Wilma den Hartigh
Mobile telecommunications company Vodacom has set a new record by claiming the most prestigious accolade in the green building industry.
The company's new Innovation Centre has been awarded a six-star Green Star SA rating – the first building in South Africa to achieve such status.
The achievement is a major step forward for green building in the country and means that South Africa's green building industry is in line with global best practice.
The six-star Green Star SA rating means that the Vodafone Innovation Centre can now be counted as one of the most progressive green-designed buildings in the world.
Bruce Kerswill, executive chairperson of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), said that the council's rating systems recognise excellence in sustainable design. A six-star rating, considered to be the highest ranking that a building can achieve, is only reserved for world-class projects.
"This is a fantastic achievement for Vodacom and Vodafone," Kerswill said.
Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said that the Innovation Centre, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2012, will function as a hub for the company's creative thinking around a low-carbon future. It will play an important role in helping the group to reduce its carbon emissions.
"We are delighted that our building has achieved this accolade. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to reduce the group's impact on the environment – it is a core strategic priority for both Vodafone and Vodacom," Uys said in a statement.
Top-class green credentials
According to the GBCSA, a "green building" has to be energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible. It must incorporate design, construction and operational practices that considerably reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and occupants.
Specific green building measures include building design that reduces heat loads, maximises natural light and promotes the circulation of fresh air. Energy-efficient air-conditioning and lighting, the use of environment-friendly, non-toxic materials and the reduction of waste is also required.
A green building also has to use recycled materials, it should have water-efficient plumbing fittings, harvest water and use renewable energy sources.
It is no small feat to achieve a rating of this kind, but every aspect of the Vodacom building's design is in keeping with the required standards.
The centre, which is located on what used to be a parking lot at the Vodacom World complex in Midrand, Johannesburg, will be carbon neutral and its electricity requirements will be provided by photovoltaic (PV) solar power.
PV systems convert solar radiation to electricity by means of static panels.
The centre is located close to public transport, which should encourage the use of public transport and reduce emissions from cars. The Gautrain feeder busses, which form part of the Gauteng province rapid rail development, also stop near the entrance to the building.
LED lighting has been installed and, as most of the facade is made from glass, it reduces the need for artificial lighting.
In terms of water efficiency, the building will capture and use grey water and harvest rainwater. The garden is water-wise and indigenous, which reduces the need for frequent irrigation.
Finding energy efficiency solutions
Once completed, the centre will house a team of experts to find solutions to reduce the company's global emissions.
One of Vodacom's main goals is to find alternative power options and reduce the footprint of its mobile phone network, considered to be a major power user.
Vodacom hopes that research will yield results into the use of different fuel mixes, such as hybrid fuel cells and solar electricity to power its network. The research will help Vodacom reduce its reliance on conventional energy.
In the future, research at the centre will also look into new products and services for customers.
SA leading the way in green building
South Africa is fast becoming a leader in the green building movement. More companies are opting to build environment-friendly offices and the GBCSA has reported a major increase in Green Star rated buildings in the country.
Nedbank's head office in Sandton was certified as South Africa's first Green Star building under the GBSA's Office version one (v1) rating tool.
SA Commercial Property News reports that, in September 2011 alone, the GBCSA certified three new green buildings in South Africa under the Green Star SA rating system.
The Tshwane offices of the engineering, management and specialist technical services company Aurecon, Richefond Circle (an office development situated in the Ridgeside Office Park in Umhlanga in KwaZulu-Natal) and the Nedbank Menlyn Maine Falcon Building in Tshwane all achieved four-star ratings.
The Aurecon's Cape Town offices received the first five-star rating in the country.
Brian Wilkinson, CEO of the GBCSA, said that these innovative buildings are setting the standard for commercial green buildings. "There are many more in the pipeline which have submitted applications for certification under the Green Star SA system," Wilkinson said in a media report.
He said that the increasing number of certification submissions shows that the local property industry is keeping up with international trends and is embracing global best practices in green building.
According to Nick Mulvany, senior technical coordinator at the GBCSA, there is also a good business case for green building. Studies have proved that users of green buildings are more productive. "This is due to increased fresh air, more natural light and fewer toxic materials. Tenants are becoming aware of these benefits," he said.
Changes to the built environment
According to the World Green Building Council, the built environment is one of the main contributors to climate change.
SA Commercial Property News reports that the Vodacom Innovation Centre is a good example of how South Africa's built environment can be transformed.
International reports suggest that green building is an opportunity to use resources more efficiently and address climate change while creating healthier and more productive environments for people to work and live in.
The Green Star rating
Green Star SA, based on the Australian Green Building Council rating tools, is a voluntary and objective green building rating system for the property industry.
Each Green Star SA rating tool reflects a different market sector, namely office, retail or multi-unit residential.
Within each sector, there are rating categories that contain various credits that a company can earn in the rating procedure.
The Vodacom Innovation Centre was rated according to the office v1 rating tool. Each category in the office tool carries a particular weighting in the final score. The categories are: indoor environment quality, water, innovation, emissions, transport, land use and economy, management, energy and materials.
Other rating tools such as multi-unit residential v1, retail centre v1 and public & education building pilot can also be used, depending on the type of building.
The Green Star SA rating allows for certification of buildings based on the following levels of achievement: four-star Green Star SA Certification, which signifies "Best Practice"; five-star Green Star SA Certification indicates "South African Excellence"; and the six-star Green Star SA Certification which signals "World Leadership".