GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE?
Going green. Green buildings. What does this mean? One must pose this question – have we, and are we doing enough? Are we in fact building green?
Founded in 2007, The Green Building Council South Africa aims to work in collaboration with industry bodies, leaders, government departments and professionals to develop market-based green building solutions, advocating for all buildings to be designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable manner. Thus, also enabling the opportunity to save energy, reduce waste, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources; all while improving water and air quality.
While this all sounds fantastic, how do we ensure that these strategies that are implemented throughout the life cycle of the building? Is a Green Star Certification at the end of the construction period enough to ensure that the newly ‘Green’ designed and built building maintains its forecasted savings? The energy performance of a building is therefore merely evaluated on a predictive model based on the building’s initial design. With ever-increasing climate changes, it is certainly essential that these Green Buildings serve their purpose after construction too.
The Earth has already warmed about 1℃ since the 19th century and it’s on track to rise another degree. This second degree would push stable civilization to the very brink. In its recent report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for “urgent and unprecedented changes” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) so that we avoid reaching 2℃. While 1℃ may sound incremental, the action required to stop it is not. The built environment is one of the biggest contributors to runaway climate change.
Much the same as The Green Building Council of South Africa, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is utilised in North America, their most recent version being LEED 4, which evaluates a new building’s energy performance after construction is completed. This is a move in the right direction: energy performance should be measured in operating buildings. However, for new construction projects, it is still optional.
In South Africa, there are currently no procedures or agents in place from The Green Building Council of South Africa to monitor and control the procedures after the Green Star certification was given to the building – making it difficult to track any progress that these buildings contribute after being built. What then is the purpose of obtaining a Green Star Building certification? “If we do not know how LEED buildings contribute to GHG emissions reductions, we cannot expect them to be a solution to the climate emergency.” The same can be said for GBCSA certified buildings.
We need bolder, long lasting initiatives. As extracted from The Conversation; ‘Canada has said it will have “net-zero energy-ready” building codes in place by 2030. Here “ready” means that buildings may continue to use fossil fuels but will be equipped with infrastructure to switch to on-site renewables. British Columbia is already piloting a subsidy program for the construction of 15 to 20 of these buildings.
These are the initiatives we need to strive towards to really sustain the Green Building purpose.
While building a Green Building may suggest that the building’s life cycle could assume a 10 to 20 year ‘green’ expectancy, it is not enough to simply rely on this, or on a BMS system for that matter. Buildings need to be designed and constructed in accordance with green building initiatives that strive to achieve progress long after construction has completed, with penalties in place for non-compliance.