Celebrate, critical, collection and (blond)

I recently attended a conference on green buildings and sustainability and I would like to mention four learnings that I took away. Some of it celebrates achievements, some of it is critical, some is a collection of (hopefully) interesting facts and statements, and some, well, just illustrates how blond one can be at times.

Do you want to know the blond part first? Okay, you twisted my arm. By the way, I mean no disrespect to people with blond hair, I’m just lazily borrowing a steoreotype. For lunch on the first day, and when they eventually set all the hungry people free, everyone including myself ran like never before to get first to the lunch stalls (we don’t care if you don’t get any food as long as we have – survival is the fundamental human need; I’m just quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that’s all). As we rush into the exhibition area looking around for food I see people eating delicious foodstuffs, but I don’t see where they get it from. So not to look too desperate and hungry, I decide to casually stroll around the exhibition area and hopefully come across the food stalls. As I’m walking with one hand in pocket showing no physical signs of malnutrition and deprivation of liquids, I spot a group of people at some cooldrink stalls but alas, no food stalls. I join the line and non-chalantly asks the server behind the counter: “Are these cooldrinks complimentary?” To which he replies: “Yes, sir, what would you like.” I indicated the Ginger Ale and strolled off.

At this point in time, I’m starting to show physical signs of food deprivation so I decide to make a quick lap around hopefully find the food area. Being careful not to show my desperation, I take a swig of the chilled Ginger Ale, glance at the various items on display while at the same time putting all my senses to work. I smell food, I see people eating delicious saucy chicken pieces hanging from their lips, but for the life of me I don’t see where it comes from. I completed my lap, but still no luck. Then I hear the bell ringing, indicating that lunch is over and we need to return to the conference hall. Dissapointed and hungry I join the line back and take (flop into) my seat.

The next day at the conference I was determined not to let the same thing happen to me. I will apply more circumspect and street smarts. At lunch time I employed the number one rule of survival – observe. I made sure that I’m a bit behind the crowd and watched where they go. I especially singled out those that really looked hungry, because surely they will know where the food stall should be. As we entered the exhibition area again, I listened to the conversation of the couple next to me. “John, the food is here to the right”, she said. Now that’s what I want to hear, so I slide in behind them and follow them with foam forming at my mouth. At last, I spot the kitchen exit with a waiter trotting around with plates of food. Heaven has come down to earth. I push through the crowd and grab a bowl of delicious chicken and rice. To my dismay, after having eaten a small bowl, I realise that I’m not really hungry today. See, it’s a very clever strategy. If you don’t eat the first day, they know that your capacity for foods shrinks on the second day. I was outcompeted.

To get back to the conference. Suffice it to be said that the conference was about sustainability and specifically the built environment. There was mention of extending this to the community level in that it is not enough to build single green buildings but to have cities of green buildings, only then can we have a meaningful impact and affect change of a sustainable nature to the environment (excuse the pun).

Remember the Olympics and Paralympics held earlier this year in London? Well, I didn’t know that one of the primary reasons for England winning the bid to host the Olympics was due to the sustainable way in which it would have been done. A representative of the London Olympics Park Committee presented some learnings from the 2012 London Olympic Park Project that I found fascinating to say the least. One can say a lot about Londoners or Brits, but they can sure rise to the task. Well, since we are on that point, I recently read something that quite illustrates the difference between a Non-Englishman and an Englishman. A Non-Englishman says, “I think, therefore I am” while an Englishman says, “I think, therefore I am, I think.”

Be that as it may, did you know that the Olympics park was constructed on a semi-landfill site? When London submitted their bid to host, they included some slightly amibitious sustainability targets, that I think afterwards made some people a bit uneasy, yet I can only applaude them for their achievements. For example:

  • 85% of contaminated land was rehabilitated and used in the construction of the park.
  • Electrical pylons stretching over the land where disconnected and dismantled, just to dig two 6 km underground tunnels to lay the electric lines.
  • A certain percentage of the construction materials where to be transported by rail. The amazing statistic about this is that rail only emits 20% of the emissions than a truck going by road.
  • The derelict buildings on site was not hammered down, but deconstructed in such a way that the materials could be re-used.
  • Canals were cleaned and opened that was out of use since the 1950’s not for the sake of opening them, but to actually transport items along on barges.

That is quite impressive. I completely celebrate, with the Brits, their successful hosting achievement.

