Ten years ago, few people really paid attention to their carbon footprint, let alone those of the businesses and organisations operating within their communities. Today, however, the picture has changed drastically and taking measures to “green” the environment is a top priority for individuals and businesses alike.
Indeed, a company’s carbon footprint has become a factor upon which that they are judged by society at large. “Green building – also known as green construction, sustainable building or green architecture – is essentially about building and designing in ways which reduce the total environmental impact. It embraces using resources efficiently, uses green design techniques and minimises negative effects on the environment, conserving our natural resources,” explains Heidi Franck, COO of One Property Holdings.
The good news is that these techniques can be adapted in South Africa to ensure that environmental standards are upheld. “It starts at the level of town planning – using existing spaces more efficiently to avoid urban sprawl,” says Franck. “It’s also important to plan ahead – instead of concentrating merely on the construction phase of a building, think about the maintenance and long term life cycle. And of course, sourcing products locally and recycling where possible is a must.”
Energy efficiency is a major focus in South Africa. To this end, energy efficient lighting and designs have become increasingly important. Solar heating is becoming particularly prominent and is especially suitable for South Africa’s sunny climate and can be used as a power source as well as to heat water.
In theory, green building sounds like the only way to go, but what are the costs involved? An Australian study recently reported that a three to five percent premium on a five-star green building can be expected. “There has been a great deal of debate around cost,” Franck reports. “Certain methods and products utilised in green building may have high capital costs but will provide long term savings, in electricity and other operating expenses. New technology is generally more costly, but one must weigh these upfront costs against lifetime savings. And of course, the environmental payoffs cannot be quantified from a financial perspective.
“It’s also important to note that existing buildings can also take measures to become greener. Simple actions, such as changing the light bulbs used can conserve electricity,” advises Franck. Moreover, there is also benefit in remodelling existing structures instead of increasing carbon footprint through the construction of a new building. “This benefits the owner, the landlord and the environment as well as the tenants who enjoy reduced electrical bills, a major plus when one considers escalating rental costs,” she adds. Other methods, such as installing updated energy efficient air conditioners, solar panels and water tanks contribute to making existing buildings greener.
“Do not focus on the individual elements of a building; a holistic view will result in the most efficient design. This is more than a once-off project, one can bring in new technologies on a long term basis,” Franck suggests.
Ultimately, it is up to developers and investors to become socially responsible when it comes to sustainable construction and building a greener future for all South Africans.