The challenge facing ‘green’ building in South Africa focuses on convincing clients that many of the additional costs associated with sustainable design are recouped within a fairly short period of time.
Tenants are now demanding that buildings are either Green Star rated, or at least designed according to sustainable design principles. “We are moving from a period of ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘non-negotiable’ sustainable design,” Paragon Media Manager Hugh Fraser comments. “Fortunately, this mindset is changing fairly quickly.”
South Africa shares the Green Star rating tool with Australia and New Zealand, while a few other African countries use it as well. This is one of a number of tools used globally, including US-based LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and UK-based BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method).
However, these operate in the same basic way, namely attaching points for sustainable design, construction, and performance. Essentially both these systems seek to standardise the evaluation of buildings for more accurate assessments. “In future it is hoped that ‘green-rated’ buildings are not designed simply to accumulate points, but rather because it is the correct thing to do,” Fraser predicts.
There are a number of design interventions that can be made early on with minimal cost that will have immediate benefits. These include motion detectors on lights, LED lighting, improved waster recovery, and recycled grey water consumption, either through rainwater recovery or showers, basins, and sinks.
However, Fraser cautions that ‘green’ design can be “a law of diminishing return as one approaches high-cost benefits for perhaps a reduced recovery, as for example with high-performance glazing. Every aspect requires input from a specialised designer.”
Another factor that clients need to consider is that a ‘green’ rating, in fact, increases a building’s value. “Certainly, a Green Star rated building, or at least a sustainably-designed building, would increase its value, because running costs are likely to be lower. It is more difficult to convince a client to covert from 4 Green Star to 6 Green Star, but fortunately there are enlightened clients out there,” Fraser points out.
With regard to retrofitting or refurbishing existing buildings in order for them to be sustainable, this poses a particular challenge due to some elements being integral to the actual construction, such as floor and wall insulation. However, lighting can be changed to LED with monitors, water can be harvested, and waste can be better channelled. Glass can be changed to coated or double-glazed, so there are some practical changes that can be made.