When it comes to the transition to smart, green building, the government sector should lead by example – there are many benefits to doing so…
The future is urban. Today, 67% of South Africa’s population lives in cities and that number is set to grow. That means our urban centres and their inhabitants are on the frontlines when it comes to the most severe impacts associated with climate change and human activity – from water and energy shortages, air pollution, flooding, pandemics and more. (For more on climate change and cities, click here.)
With so much at stake, cities must take urgent steps to build their resilience.
Enacting policies now to pave the way for a definitive transition to green building is a way for governments to ensure our built environments will be able to withstand future shocks.
Read more about fighting climate change with green infrastructure here.
Given South Africa’s urgent need for investment in roads, energy and water systems, hospitals, schools, affordable housing and other important infrastructure, the building industry offers great potential for employment – especially when it comes to absorbing unskilled labour. By promoting policies to transform this industry to become greener and more sustainable, governments can create significant numbers of green and decent jobs, while helping to preserve our environment and natural resources.
Estimates suggest environmentally friendly construction projects will generate more than 6.5 million jobs globally by 2030. It’s a field that holds enormous potential in South Africa, too. Opportunities for local businesses (and especially smaller enterprises) exist at every stage of the green building process and beyond – not only for construction firms, but also the many different businesses that offer green technologies, materials and services. According to the Energy Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a flourishing green building industry could create thousands of local fulltime jobs and nurture hundreds of small enterprises.
What’s more, green construction can help cities develop local value chains for green building products and services, and support the emergence of small businesses to service the various stages of a green building’s lifecycle. It also opens up training opportunities and career pathways for future artisans.
Adopting sustainable building practices for projects in the public sector comes with a host of cost-saving benefits. Buildings that conserve energy, water and waste are not only cheaper to operate, but also reduce maintenance expenses over their entire lifespan. The City of Cape Town, for example, has been able to achieve savings of around R6 million a year by making its buildings and facilities – and even its traffic and streetlighting – more energy-efficient. This also frees up electricity that can be channelled into economic activity.
For cities facing considerable demands on natural resources like water, as well as growing pressure on waste and stormwater infrastructure, green building methods are the smart, sustainable option.
There are more indirect benefits, too. Because they are designed with human health and wellbeing in mind, green buildings can drastically reduce the costs associated with absenteeism, ill health and poor productivity.
Read more about the financial benefits of green design here.
In promoting green building policies within our cities, governments have an amazing opportunity to create urban environments that actually improve, rather than harm, community health. Studies continue to show the enormous public health benefits associated with green buildings. From better ventilation and air quality to improved comfort levels, green buildings have a significant impact on the wellbeing of their occupants – which translates into less frequent hospital visits, an uptick in productivity and fewer lost days of work and school.
Social housing projects powered by renewable forms of energy have the potential to change the lives of many poor households that rely on . The cost savings associated with green buildings also free up household funds for improved nutrition, healthcare and education.
On a large scale, a shift to green building methods would also help cities combat harmful emissions and air pollution from South Africa’s coal-intensive energy sector, offering an opportunity for cleaner air – which vastly improves our health and overall quality of life. Our current reliance on coal as an energy source puts thousands at risk of illness and premature death from inhaling coal dust and coal pollution.
Read more here.
Read more about the health benefits of green buildings here.