Episode 14 – 10 August Green buildings and the environment

This week I want to explore the concept of “Green Buildings”: What does it mean, why do they matter and how can a building be relevant to the environment? Now very simply, “green building” design and construction use resources more efficiently and create healthier and more energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings. The great thing is that successful green buildings leave a lighter footprint on the environment through conservation of resources and set out to use energy-efficient, cost-effective, low-maintenance products for construction. So in other words, green-building design involves finding that delicate balance between building and a sustainable environment.

Green building is the future, it is better and we can prove it

A lot of people talk about the “green building movement” and the need for the green building movement is a product of our time. I mean with a global population of 7 Billion and rising, everything we do on the planet now has consequences. There are too many humans and too few resources to carry on with “business as usual”. Interestingly enough the building and construction industry highlight the issues we face: excess energy consumption and of course the related CO2 emissions from burning carbon fossil fuels; the pollution of air, water and land; the depletion of natural resources; and the disposal of waste.

Good news though, Green Buildings set out to mitigate these concerns. For example, Green building measures include:
• Careful building design to reduce heat loads, maximizing natural light and promoting the circulation of fresh air.
• Using environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials.
• Reducing waste and using recycled materials.
• Water-efficient plumbing fittings and water harvesting.
• Sensitivity to the impact of the development on the environment.

In Denmark for example, green buildings are taken very seriously. Every building gets a rating, based on it’s energy efficiency. It gets really cold in Denmark during the winter, so you can imagine what a strain it would be on the national energy grid if every home and office was pulling the maximum amount of electricity to keep warm. So Denmark “rewards” building owners for energy efficiency, with an A+ rating for top class efficiency, all the way down to an E or F for any home or building that is totally in-efficient. The benefit is that an A+ home gets a much higher sale price than an E or F home would, so the government makes it attractive to become as energy efficient as possible. Friends of mine have recently built their own home in Denmark and their conversations have been full of wall and roof insulation, solar geysers, double glazing on windows and water running underfloor to heat the home from the bottom up. So I almost want to say that energy efficiency is a national sport in Denmark, because if you’re able to generate your own energy – say from solar panels or wind turbines –  you can sell any excess energy back to the national grid and make money from your design and if you ask me, very difficult to resist…good for the individual, good for the nation and great for the environment.

South Africa’s green building movement gathering momentum

Well, I’m proud to say that despite our young democracy, the South African market for green buildings is poised for rapid growth. I believe that development of the market is likely to be ensured should government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector work in collaboration.  Just looking at the growth in membership of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) indicates that the South African market is responding and they’re responding well to green building initiatives.

Non-governmental organisations’ aim is to stimulate green building awareness and to educate policy makers and the general public about the benefits and savings achievable through green building practices. Also a number of market leaders within the construction materials sector have also introduced green building materials and they continue to tailor their product offerings to address a growing local demand. Also a number of market leaders within the construction materials sector have also introduced green building materials and they continue to tailor their product offerings to address a growing local demand. And then of course a strong legislative environment, like the laws in place in Denmark, supported by sufficient financial incentives, has been found to be the most important factor in driving and sustaining the development of green buildings markets.

However, it is likely that the South African government will be unable to grant any significant financial incentives for many years to come, given the socio-economic needs in the country. This is understandable but the government could work on changing the perception of environment professionals and green building market participants alike. Because this is likely to stimulate the perception of green building as a nation-building opportunity, wherein jobs are created and gross domestic product is increased, and not merely as a social obligation.

A definite driver is the Green Star SA rating tool that assesses a building according to eight categories: management; indoor air quality; energy; water; transport; materials; land use and ecology; and emissions.
Very interesting to note that the South African market for green buildings had one certified building in 2009, but the increase in the number of members joining the Green Building Council of South Africa can be interpreted as an indication of market awareness and to tell you the launch of the Green Star SA rating system led to a race amongst South African companies to achieve that first certified rating.

I personally think that one of the biggest challenges is that professionals in the industry have been found to overestimate the costs of green design and construction by more than 300%! Also, the initial cost of design and construction is often the only consideration when debating green design, and little attention is given to the cost and energy savings potential of that design over the life cycle of the building. And that is really the important part.

So it’s baby steps in South Africa, but we’re getting there – and we’re talking about it now are we not? This topic would have been unheard of on a radio show  even five years ago. So let us do the talking and debating and encourage the lawmakers to work on the policy and incentives to make Green Buildings the rule – not the exception. For more info….

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Do you think Green Building design contributes to a sustainable environment?

And remember, take care of the earth and she will take care of you!