Now in stark contrast to this, forgive me, but I would like to mention something critical around Eskom who in my opinion can not only learn some lessons from other countries, but rather should try and wake up at the same time.

Eskom made a presentation entitled Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – the Way Forward. I’m not sure about how you interpret words like “the way forward”, but it kind of suggests to me that some measure of thinking has been employed to indicate firstly a way (in other words the how) and secondly a direction, in this case supposedly forward (although in my opinion, backward is more approapriate and backward by an exponential degree). I can be tolerant (every now and then), but what slightly peeves me off is when you represent a movement or body or anything really, but don’t grasp the intensity and full scale of what it is you are representing and also don’t seem to care.

If you have a presentation with a title, it somewhat suggests that you need to speak to the topic and not let’s say perhaps everything else that has no bearing on the matter. The presentation started with a fair chunk of time dedicated to explaining the recent Eskom price hike of 16% of the next 5 years (as I understand it). You do not need to dedicate time addressing the price hike, that was not the purpose of the presentation. We can all read the application on the Eskom website. The second part of the presentation was dedicated to Visions of the Future and several pictures of men from the mid-to-late 1900’s illustrating how thinking around the future has changed. Quotes from children of what they think will happen in the year 2000 taken several years ago does not adequately speak to my understanding of planning for the future and indicating the way forward. Maybe it’s just me, but the mid-to-late 1900’s is not relevant now? The year 2000 seems to be 12 years ago already, more important matters like blackouts could be suggestive of priority items to address. Look forward, not backwards.

Everything that was said I probably could have rationalised in context and somehow get an understanding of why it is being said. However, one final remark made my hair raise to the ceiling. As the presentation is being delivered mention is made of electricity shortages. Really, I didn’t notice. Anyhow, here’s the shocking statement and I quote roughly, “If it wasn’t for the residential savings on electricity, we would have been in quite a difficult state today (nervous giggle)”. That entire sentences spells out to me a complete lack of understanding the scope and scale of what they are dealing with. Eskom needs visionary leadership. Fast.

Moving on from this somewhat sombre picture, I would like to list a few interesting statements, facts, and learnings that you hopefully would find interesting:

  • Location determines 70% of the value of a property.
  • Green buildings transact at 13% higher prices with 3% higher rentals and 7% higher cashflows than non-green buildings.
  • The Green Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) measures at portfolio level while green rating tools (as offered by GBCSA) measures at building level – use both.
  • Sustainability is not a new concept, a recent study shows that buildings from the 1960’s in the USA are more efficient than buildings constructed in the year 2000. Back then there was not the technologies we have in our buildings today such as HVAC etc., rather manual ventilation flaps.
  • Design and operations of buildings should be seen in context as this is a requirement for sustainable development.
  • Co-workspaces in Africa has increased from zero in 2007 to currently 11.
  • Access seems to be preferred over ownership. For example, owning a car is traditionally seen as liberative and empowering (you can come and go when you please). However, research shows an uptake in car sharing (like a rental pool of cars). These cars are readily available around the corner and easily accessible. Having a car that stands idle most of the time parked somewhere is becoming obsolete in some instances. Empowerment is achieved through access not ownership anymore.
  • The mining sector consumes around 70% of energy/electricity in SA.
  • America lives on 8 planets, Europe lives on 5 while India lives on three quarters.
  • Shopping centres design are increasingly unsustainable. Cars need to drive for a number of kilometers/miles and emits emissions in the process. A centre with 2000 visits per hour requires 40,000 sqm of parking. We need to rethink design.
  • HVAC, lighting and plugload are the largest expenses in commercial properties.
  • Plugloads will increase in the future, think electric cars etc.
  • Green buildings directly affects expenses such as energy, water & waste, carbon emissions, and insurance premiums in buildings.
  • The future is sustainable cities not buildings. This requires PPP.
  • Brokers needs to be educated with greening since they are the point of contact with clients.
  • South Africa has 26 green rated buildings. Capitalisation rates for these can only be determined once they sell – this might take some time.
  • RICS is working on some research for capitalisation rates on green buildings. Currently, the higher value of green buildings is not derived from cap. rates but from higher cashflow.
  • Smaller buildings has an increased cost burden to get green rated as they cannot offset the expenses i.e. a 1 floor building vis-a-vis a 11 floor building.
  • A green lease is still a lease, it only explores the shared benefit idea/relationship between landlord and tenant.