I did win 3rd prize – an autographed copy of the book “Township Economy People, Spaces and Practices” by Charman, Petersen & Govender, which I can’t wait to start reading.

7. Marloes and I with the various hidden posters and task force directors

And when it’s time to shine, Solid Green does that too! The Gala Dinner on Thursday evening was sponsored by Stiebel Eltron and the main hall was abuzz with excitement and anticipation. Everyone looked beautiful – the ladies in their glitz and glam evening wear and the men in their formal wear, all rounded off with funky sneakers to dance the night away to the sounds of Good Luck. The GBCSA awarded some of our very own for all their hard work and effort in the year 2021-2022, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.

A lasting legacy

The final day’s sessions and plenary rounded off the convention with a reminder from Khanyi Mlambo from South African Women in Construction, “What you do in the building industry can change lives.” The legacy of building is one that is lasting, and we need to move beyond sustainability towards building regeneratively. Let’s get serious about the threat of Climate Change –adapt and change, thrive don’t just survive. Move that needle even closer towards Net Zero. Practice economic inclusion and drive the models within circular economies, so that we can transition to being the Google and Apple of the future. And share the knowledge gained as well as the failures when we meet again at next year’s Convention!

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