After many months of localisation by a dedicated voluntary team of professionals and specialists, the revised Green Star New Buildings Rating Tool is entering a final stage of technical development.

Words Melinda Hardisty


with the revised Green Star New Buildings rating tool

As time ticks on towards target dates and sustainability goals that aim to slow the planet’s decline, and as building technologies improve, old benchmarks of building efficiency and sustainability have become outdated. Best practices, and the certifications that standardise them, need to continue to push boundaries so that the built environment is compelled to achieve better and better levels of performance.

To that end, the process of assembling a task force to analyse and improve the existing GBCSA Green Star New Buildings tool began in late 2021. Dash Coville, who was involved in the development of the Positive section, has recently joined GBCSA full time and will be overseeing the ongoing work on the new version. A team of industry professionals was assembled to work on each of the eight categories of the new tool from early 2022.

Redefining green buildings

The New Build V2 is aimed at “Transforming Tomorrow” because it ensures that the property sectors definition of a green building is ambitious, relevant and effective. Global sustainability mega-trends and a broader scope inform the new tool, as well as alignment with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) requirements. GBCSA’s head of technical, Georgina Smit, is incredibly excited about this industry development: “We are delighted to support such a transformative update and believe that this will provide a useful framework to orientate solutions and positive outcomes in a way that moves the property sector to ambitious new frontiers.”

A key priority for tool development is always to collaborate with industry and obtain feedback.
The New Build V2 Task Force members.


There are several updates to this tool that are going to shake things up. Some key highlights include:

  • One tool for all building typologies, allowing for ease of application.
  • Several minimum thresholds that all buildings must adhere to, to establish a consistent baseline for all
    green buildings.
  • An entire new category dedicated to resilience and how buildings need to consider their role in future climate change.
  • All buildings must have a net-zero action plan to consider how they can reach the net zero 2030 goals.
  • Upfront embodied carbon emissions associated with a building’s structural and architectural design must be considered.
  • A category focusing on people, to respond to the requirement for improved socio-economic considerations within construction and design processes.


“We want to ensure that this new tool sends a clear message to industry about what the minimum standard is for a green building,” explains Smit. She goes on to elaborate that it has purposefully been updated to be very outcomes focused. “I think because this tool has several minimum requirements, it can provide a clear message to the market that any Green Star rated building has been designed and built to perform well, provide healthy spaces, be responsibly managed and not significantly harm our ecological systems.”


A key priority for tool development is always to collaborate with industry and obtain feedback. This ensures that the tools are robust, practical and that they have been scrutinised by different stakeholders within industry.

The bones of the tool structure were developed by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), but this needed to be adjusted and contextualised to suit South African requirements. Local stakeholders were asked to give feedback on the tool, and other tools were also utilised as precedent. A development team was structured to work on the tool, comprising largely of industry professionals who gave of their time and expertise on a voluntary basis.

Then there were task teams set for each of the different categories. These team members were selected from a pool of applicants who expressed interest in the call put out by the GBCSA. These “subject matter experts” were selected and then assigned to the category that best suited their area of expertise. From each group, a market leader was selected to be the task force director for that category, and they were tasked with leading the team throughout the development process.

The road this far

GBCSA was established in 2007, with the first Green Star rating tool (Office V1) launched in 2008 and the first building certified in 2009. Since then tools have been developed for other typologies, including; Retail, Multi-Unit Residential, Public and Education, Existing Building Performance (EBP), Interiors, Precincts and Net Zero. Each iteration of a tool aims to increase the requirements, pushing buildings to better levels of performance and sustainability. All the tools are adapted to be specific to the South African environment, industry requirements and context in general, making them different to other rating tools available around the world.

The New Build Version 2 tool looks to combine the existing New Build tools into a single, clear tool that can be used on all new building projects. As always, GBCSA aims to create tools that are affordable and flexible, enabling them to be more widely utilised, while still maintaining the highest global standards and
best practice.

