Claire Holton, sustainability consultant at Ecocentric
Q: Ecocentric specialises in LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certification for existing-building projects and new builds. What is the significance of that? A: LEED is a third-party certification programme developed by the US Green Building Council. It provides building project teams with the necessary tools to design, construct and operate buildings that are energy and resource efficient; have a reduced impact on the environment; and are healthier spaces for occupants to live and work in. As such, a number of prerequisites must be met in terms of a building’s energy and water performance, as well as the indoor-air quality, before certification can be considered.
Q: Ecocentric also offers energy modelling and green interior-design solutions. What do these involve?
A: My colleague Aisha Shaikh, a mechanical engineer, is responsible for all energy and building modelling work at Ecocentric. This involves capturing building energy usage at a site level in order to identify and reduce consumption on both new and existing buildings. The provision of green interior-design solutions, with which I am involved, range from providing input on sustainable material and furniture choices, and advising clients on healthy products that minimise environmental impact and make for a healthier interior space, to assisting clients with green-building interior certification – whether it’s GBCSA or LEED certification. We also provide design solutions with respect to indoor environmental quality in an interior space, providing guidance on ventilation systems, lighting design, acoustics and thermal comfort.
Q: What is the most common misconception around green-building practices? A: Cost. While there’s a perception that green-building technologies cost more than standard building systems, a study conducted by the GBCSA, Association of South African Quantity Surveyors and University of Pretoria on the cost of green building shows that the cost premium to build green is nominal. The total average green cost premium over and above the cost of non-green office buildings was 3.9% for the cumulative period 2009 to 2018, compared with 5.2% for the previous period 2009 to 2014, demonstrating that the cost premium is diminishing.
Also, it’s expected that operational cost savings through reduced energy and water use, and lower long-term operations and maintenance costs, will result in the recovery of any green premium cost in a short period of time.
Q: How close is SA to having a bona fide ‘green city’? A: The transition to sustainable cities in SA is under way, albeit slowly. Despite the challenges of a developing country, there has been encouraging progress towards the creation of a green city, with discussions and workshops held between the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, the GBCSA, and the US-based EcoDistricts team to implement the EcoDistricts Protocol in cities in SA. This involves a neighbourhood-scale approach to development that puts equality, resilience and climate protection first. By creating resilient neighbourhoods, we are putting in place the necessary building blocks for sustainable cities.
Q: Which of SA’s green buildings in particular do you admire? A: Hotel Verde in Cape Town was one of the very first buildings I came across that inspired me when I began my green-building career in 2017. The hotel had already achieved three green-building certifications by 2015 and really was a first of its kind in SA. It includes a number of forward-thinking concepts and brilliant energy, water and waste-reduction initiatives, and has contributed to vastly improved biodiversity on-site.
Q: And internationally? A: One building that really stands out is Heron Hall, on Bainbridge Island in Washington DC, US. It was designed and built by Jason Mclennan, the founder of the International Living Future Institute and its associated Living Building Challenge, to be his family home. The house, which is immersed in nature, is a perfect example of regenerative and biophilic design, where the building has a net positive water impact and has incorporated and celebrates elements of nature throughout. I see regenerative design as the ideal goal, so this building serves as inspiration in terms of what we can do – not only to do less harm to the environment but also to give back.
Q: What current green-building trend excites you the most? A: Biomimicry. It’s the practice of learning from and mimicking the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges and create more sustainable designs. The idea is to learn from nature’s innovations to create products and processes that give back to nature itself, rather than deplete the Earth’s resources.