In an industry that’s matured immensely over the past 15 years, the time has come for Green Star ratings to push the envelope. In light of this, the minimum requirements to achieve a Green Star New Build V2 rating are being expanded – to send a very clear message to the market about how a green building is defined in Southern Africa.
“This is a significant change for our market,” says the GBCSA’s Head of Technical, Georgina Smit, “but we believe very strongly that this is going to truly drive market transformation.” When the pilot is launched in the last quarter of 2023, every category will have one or more minimum requirements. The proposed minimum requirements work together across the different categories, towards four core principles that will define Southern Africa’s green buildings. Collectively, they tell the story of what a good green building should be. Smit expands on the core principles:
We want to ensure that a building is designed, constructed and handed over to ensure a high level of operational performance in practice.
Specifically, it has been commissioned to deliver a high level of performance in operation, and appropriate monitoring systems and information are provided to continue good performance.
Elements considered here include optimising energy and water consumption, commissioning, metering and a net-zero carbon action plan.
RESPONSIBLE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
Green Star buildings will be responsibly designed and constructed. This means the design process and selection criteria, all the way through to construction practices, consider the impact of this building by making informed, responsible decisions.
Elements considered around design awareness include a climate resilience and the ability of a building to respond to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change; the management of operational waste; considering upfront carbon emissions; and the building’s broader strategic context, where its design and provision of appropriate spaces can make a positive contribution to the quality of the public environment.
In the construction phase, the contractor is expected to operate an Environmental Management System (EMS), and implement construction waste management and recycling, and a site-specific Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
A green building prioritises the health of the people who occupy it. That means clean air, quality lighting and no exposure to toxins. Every building should thus provide high levels of fresh air and reduce indoor pollutants, as well as adequate levels of daylight and good-practice artificial lighting.
Spaces occupied by people should have minimal harmful volatile organic compound (VOC) toxins by using paint adhesives, sealants and carpets that are either very low in VOCs or non-toxic.
PROTECTION AND CONSERVATION OF ECOLOGICAL VALUE
A green building is not a destructive force to nature – it avoids harm to the natural environment by conserving and protecting the ecological value associated with the site it is placed on.
THE NEW FACE OF MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
A dedicated task team, comprising several industry experts, Accredited Professionals and green building consultants, developed these requirements with the South African market in mind. “We considered our precedent of certified buildings to date, to understand what most Green Star rated buildings are implementing as standard business practice,” says Smit. “We processed all of our existing certification data to understand which credits are typically targeted and which credits are not targeted, to give us an overview of where the industry is achieving a standard best practice, from a green building perspective.” The technical and cost implications on the market were also considered, and all of this will now be tested in pilot projects over the next two years.
The minimum requirements in each category of the New Build V2 tool aspire to ensure that these core principles are enshrined in every new building aiming to acquire a Green Star rating. But how will they drive transformation, and is the market ready? We caught up with the directors of the relevant categories.
• The development must facilitate industry development through partnership, collaboration and data-sharing by appointing a Green Star Accredited Professional and reporting on sustainability metrics.
• Responsible construction by the principal contractor must reduce, impact and promote opportunities for improved environmental and social outcomes. These relate to the implementation of construction waste management, Environmental Management Plans (EMP) and Environmental Management Systems (EMS).
• The building systems will be commissioned, verified, documented and handed over to deliver a high level of performance in operation.
• The building will be set up for ongoing management and optimisation of energy and water consumption by installing appropriate metering.
• Appropriate space will have been allocated to allow that operational waste can be separated and recovered in a safe and efficient manner.
These minimum requirements derive from the old Management category, but will push project teams towards implementation. “With various carefully calibrated minimum requirements, the market will be transformed to expect higher-performing, more responsibly procured buildings,” says Harms.
Project teams are urged to start early, plan carefully and engage with the requirements to unlock full potential, because, says Harms, “attempting to ‘bolt it on’ when designs are largely done, will be ineffective – if even possible”. A key change here will be the requirement for all projects to implement commissioning as a minimum requirement.
