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South Africa – leading the green building charge into Africa

With the momentum steadily building since COP21, the UN’s now widely-celebrated climate change negotiations, green building is rapidly becoming ‘business as usual’ instead of ‘nice to have’, and Africa is no exception. The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), one of the first GBCs in the world, is leading this charge. The GBCSA’s own story shows the tremendous impetus gained by South Africa’s green building movement and paints an exciting picture of a greener built environment in Africa’s future.

Founded in 2007, GBCSA certified just one green building project in its first year of operation. By April 2014, it celebrated a milestone of 50 certified projects and, just one year later, that figure had doubled. Today, it has awarded over 170 Green Star SA certifications, and the Dodge Data Analytics World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report predicts that South Africa could become a leader in the green building sector in the next three years.

What’s behind this rise of green building over the last decade?

Major growth is one factor. By 2050, the African continent will be home to 1.3 billion more people than it is today – that’s more than half of the world’s projected population growth of 2.4 billion people. And this means a huge demand for buildings, and particularly green buildings. A staggering 80 per cent of buildings that will exist in 2050, are yet to be built, so we have a unique opportunity to build right from today. And with this, we can create green jobs, skills and training, and sustainable growth.

The GBCSA’s Green Star SA rating tools, based on the Australian Green Star tool but developed specifically for the South African context, has been another driver. The tool encourages those in the building industry to minimise the environmental impacts of their developments, rewarding projects for criteria such as reducing waste sent to landfill and the creation of more resource efficient designs. The success of Green Star SA has been the result of pioneers within the industry – the big businesses, banks, property developers and Government bodies who have supported the use of the tool.

But far from being unique to South Africa, Green Star SA is also a natural touch point for green building movements and councils in other parts of Africa. The GBCSA seeks to work with the 7 other Green Building Councils in Africa through the WorldGBC’s Africa Regional Network to adapt Green Star SA tools for specific local contexts – and this has been done through what the GBCSA calls a Local Context Report. So far, Local Context Reports have been developed for Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius and Uganda with the GBCSA working in collaboration with the relevant Green Building Councils to certify buildings in these countries.

Face to face collaboration is also key to realising the widespread growth of green buildings across Africa, and the GBCSA is proud to host regular meetings for the Africa Regional Network of Green Building Councils. The next of these meetings will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 26 July, when WorldGBC CEO, Terri Wills, will host a session of GBCs in Africa to share knowledge, best practise and experiences to drive on the ground transformation.

This meeting is just one of the events taking place as part of the GBCSA’s ninth annual convention. Themed ‘Build a better world NOW’, the Convention takes place from 26 to 28 July 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg for the first time in its history. It is is designed to inspire today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in the built environment, and aims to stimulate awareness, ambition and action to design, build and operate better buildings.

We’ll be demonstrating our action on green buildings, such as our involvement in WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero project. At COP21, we were one of three Green Building Councils to commit to introducing a certification for net zero buildings, and we’re excited about the prospect of pioneering a tool that challenges the industry to go even further in creating buildings that have little or no impact on the planet.

Other headline speakers at the convention include local and international sustainability heavyweights such as Mario Molina, international director of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project; former UNEPFI President, Paul Clements-Hunt; Tesla Energy South Africa’s Evan Rice; US urbanist Jeff Speck; ‘Zeronaut’ John Elkington; psychologist, psychiatrist and author Dr Ian McCallum; and Terri Wills. They will join 35 other climate solvers, change agents and entrepreneurs in sharing their unique expertise to guide Africa and the world towards a thriving future for all.

On a personal note, this year’s convention will be my last as CEO of GBCSA, as I stand down at the end of next month. I have been truly amazed and inspired by the progress and leadership  on green building that I have witnessed over the last 5 years during my role, in both South Africa, Africa and beyond, and I have no doubt I will continue to be so long into the future. Together, we can build a better world now.

Brian Wilkinson is Chief Executive Officer at the Green Building Council of South Africa.

For all the information on the South African Green Building Convention 2016, including speaker profiles, themes and tracks, and peripheral activities and events, please visit Follow the Convention on Twitter using the hashtag #gbc2016.