Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development


Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!


 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 


How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

Role of Sustainable Transport in the Creation of Sustainable Cities


Cities, especially African cities are facing increasing challenges in terms of resource scarcity, climate change, rural urban-migration, environmental degradation and disaster mitigation. Urbanisation and the growth of cities is increasingly placing pressure on land, energy and resources resulting in increased environmental threats and vulnerabilities and it is estimated that two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. 

The transport system of a city is an effective reflection of the quality of life, the range and location of activities and the range and availability of goods and services within a city. Thus it is evident that transportation and transport systems are integral to the effective and equitable functioning of a city. The significance of the role of transportation within a city is further reiterated by the following:

  • Approximately 20-30 percent of a city’s land-use budget is used for transportation infrastructure and to facilitate transportation (Mathew and Rao, 2006).
  • According to the South African Ministry of Science and Technology (2011) the transport sector accounts for 30% of the country’s GHG emissions and is therefore considered a major GHG contributor.
  • Transportation has the ability to integrate as well as isolate cities and societies.
  • Globally automotive CO2 emissions are increasing steadily (IEE, 2009).
  • Globally transport is the second highest CO2 emitting sector with emissions being estimated to reach 18 billion tones by 2050 (IEE, 2009).

Transportation plays a key and critical role in the functioning of cities and is therefore able to play a fundamental and strategic role in the future of our cities. In particular, city’s transportation systems are able to play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions and facilitating resource use that is efficient, equitable and sustainable. Key factors impacting the manner in which a city utilizes resources are land use densities, primary activities and energy and transportation efficiencies. These issues are directly linked to the manner in which the city has developed, is planned and how the city will be planned and developed in the future.

In order to facilitate more sustainable transportation and ultimately sustainable cities the key sustainable transport characteristics that  should be incorporated into city planning are as follows:

  • Cities should be planned to be inclusive, to facilitate accessibility and be equitable.
  • Cities should be planned with pedestrian and cyclist accessibility and movement as the priority.
  • Cycling and other non-green house gas emitting modes of transport should be prioritized above motorized and other green house gas emitting modes of transport.
  • Pavements and cycling lanes should be planned for and integrated into all new development applications.
  • Pedestrian and cycling facilities should be linked to public transport networks.
  • Public transport should be prioritized over individual car based transportation. In this regard linkages to stations and bus routes must be planned, integrated and effectively implemented with the aim of promoting public transport use above individual car based transportation.
  • Transport systems should be tailored to the size, form and key functions of the city with the aim of providing a balanced transport system.


Department of Transport 2005(a): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 technical report. Department of Transport

Department of Transport 2005(b): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 key results of the national household travel survey. Department of Transport

Mathew T and K Rao 2006: Role of Transportation in Society. IEE 2009: Green House Gas Emissions and the Transport Sector, Panorama

Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure

(After the previos post about Waterless Jeans I though it a good idea to provide some context of the issue of water and water as a resource etc.. so here goes!)

Demand on Water Resources (Undited Nations Population Division)

A few facts related to Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure.

  • 75% of our natural resources are over utilized. This has far reaching impacts for our ecosystems and economies. An example is the Aral Sea. Aral Sea was 4thlargest fresh water system.
    • It is 10% of its original size.
    • Pollution and over utilization of the water yield of the lake has resulted in the Aral Sea no longer being able to provide Ecosystem Services such as water and fish and resulting in economic hardship and unemployment
    • Approximately 60 000 fishermen have lost their jobs.  
    • 50% of South Africa’s water extractions come from surface water resources such as lakes, rivers and dams. This has significant implications for the development of the country, the health of water resources as well as water users.

Aral Sea: not much water left.

Ecosystem Infrastructure refers to the services that are provided by natural ecosystems. These ecosystem services include servicessuch as water purification; flood control, recreational amenities, and climate stabilization. Ecosystem services may be considered as “free” services provided by nature and are particularly important when looked at within the context of services that support economic and social development.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well being (

I recently attended a presentation on the importance of ensuring integrated planning the provision of water services. The presentation linked water as a natural resource critical for economic and social development with the importance of ecosystem infrastructure such as watersheds. An example of ecosystem infrastructure in water service provision would be the financial cost savings that are possible through the effective development and management of dams and watersheds in relation to dam siltation.