The emphasis is placed on empowering project teams to meet the requirements themselves. “We’re actually breaking it down into a set of activities, and a guide with presentation material that can be used by both the Green Star Accredited Professional and the professional team.” Along with this, a set of templates are being developed, so that it can be implemented immediately in both the design and construction phases.
Harms does foresee some teething problems but remains positive. “The green building industry and built environment more broadly is largely familiar with these principles and has delivered hundreds of buildings that take several of them into account. Implementing these carefully calibrated minimum requirements now can be a bit of a challenge, but [they have] to be [incorporated] to retain what it means to be a good minimum green building. I believe the market is ready for this challenge.”
• Healthy indoor air quality conditions must be achieved and maintained by minimising the concentration and recirculation of pollutants in the building. This is achieved by keeping acceptable levels of indoor pollutants, providing high levels of fresh air and minimising pollutants entering the building.
• The building must provide good daylight and glare control while offering high-quality lighting.
• The building’s occupants must not be directly exposed to VOC toxins in regularly occupied spaces, by installing low-VOC or non-toxic paints, adhesives, sealants and carpets.
Of the seven credits within the Healthy category, only three have minimum requirements, and if history is teaching us anything, it is that the market is ready. “Over the past 10 years, we have seen similar requirements being achieved,” says Sherratt. “However, we must also think of the coming 10 years and move the industry forward with improved minimum requirements.” According to her, the benchmark is achievable, because the minimum requirements are affordable to implement, and takes into consideration the latest research around how buildings contribute to human health.
To successfully implement these requirements, teamwork is of the essence. Sherratt explains that the architect, and the mechanical and lighting engineers need to be aware of the requirements related to indoor air quality, daylight, artificial light levels, glare and pollutants. Once again, these requirements are important early on in the design process, to prevent adding significant costs as an afterthought.
• Teams are expected to conduct a Climate Change Resilience screening exercise so as to communicate the building’s exposure to climate change risks.
This new category was conceptualised and developed when KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape experienced severe flooding that damaged both formal and informal infrastructure, leaving communities and companies vulnerable. Not all these areas were historically prone to flooding, and that is why we need to be prepared.
Berns says events like these aren’t fictitious or doomsday predictions anymore. “It is here – and it is already happening. We hope this minimum requirement will contribute to market transformation, because it forces projects to dig deep into understanding where buildings are located, as well as the acute shocks and chronic stresses that we expect from a climate perspective.” According to Berns, risks around climate change are increasingly on investors’ radars, and anyone who wants to develop now must take that into consideration to avoid being stranded with their asset.
A template will be created to guide project teams step by step toward a resilience plan. “It will require integration across various disciplines. We will ask very specific questions around flood lines or storm events, for instance, and guide them in terms of sources for project-relevant information,” says Berns.
• The building’s upfront carbon emissions from materials and products must be considered with
the goal of carbon reduction and offset by conducting an upfront carbon assessment.
• The building must have low energy consumption, with a minimum expectation that the building’s energy use is at least 20% less than a reference building without any renewable energy source supply.
• A net-zero carbon action plan must be developed for the building.
• The building must have low water use, with a minimum expectation that the
building uses 20% less potable water compared to a reference building.
Retief believes the Southern African market is ideally placed to implement these requirements as standard practice, considering the energy crisis and the escalation of construction material costs. “If implemented correctly,” he says, “it can truly transform our buildings to a positive path.” Retief believes calculating the upfront carbon emissions of a building is going to be a “complete game changer, because until now, we haven’t had anything that requires you to try and calculate the carbon impact of the materials in your building in Green Star. It’s going to drive the use of alternative building materials”. The idea is to move away from a prescriptive approach, and leave room for innovation with alternative materials, such as mass timber.
