Emcon Consulting Group has achieved two firsts – Namibia’s first 6 Star Green Star SA Existing Building Performance v1 certification, for the country’s first submission by an entirely Namibian-based team of Green Star accredited professionals.

The office in Klein Windhoek has been occupied by the company for four years. Before moving in, the company renovated and added on to the premises, implementing sustainable systems where possible. “We are passionate about saving energy and have been doing energy efficient buildings for twenty years,” says Glenn Howard, Director at Emcon. “So the Green Star process was an easy adaptation for us. We currently have six Green Star accredited professionals (APs) in our office, and are aiming for all thirty employees to eventually be accredited.”

Energy scores

Howard notes the company’s proactive approach to energy efficiency contributed significantly to the success of the 6-Star rating.

LED lighting was installed with task lighting where needed at work stations; and occupancy, motion and daylight sensors control lighting throughout the office spaces. Three small photovoltaic systems generate up to 4.3kW, producing about a third of the company’s energy requirement. The intention is to expand this capacity going forward when renewable energy feed-in-tariff (REFIT) regulations and tariffs become available for feeding back into the Windhoek grid.

The low energy air-conditioning system uses evaporative cooling, and only contributes 10% to the load versus the 60-70% typical of conventional office buildings. The system is also well-suited to the very dry Namibian climate, as 100% fresh air is introduced into the building and passed over wet pads, providing a very high indoor air quality with no difference between the indoor and outdoor ambient CO2 levels.

“We use 21% of the energy of an average office building,” says Howard.

Waste and water

Emcon has reduced its waste to landfill to 17%, with further reductions being put into practice going forward as all organic waste is composted.

All hazardous waste, such as batteries and the occasional fluorescent tube, are disposed of responsibly, resulting in a 100% elimination of hazardous waste to landfill. Howard says although the City of Windhoek has a hazardous waste facility, currently it has no method to separate normal and hazardous waste. “Through the Recycle Namibia Forum (RNF) and Green Building Council of Namibia (GBCNA) we are working with the city to establish a hazardous waste disposal facility in our suburb,” he says.

From the BMS, Emcon noticed early on how much water was used for irrigation, and took a tough decision to implement xeriscaping by not irrigating at all and potentially losing any plants that couldn’t survive. However, 18 months down the line none of the plants – mostly succulents and established indigenous trees – have perished. Ground cover in in the form of oversize stone aggregate, a bi-product of the aggregate process for concrete, helps to retain and filter rainwater into the ground.

Other water reduction features include converting urinals into ‘waterless’ fixtures; all toilets are dual flush; and fairly simple timers on coffee machines and water dispensers switch these appliances off after hours. Howard notes that water recycling or harvesting is not viable in Windhoek due to the short rainy season and the fact that rainwater can only be stored for two to three months – making the cost of infrastructure unjustifiable.

Inspiring others

Frederick Muketi, chief engineer of mechanical services at Namibia’s Ministry of Works & Transport and chairperson of the GBCNA, comments: “Emcon has demonstrated the benefits of implementing green strategies and systems while renovating existing buildings. The company has proven that good things are contagious, and have inspired another local firm, Seelenbinder Consulting Engineers, to apply for Green Star certification for their offices at Omake House.”                 

GBCNA: The way forward

While the GBCNA is still run on a volunteer-basis, the intention is to upscale to a more established scenario with permanent staff as the demand for Green Star certification grows. “We’re in the slow-start phase but, once we have passed critical mass, we expect exponential growth as happened in South Africa, albeit on a smaller scale,” adds Howard.

Nina Maritz, who sits on the GBCNA board and is well-known for her work in sustainable architecture, comments: “While a number of professionals in Namibia have been implementing sustainable design practices over the last decade, the reality of climate change in the mainstream is only now coming home to roost. We started the Green Building Council Namibia in 2013, in acknowledgement of the fact that climate change is the biggest development challenge that we face.

“We showcase as many international precedents and Namibian achievements as possible at our GBCNA events and annual convention. Our objectives, through the convention, are to build internal capacity for Namibia through knowledge sharing and upskilling our local built environment professionals; and to urge our local suppliers to attend and encourage investment in local production,” says Muketi.

Muketi also says the GBCNA’s voluntary inputs are already producing significant dividends. Training of professionals for accreditation began in March 2013, with 24 accredited professionals registered across new buildings, existing buildings and interiors to date; and a total of over 250 professionals trained over the last three years.

As far as certifications are concerned, the Emcon building is the second Green Star certified project in Namibia, following the new First National Bank (FNB) head office in Freedom Plaza, Windhoek; with three more buildings currently targeting Green Star ratings – the Ministry of Mines & Energy’s Erongo Regional Office, Seelenbinder Consulting Engineers’ offices, and the new National Assembly Building.

By Karen Eicker

See earthworks Issue 33, August-September 2016 for the full feature.