  • The siltation of a dam involves the gradual build up of silt behind the dam wall. Siltation often negatively affects the health and usefulness of a dam and results in a reduction of water yield from the dam.
  • The average cost of building a dam is (approximately) R20 per cubic meter of water stored.
  • The average cost of de-silitation is (approximately) R8 per cubic meter
  • If a watershed is managed in a sustainable manner the risks and costs posed by siltation of dams are preventable.
  • Thus it makes financial sense to prevent siltation through the management of the ecosystem infrastructure associated with water and dams. This can be done through watershed management and the management of land uses within watersheds.
  • Some examples of watershed management initiatives that increase water yielded and prevent erosion and therefore siltation are: alien clearing, sustainable land use practices, erosion prevention etc

The concluding message from the presentation was; it is essential to ensure that the integrity and health of our water resources and associated ecosystem infrastructure are maintained in order to enable sustainable development and a transition to a green economy. It is therefore fundamental to recognise ecosystem services and infrastructure as strategic and fundamental element of infrastructure development and service provision.

This also stresses that recognition that a key step towards incorporating ecosystem infrastructure into the infrastructure planning and development processes is required to facilitate and support sustained and healthy economic growth and a transition to a greener economy. In addition, the recognition of the strategic importance of ecosystem infrastructure in infrastructure provision and development planning is central to the debate surrounding the value of ecosystem services and elements. The value of such services and resources need to be looked at from an integrated point of view as opposed to merely being considered as resources to be exploited.

We need to change the manner in which we value and use our natural resources.

For more informtaion on the above topics:

Aral Sea on Wikipedia

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

WHO fact file


Integrated Urban Design, Densification and Sustainability

A real "Green Building"

Resource scarcity, urbanization, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to make the provision of housing, resources, infrastructure and services to the world’s population increasingly costly and difficult. The issue is further compounded the unsustainable urban environments in which most urban dwellers live. Most urban environments are characterized by sprawling urban environments that require high levels of energy inputs to live and work in.  Examples of this include the dormitory suburb’s from which many city workers travel to and from everyday and the car dependant cities that are planned for the car as opposed to the pedestrian or cyclist. Dormitory suburbs and cities planned for cars facilitate the wasteful use of energy and time (spent commuting) and contribute to high levels of emissions. Add this to the increasing rates of urbanization and we have quite a large problem.

According to UN Habitat (2010) approximately 51% of the world population lives in urban areas. Resource scarcity, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to increase the rates of urbanization being experienced around the world and specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to approximately 62% of the world’s slum population.  

We therefore need to find a sustainable way to be able to accommodate the increasing urban population. The densification and integration of urban environments has and is being recognized as an efficient, effective and sustainable way to provide resources, housing, services and infrastructure to urban dwellers.  The concept is broadly based on the following:

  • Lowered infrastructure provision costs. It is cheaper and easier to provide services within a smaller area. E.g: providing water and energy reticulation across a smaller area with a higher density of inhabitants serviced as opposed to a larger area with fewer inhabitants.
  • Mixed-use environments where people have to travel shorter distances to and from work, shopping and entertainment.  This would reduce travel costs as well as carbon emissions etc.
  • Reducing urban sprawl and the maintenance of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are basically services that nature/ ecosystems provide.(Wetlands – water purification, Biodiversity-food, plants resources, trees and forest that clean the air etc)

The Verticle Forest or Bosco Vertical in Milan, Italy, is a great example of innovation, design and urban densification.

“Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. Bosco Verticale is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city. It is a model that operates correlated to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the large urban and metropolitan borders (Metrosbosco). Metrobosco and Bosco Verticale are devices for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities. Together they create two modes of building links between nature and city within the territory and within the cities of contemporary Europe.
The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants.
On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.
The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates and produces energy. The Bosco Verticale aids in the creation of a microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect from radiation and acoustic pollution, improving the quality of living spaces and saving energy. Plant irrigation will be produced to great extent through the filtering and reuse of the grey waters produced by the building. Additionally Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will contribute, together with the aforementioned microclimate to increase the degree of energetic self sufficiency of the two towers. The management and maintenance of the Bosco Verticale’s vegetation will be centralised and entrusted to an agency with an office counter open to the public.”  (