The requirement of a zero-carbon action plan is also new. Retief believes it will force property owners to outline a strategy in line with global goals for all buildings to achieve net-zero whole life carbon by 2050. “It could, in turn, serve as a crowd-sourced roadmap for the SA building sector.” This will require the building owner to sign off on a target date by when the building is expected to operate as fossil fuel-free. This will involve quantifying the building’s scope 1 (including refrigerants) and 2 emissions between now and 2050, with an action plan for getting to net-zero carbon by then.
A word of advice to project teams? Review materials and passive design strategies at an early stage, include embodied carbon and materiality skills in the team, and be aware of zero-carbon strategies beyond the design, such as wheeling, off-site and offset strategies.
• The building’s design and provision of appropriate spaces must make a positive contribution to the quality of the public environment. A Site Context pre-screening assessment is required to support this.
“The fact that this is also a new category is, in itself, asking the market to transform,” says Fourie. “It provides projects with the opportunity to ensure that people are placed at the forefront of design by facilitating a focus on how buildings are integrated into the existing urban fabric to create spaces that increase social cohesion.”
She cites the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report as a sign that the market is ready. “It identified social cohesion corrosion as one of the top short- and medium-term global risks in 31 countries, including South Africa.” She explains that disparities around economic, political, technological and intergenerational inequality are expected to widen further – but that it can be countered in the building space.
According to Fourie, this minimum requirement creates an opportunity to facilitate meaningful change, and as with the other minimum requirements, checklists have been developed to ensure integration across the team. “A lot of it will be standardising the approaches to how people look at different elements connected to place – whether that’s movement, culture or heritage.” She says this work is already being done by various architects, who are sharing their background investigations with the rest of the team. “Transformation happens when the other specialist services, like the various engineers, can start seeing the value of doing integrated design.”
• The building must not significantly impact a site with a high ecological value, to ensure that ecological value is conserved and protected.
Aldous explains that the minimum requirements here – although they cover a broad spectrum of elements – are self-explanatory, and aim to streamline the amount of documentation project teams need to deliver, as well as the actual assessment and documentation process.
“It has certain hard limitations in terms of what can and can’t be done, and that has largely been aligned with national regulations and best practice. What we’re trying to do is to create a suitable baseline, rather than having to commission additional report studies and research.”
A unique element here is the drive to shape the industry to support the objectives of the tool. “I think what’s been missing, in a number of instances, is that the tool has certain ambitions or objectives, but that the local market isn’t quite there yet,” says Aldous. “What we’ve tried to do with the new tool is to engage upfront with the market to sensitise it to the opportunities that align with the objectives.” He believes the market is ready for this step because it has matured a great deal over the years, from the increased use of indigenous plants to the large variety of environmentally friendly and sustainable materials used in new buildings. “For any serious practitioner, these would be minimum standards anyway, within your design basis.”
So, what should project teams keep in mind? “It allows them the opportunity to come up with more maverick innovation solutions that don’t have to tick a certain number of boxes before they’re deemed acceptable. At the same time, we still need to protect the integrity and the value of the tool within the way the market perceives it.”
“We are looking for projects to pilot this tool,” explains Smit. GBCSA encourages and invites any stakeholders currently planning a new build project to consider embarking on this pioneering industry journey with them by piloting this tool on their project. GBCSA is able to support this process and will allow the current tools to also be used concurrently. “Please let us know if you are interested in joining this industry initiative, and to be part of writing the next chapter of green building history,” says Smit.
Essentially every green building in South Africa will have to implement the following initiatives before being eligible for a Green-Star rating:
• Uses a Green-Star AP and provides user sustainability information
• Impacts from construction practices must be minimised
• Commissioned properly
• Energy- and water-metered
• Understands waste needs and provides recycling space
• Air is plentiful and clean
• Light is at beneficial levels
• Avoidance of pollutants
• Has understanding of exposure to climate-related risks
• Understands the embodied carbon in its materials
• 20% more energy-efficient than building regulations and a plan to reduce energy usage
• 20% more water-efficient than conventional buildings
• Understands its urban context
• Situated on an environmentally responsible site