New Build V2 categories: unpacking the impact focus areas of the new tool


Category aim: The RESPONSIBLE category recognises activities that establish that a building has been designed, procured, built and handed over in a responsible manner.

Category director: André Harms, Sustainability Engineer and Founder of Ecolution

Key changes from V1: This category builds on the old Management category but advances the requirements significantly, pushing buildings to be higher performing and responsibly procured.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
Harms highlights that there is an increased uptake of sound practices. This section aims to prepare buildings to be sustainably operated, equip operations teams to optimise operational performance and advance circular economy principles.


Category aim: The Healthy category looks at the physical and mental wellbeing of the occupants and users of a building.

Category director: Annelide Sherratt, Head: Green Building Certifications at Solid Green

Key changes from V1: This category builds on the old Indoor Air Quality category. The credits now look at clean air, light quality, functional acoustics and comfort, exposure to toxins, amenity comfort and active buildings, connection to nature as well as thermal comfort.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
“Drivers for this section include studies that conclusively show how user health and comfort can improve performance and productivity and reduce absenteeism, meaning there is realistic data available to businesses to prove there are tangible returns on investment in this area,” says Sherratt.


Category aim: Future planning scenarios look at current and anticipated climate events as well as other global upheavals. Credits are earned in four categories: climate change, operations, social and heat resilience. This category carries all the other categories as these credits are interconnected with almost every aspect of a building. The Climate Change section requires both the analysis and understanding of future climate events, as well as a plan to mitigate them. Operations Resilience looks at potential “shocks”, like pandemics, attacks and critical infrastructure failure. Social Resilience explores the potential risks
that may be faced by the community in and around the building. Finally, Heat Resilience largely looks at the building fabric and aims to reduce its impact on the heat island effect.

Category director: Jutta Berns, Director at Ecocentric

Key changes from V1: This version is a new category.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
Berns explains that this is the smallest category but an important one that speaks to “designing and operating buildings in the face of an uncertain and unpredictable future, where extreme shocks and chronic events may well upend what we have hoped to achieve”.

It is a more holistic tool which takes a more integrated and systems approach to buildings within their environment.


Category aim: This category encompasses credits that relate to carbon, as well as energy and water use.

Category director: Francois Retief, Founder of Sow and Reap Green Building Solutions

Key changes from V1: This category combines aspects of the old Energy, Water, and Materials categories, but there is now a greater focus on embodied carbon. This category uses a tool that will allow project teams to begin quantifying upfront carbon emissions. It promotes low carbon construction solutions far beyond the current tool’s focus on concrete and steel as the main offenders. There is an emphasis on performance-based targets that are calculated and their impacts quantified, as opposed to providing prescriptive measures to implement.

Retief explains that the performance focus simplifies the certification process while also driving high levels of performance. The methodologies used aim to narrow the gap between design and real-world performance using calculators which will give closer predictions and also be able to compare actual operational figures to the design model outputs.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
“The Positive category, as the name suggests, aims to move the conversation from ‘doing less bad’, to developing buildings with a positive, regenerative impact; buildings that work alongside nature and its elements, as well as the people they serve,” says Retief.


Category aim: PLACES includes four credits; Contribution to Place, Identity of Place, Movement and Connectivity as well as Safer Spaces. Contribution to Place explores place-making and the formation of the city scape. It explores how to create interactive and community-building spaces supported with an appropriate activation strategy that will inform any future tenants/owners how the spaces can be used most effectively to build social cohesion.

Movement and Connectivity encourages occupants and visitors to use low carbon, active and public transport options instead of private vehicles. Culture, Heritage and Identity explores and finds ways to reflect local culture, heritage and identities of different people groups and community members who relate to the specific site. Finally, the building should contribute to the creation of safer spaces for the community.

Category director: Adrie Fourie, Head of Sustainable Cities and Research at Solid Green

Key changes from V1: The Places category is new with this version, but incorporates a lot of content from the old Transport category into its Movement and Connectivity section.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
Fourie explains that this category calls for an integrated design approach that responds better to specific locational context drivers and places people at the core of the design.


