In May 2015 the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) head office became the first in South Africa to receive a Green Star SA Interiors Pilot rating – putting this new tool on the map. Green Star SA accredited professional on the project, Fabio Venturi from Terramanzi, says the office received 46 points out of a targeted 53 points in its first round submission.

“Getting the 4 Star rating in a round one submission was really mind blowing because round one certifications are very rare. It’s a testament to the quality of information that was provided and the outstanding effort of the professional team. It was a collaborative effort, and an incredibly well managed project,” says Venturi.

The project was also one of the first to use the online submission platform. Braune explains the GBCSA out-sourced the assessment and moderation to an independent consultant and independent assessors, with a peer review by the Green Building Council Australia, to ensure the GBCSA in no way influenced the successful certification result.

Ripples of knowledge

The GBCSA office received innovation points in its submission because the office is used as an educational tool. The organisation conducts office and building tours during conferences and courses, and professionals are welcome to use the space as a living showcase.

The growing GBCSA staff complement also includes the council hosting other key organisations, such as the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), National Business Initiative (NBI) and the Property Foundation. “We have seen steady growth in staff numbers, members visiting, hosted green building events and networking sessions, and the response to our office space and fit-out has always been incredibly positive,” says Braune.

“This project has caused huge ripples in the industry. Black River Park (BRP, in Observatory, Cape Town) has become the first Green Star SA rated office park in the country, with all eight buildings achieving Existing Building certifications by April 2015. It’s wonderful to see how this office has percolated the industry,” adds Venturi. BRP is engaging with all tenants to advise how they can green their own tenant spaces.

Collaboration director Geoffrey Bennett reiterates sentiment from the professional team, who sponsored their time to work on this project. “We wanted to learn from the best and this project allowed for a lot of involvement and learning about the green building principles that we believe in,” he says.

Everyday operation

Happily settled into the new space, Braune says: “The environment contributes to a far more collaborative approach, but does require team members who want to focus on a deadline to zone out with earphones or move into one of the breakaway spaces such as the small booths, meeting rooms or library, which works well.”

Venturi says there are so many nooks and crannies that have been cleverly designed, giving the space a multiplicity of uses. “Those different zones and workflows stand out for me – my favourite feature is the informal meeting area at the epicentre of the office. There is a buzz and energy there that is not overbearing.”

A post occupancy survey was done, and the two most important factors in staff well-being were thermal comfort and noise. “In terms of thermal comfort, out of the total 22 staff members in the office, 21 (95%) said they were either satisfied, very satisfied or mostly satisfied, and only one was neutral – this is a very good response for thermal comfort. In terms of noise comfort, 19 (86%) were satisfied, very satisfied or mostly satisfied, and only three were neutral. To achieve a result of more than 80% mostly satisfied on these issues is a very good result,” says Braune.

Balancing act

The toughest part of the Green Star SA process was managing the project and putting the submission together without an actual rating tool. The Interiors Pilot tool technical manual was only available in March 2014, after the GBCSA had moved into their new office by September 2013.

The teams had the tough task of working towards best practice in terms of green fit-out principals, but not knowing what the specific Green Star SA benchmarks, criteria and documentation requirements would be.

Bennett says not having an existing tool to benchmark against was tough, but it was also one of the most rewarding aspects of the project. “From the start, the GBCSA drummed into the team to aim for leading practice, so that whatever the tool came up with would be covered. They were firm that the professional team try as hard as possible to achieve the highest level of greening within the budget.”

Bennett explains that on any green building project there will be a balancing of priorities between the level of greening desired, and how much is possible within the budget. Because much of the equipment and materials were sponsored on this project, this added another level of complexity. The project team had to negotiate with sponsors on what they were willing to give and what they would like to see in return.

“Interiors are probably the most achievable of the ratings out there. If you are retrofitting a space, you will be spending money anyway – the Green Star just guides your budget. You replace the banana for an apple. You choose a more environmentally friendly product. It is very achievable and most credits are not onerous,” confirms Venturi.

There is also always a balancing of credits targeted within a rating. For example, Venturi says there is not an abundance of daylight in the space, which could have been remedied with a skylight. However, because there was a solar photovoltaic installation on the roof, one could not simply punch a hole through the roof for a skylight. The GBCSA decided it was better to pursue the energy savings and benefits from solar rather than the potential extra daylight from a skylight.

Wider impact

Bennett says this project has signalled a consciousness shift among those who worked on it, and Venturi agrees.

“This project has radically changed the way we do business,” says Bennett. “There is now a lot more consideration when positioning areas within a space. What we look for in products, how we design, and execute those designs has evolved. It’s also about how we select a contractor – and manage that relationship; how we relate to engineers and Green Star AP’s. All those conventional silos are being broken down.”


By Christy van der Merwe

The full article appears in the August-September 2015 earthworks magazine.