Green Building in South Africa

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Building green is about making cents of the argument for sustainable building practice, according to the Green Building Council of South Africa.

Brian Wilkinson, newly appointed chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of South Africa says the organisation’s role is to ensure that the built environment makes the necessary changes and adopts practices that will ensure that we will have a viable planet on which to live.

Brian Wilkinson, newly appointed chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), says in order for a project or an organisation to succeed, it must have two core components, a noble imperative and it must make common sense.

“I think that this philosophy is the driving force behind the vision for the future of the GBCSA.”

He explains that the nobility of the GBCSA’s imperative is to play a vital and active role in ensuring that the built environment makes the necessary changes and adopts practices that will ensure that we will have a viable planet on which to live.

The magic happens when you combine this noble imperative with the strong economic argument that supports building and operating our buildings in an energy efficient and sustainable way.

He says on a micro scale many homeowners would not have considered a solar water heater and low energy CFL lights just a few years ago. But with the increase in electricity costs these investments now offer a very real payback.

In the commercial context the argument is exactly the same – it’s just the scale that’s different and there’s significantly more opportunity than just lights and solar water heating.

“The ultimate objective is to ensure that the need for, and economic benefits of, sustainable building practice becomes internalised in the minds of property owners, managers and developers such that it influences thinking at the conception of a project and informs, shapes all actions and decisions going forward.”

Wilkinson has been tasked with the responsibility of implementing the council’s strategic vision and direction, managing the GBCSA’s new growth phase and overseeing the day-to-day management of the organisation.

Launched in 2007 as the 13th Green Building Council in the world among more than 80 councils, the GBCSA is South Africa’s official representative at the World Green Building Council.

GBCSA works closely with commercial property developers, owners and professionals as well as the public sector.

It has 850 member organisations and has two rating tools – Office V1 and Retail V1 – active in the market.

The Multi Unit Residential Tool is currently in pilot phase while a Public Buildings rating tool is about to launch into pilot phase and an energy benchmarking tool is in the pipeline.

The GBCSA has certified five buildings as Green Star SA Rated and over 30 buildings are registered for a Green Star SA rating.

It has trained over 2000 professionals in the application of the Green Star SA tools and more than 300 professionals have been formally accredited.

Apart from providing a standardised Green Star SA tool for property professionals, Wilkinson says that ratings are starting to exert peer pressure on property owners and developers.

“We’ve found that many property owners, developers and professionals are incredibly proud to achieve a four or five star rating on a building.”

“In time, we believe the demand for and pride in these ratings will filter down to property users and their clients. This has already been achieved in Australia, where you cannot rent out a building unless it is Green Star rated.”

He says the commercial property sector has been quick to respond to the call for sustainable building practice as a result, the GBCSA’s office tool was the first to be introduced in South Africa.

Nedbank Phase Two was South Africa’s first Green Star Rated Building.

The public sector is keeping pace with the commercial sector and is an active member. The Department of Public Works recently adopted and gazetted the GBCSA Green Star SA rating tool for government buildings as ’best practice’ for design.

“We expect that our Public Buildings rating tool (which includes government buildings as well as other public buildings such as schools), will be launched at the GBCSA Convention & Exhibition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town in October.”

The GBCSA is the entry point of sustainable building practice into the African continent and South Africa has a leadership role to play because in many respects it informs the actions of the rest of Africa.

He says there is a raft of new projects awaiting accreditation, course offerings needs expansion, advocacy and lobbying role with government as SA hosts the COP17 in Durban later this year is more important than ever.

‘It is a grand vision of sustainable building across our continent, which is widely considered as the new growth frontier.”

For 23 years, Wilkinson held various property, investment and management roles at Old Mutual Property and at Old Mutual Group Finance.

He then took on a position as a consultant for the iLima Trust, set up by Old Mutual with the aim of ploughing back management and specialist skills to organs of Government and the SMME sector.

With a management career spanning more than 27 years, a property sector background and an understanding of the public sector challenges Wilkinson brings expertise and experience to the GBCSA management and the new growth phase of the organisation. – Denise Mhlanga

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