Q: What attracted you to green buildings initially, and why did you become a sustainability consultant?
FR: My journey began with energy efficiency and renewables while working in the UK. Keen to move into this sphere in South Africa, I came across the GBCSA and ended up taking a post on their technical team.
I’m still on a major learning curve but it really felt like I had somewhat of an ‘aha-moment’ while at the GBCSA, in seeing glimpses of a more logical, better way to build and operate our spaces. This appealed to the engineer in me. I’ll forever be grateful to the GBCSA for giving me access to such an inspiring network of people, and to each of those people I interacted with along the way.
Q: What are the founding principles that you believe all green buildings should aspire to? Describe a couple of examples of the projects you’ve worked on which exemplify these principles.
FR: I firmly believe that green buildings should aspire to the same principles that we as individuals or society aspire to. At its core this is to thrive in harmony with the ecosystems that support and depend on us. These ecosystems may be natural, social or economic. Some practical examples could include:
- Being a part of the resource cycle, as opposed to simply a drain on it. The net zero movement embodies this thinking where just like plants and animals in nature, our buildings can generate, or sustainably harvest, the energy and water they require to operate, and potentially even give back into the cycle. Buildings like Growthpoint’s Greenfield Industrial Park have begun this journey through combining efficiency with renewable energy to deliver a net-zero baseload. The V&A Waterfront is an excellent example of leadership in this space from a water perspective as well, constantly pushing not only efficiency boundaries but looking to decentralised water sources such as desalination. Another great example is the Newlands Cricket Ground North-West quadrant commercial development. Through utilising basement seepage water, instead of sending it to stormwater, they have virtually no need for municipal water on site.
- Respecting the value of materials and heritage. One of the past GBCSA CEOs, Brian Wilkinson, would often say something along the lines of “the greenest building is the one that is already built”. In our push to develop a better world to live in, we often focus on new buildings, new materials and new urban spaces. I believe that a critical part of sustainable development is to utilise existing infrastructure, materials and spaces. An amazing example of this is the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront. Rather than demolishing and re-building a retail centre, this heritage-rich structure was given a new life, enhanced by its history. The building achieved a 6-Star Existing Building Performance rating. This rating tool, at its core, aims to help us better manage the existing infrastructure we have.
Q: What kind of resistance have you experienced against green building principles during your career, and how have you overcome it?
FR: Any resistance I have come across is usually due to misperception and, ironically, often because of terminology and constructs such as ‘green’. If you ask a group of people if they want a ‘green building’, each one of them will have a different idea of what you are proposing. If you asked whether they wanted a building which was healthier to live in or had less risk of running out of water in a drought, then, however, you are talking about something of value and almost all would be interested.
Q: What is your favourite project you have worked on and why?
FR: I would have to say the scoping of a rating tool for existing homes, which we undertook last year. Partly because I got to work with an amazing group of people from varied perspectives, but mostly because it allowed us to engage with every-day South Africans in envisioning what sustainable living might look like for us as a country. This was a hugely rewarding process.
Q: What are the most significant changes you have seen in attitudes towards transformation and sustainable design over your career?
FR: It has been amazing to see the beginnings of a conscious shift from ‘doing less bad’ towards ‘thriving’ or ‘doing things better’. Again, the net zero and net positive movement is a great example of this. Psychologically, we are driven towards positive outcomes as opposed to reducing negatives (we want to be fit and healthy, not less-fat for example), and hence I think this narrative is going to help us leap-frog into the world we want to see.
Q: How do you think Covid-19 will mould the green building movement going forward?
FR: I think that it has us questioning how healthy our spaces are in terms of indoor air quality, and also how we use our spaces. I hope that this translates into a renewed appreciation for natural ventilation, indoor-outdoor spaces and flexible, multi-purpose use of space.
Q: What key information would you like all property developers to understand about green buildings?
FR: If you take the time to understand your needs, green buildings simply mean better buildings. There are elements in the green building framework which help you create an asset which is healthier, future-proofed, marketable, cost effective etc. The trick is to choose a strategy that gives you the most value as opposed to simply checking as many boxes as you can.
Q: What knowledge or expertise would you like to impart to a young sustainability consultant starting out?
FR: Stop, collaborate and listen! I would say that sustainability is a sphere as diverse as life itself. It spans ecology, toxicology, all forms of engineering, sociology, economics and more. Unless you are a true sage, there is no way you will know everything there is to know, and so we really do need to share thoughts and skills with as many people as possible. The task ahead of us is bigger than one person and will require collaboration on a scale we have never seen. In a similar vein, I believe there is little place for competition in the drive to build a better world. If you have found a way to make a difference, share it! Not only could it help us all move forward, but in my experience, this always brings you more opportunity than holding on to your ideas.
Q: What key changes would you like to see happen in the green building movement in South Africa and worldwide?
FR: Vision. I really do think we are getting closer to collectively seeing the picture of where we want our world to be. So instead of staring at melting ice-caps (which is of course important), I hope that we can focus more on the vision we want to manifest for ourselves.