Posted by Matthew Campaigne Scott
Have you ever witnessed one of those moments at a glittering event, where the company envoy ostentatiously hands over the enormous polystyrene dummy cheque to the suitably grateful charity representative. The cameras flash, the recipient’s knees bend a little, the company boss swells and flashes a self-satisfied smile. People clap and everyone swoons in awe at the selfless generosity of business. Onlookers declare: “They do have a heart.” And “It’s not just about the money.” Let’s not pretend that business doesn’t need positive affirmation from the community. Face it; we all like a good pat on the back.
Which brings up a growing trend in the world that has found its feet in South Africa. Green Buildings. If ever there was a way of scoring points with the community, government and those with not only green fingers but whose superhero sports green underwear – the environmentalist, this is it. IF you’re a land lord don’t knock it, because something’s in it for you.
Recently this was demonstrated in the latest extension to that Mecca of upmarket shopping, Sandton City. A splendid dome graces the new Protea Court. This crowning expansion, involves interior refurbishments and 30,000sqm of new retail space. The Protea Court roof has been created with a product called Texlon, which is made up of multiple layers of foil known as ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene (ETFE) it’s so green it could be mistaken for peas.
“Texlon is an innovative technology used worldwide but has been used for the first time in South Africa at Sandton City,” affirms architect Tia Kanakakis from MDS Architecture. “It was selected as a suitable roofing material as it is lightweight and an environmentally-friendly climatic envelope”.
Kanakakis pointed out excitedly: “The ETFE material is unique in that it does not degrade under ultraviolet light or atmospheric pollution.” The material doesn’t harden yellow or deteriorate. Furthermore, as the surface is very smooth and has anti-adhesive properties, the envelope self-cleanses in rain.” For Sandton City this means going Green and they are being richly rewarded already. Sandton City Manager Sharon Swain was able to announce the arrival of international names like Dumond, Inglot, Carlo Pignatelli, Miguel Vieira and Kurt Geiger to the centre.
Of course Green buildings aren’t new. Twenty-one years ago two initiatives were launched which were foundational to establishing the concept of energy-efficient buildings and green building: BRE (British Research Establishment) released BREEAM, and BREEAM became the basis for a host of other rating tools including LEED in the US and the much talked about Green Star in Australia.
What about the landlord cost/tenant benefit scenario? Investor’s landlords may well ask what’s in it them, surely more of a good old pat on the back? The Australian Financial Review explored the importance of green-star ratings, which basically determine how Green a building is, in attracting tenants to buildings. When looking for leasing locations tenants are now demanding at least a four star rating. In Australian cities the demand for the now-coveted green buildings is driving up costs in refurbishing and retrofitting older buildings. Greener adds value and demands higher rents.
According to property investment analysts IPD, Green Star buildings are outperforming non-rated buildings on a financial basis by a significant margin.
Here in South Africa, Llewellyn van Wyk, Editor at Large for Green Building South Africa writes: “Ultimately I believe green building is in the national interest, and should be an issue driven by Government: for this reason, I strongly supported the establishment of a Part X “Environmental Sustainability” to the South African National Building Regulations and look forward to it being populated with the full range of deep green building imperatives in due course.”
In the US the Green standard is held up by LEED, which has not been without its squabbles: Henry Gifford has made his living designing mechanical systems for energy-efficient buildings in New York City. And he admits the (LEED) program has popularized the idea of green building: “LEED has probably contributed more to the current popularity of green buildings in the public’s eye than anything else. It is such a valuable selling point that it is featured prominently in advertisements for buildings that achieve it. LEED-certified buildings make headlines, attract tenants and command higher prices.”
By means of counter point Ben Ikenson reports on the current controversy embroiling LEED and hence whole Green Building bureaucracy in the US:”But for years, Gifford has been a tenacious and vocal opponent of LEED, claiming that the program’s “big return on investment’ is more a matter of faith than fact, and that LEED simply “fills the need for a big lie to the public.” Last October, Gifford filed a class-action lawsuit for more than $100 million against the USGBC, accusing the non-profit of making false claims about how much energy LEED-certified buildings actually save and using its claims to advance a monopoly in the market that robs legitimate experts — such as himself — of jobs. We may ask ourselves if we need this in South Africa.
Back to the benefits, conventional wisdom has it that not only does the environment benefit from the carefully considered construction that goes with Green building, but that people are generally happier and more content working or living in Greener buildings. Comments Dr Suzan Oelofse, IWMSA Central Branch Chairman, “The environmental benefits derived from green buildings can further be enhanced by including waste minimisation and recycling principles in this type of environment.”
Further to this, Oelofse believes that Green buildings should be orientated in such a way as to reduce the heat load and to optimise shade and thereby enabling the use of more energy efficient lighting systems and air conditioning. This makes economic sense in the light of on-going increasing Eskom electricity costs and it makes sound economic and environmental sense to use renewable resources and to become as energy efficient as possible.
It seems the devil may be in the bureaucracy and that making buildings greener may require state rather than private regulation if the LEED struggles are anything to go by. But there are clearly many practical and financial benefits to Greening up the workplace. Besides there’s nothing quite like that warm approval that comes from cosying up to a superhero or heroine in green tights.