The Green Building

I receive a regular newsletter from The Green Building, a South African e-journal highlighting issues around environmental building methods and progress that is being made in this field. Here is their latest letter from the editor Llewellyn van Wyk:

In many ways 2011 can be described as the coming-of-age of green building. Twenty-one years ago two initiatives were launched which were seminal in establishing the concept of energy-efficient buildings and green building: BRE (British Research Establishment) released BREEAM, and the Passivhaus was launched by two Professors.

Passivhaus was singly focused on energy reduction: energy consumption was to be reduced by introducing passive design elements, such as intensive insulation installation and attention to thermal breaks. Solar orientation, solar water heating, and heat exchangers formed part of the strategy. BREEAM on the other hand invented a rating tool that, apart from energy considerations, also took into account water use, land use, transport, and others. BREEAM became the basis for a host of other rating tools including LEED and Green Star.

LEED has, arguably, become the superstar of green building rating tools, largely due to the global influence of the USA, and largely because the Federal Government adopted LEED as a requirement for buildings on the instruction of President Bill Clinton thus attracting official endorsement. For the same reasons LEED is also now attracting severe scrutiny, some of it highly unflattering.

Some of this has to do with inconsistencies in the rating methodology, and some to do with the associated bureaucracy that has been established. I have dedicated this issue to the debates around these two issues, in the belief that a) 21 years is a decent enough period of time to undertake a serious review of the original intent of rating tools and green building councils, and b) that those countries (and they seem to be queuing up at this time) seeking to establish their own green building councils and rating tools (with LEED being the aspirational tool in my personal experience) would do well to interrogate both history and their own circumstances before progressing down the green building council and rating tool road.

While recognising the high value of green building councils and the mindfulness it has introduced into a very wide audience, I am afraid that the tail is beginning to wag the dog. At one visioning exercise I suggested that the vision for a green building council should be to reach a point when the council is no longer necessary: needless to say, the suggestion was not adopted. Ultimately I believe green building is in the national interest, and should be an issue driven by Government: for this reason, I strongly supported the establishment of a Part X “Environmental Sustainability” to the South African National Building Regulations and look forward to it being populated with the full range of deep green building imperatives in due course.

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