Category aim: This category encourages solutions that address the social health of the community by bringing a new dimension to the design and construction of buildings. It recognises the multitude of people who are involved in the delivery and occupation of a building and rewards the design team and builder’s internal practices that promote diversity, equity and inclusion; facilitate local economic development and equitable growth of priority groups; and encourage buildings to be more accessible to a diverse population and welcoming to their needs.

Category director: Michelle Ludwig, Founder of Ludwig Design Consulting

Key changes from V1: The People category is largely new with this version release, but it overlaps with some content from the old Indoor Environment Quality and Materials categories. The credits within this category are Inclusive Practices, Economic Development, Empowerment and Social Equity as well as Design for Inclusion.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
“Green buildings in South Africa must support socio-economic development,” says Georgina Smit, head of technical at GBCSA.


Category aim: This category aims to shift the building industry from being an historical destroyer of natural ecosystems to one that is integrative, resilient and regenerative of local indigenous ecosystems.

Category director: Mike Aldous, Technical Principal at MPAMOT

Key changes from V1: This category expands on the old Land Use And Ecology, and Emissions categories, but is more specific in the areas it addresses and requires more stringent measures to comply. The credits in this category address Impacts on Nature, Ecological Regeneration, Nature Connectivity, Nature Stewardship and Waterway protection.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA

Aldous explains that it is important to remember, “Built and Environment are not mutually exclusive concepts, the Nature category looks to redefine the interaction and blur the boundary.”


Category aim: This category recognises the use of innovative practices, processes and strategies that promote achievements beyond the scope of the rating tool as released and that drive market transformation. This may include meeting the aims of a credit using a technology that is considered innovative to South Africa’s market or implementing an initiative that substantially contributes to the market transformation towards a climate positive development.

Category director: Not applicable

Key Changes from V1: This is a new category that doesn’t dictate specific credits but rather rewards innovation in whatever forms it takes.

Comment from the category lead and/or GBCSA
Through the new tool we aim to “recognise and reward excellence and leadership in this field in
both the private and public sector,” explains Dash Coville, technical manager for special projects at GBCSA.

Funding the future

Until recently, the entire development process for this version has been undertaken without a budget. All the professionals and experts involved in the development did so on a voluntary basis. Recently, however, Balwin Properties has come on board as the main sponsor of the revised tool. Smit highlights that this funding is invaluable, especially for the process of developing the complex calculation tools that will be required in some of the categories.“We are grateful for the bold sponsorship and support from Balwin, without which the tool development and finalisation would not be possible,” Smit attests.

Impact on the industry

Coville explains that the new version of the tool will have a significant impact on existing and aspiring green building owners and the industry at large. “The certification process will be easier, more cost effective, and faster to allow smaller and more mainstream projects to achieve Green Star ratings, while also maintaining the prestige and robust nature of the tool,” he says.

Onwards to release

The revisions will not only push requirements beyond what they have been thus far, but it will also be a more universal tool. Harms alludes to this when he says he is “excited to see the transformation of even more green and regenerative buildings of all shapes and sizes in South Africa and the rest of the continent.” The goal is also to eventually phase out the old “Design Rating” certification (except in a temporary form to be used for marketing or fund-raising), replacing it with only an As-Built version. This goes further to confirming that the constructed buildings are actually meeting the targets set out in the design. The coming months of development through the pilot phase promise to refine and deliver a tool that will be intrinsic to meeting South Africa’s 2030 targets for sustainability.

Berns, who was also on the steering committee, is delighted about the new version as “it is a more holistic tool which takes a more integrated and systems approach to buildings within their environment and considers their resilience to climate change in design, construction and operations. It is a giant step in the right direction.”

An early version of the tool is expected to be released on a pilot basis in the last quarter of 2023. During the pilot phase, which is expected to take about two years, the tool will be tested on real world projects in order to be further refined.

Green buildings in South Africa must support socio-economic development.

Calling all sustainability pioneers

“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,” concludes Smit.