The built industry is encouraged to strive for sustainability by looking beyond just going green and digging deeper into the true concept of this broadly used term.

To ensure that South Africa prospers and meets its full potential, it has to strive for sustainable human settlements that are socially acceptable and able to support economic development and expansion.

According to Nico Pienaar, Director of the Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa), sustainability is not just the domain of environmentalists, but also refers to the whole supply chain within the construction and infrastructure development process. This includes the use of quality products and skilled labour.

By looking around the country it is clear that much work is needed, as there are still many communities without proper housing. Urbanisation is putting further pressure on South African cities’ infrastructure and facilities, and these too need to be upgraded in order to properly service communities.

“In future, South Africa will need to create cities where economic and social systems actually support the notion of long-term sustainability,” says Nico. “We will also need to create work and living spaces that enable the creation of jobs, which in turn facilitates wealth building. Communities can then become more socially coherent to work together for the greater good of their own societies.”

Nico says that this can only be done if people have proper shelter and decent, affordable housing. They need to have a liveable environment and have a sense of belonging, as well as a sense of pride in their surroundings and in their city. Infrastructure must therefore be created that will enable the ongoing sustainability and improvement of these areas.

Nico adds that industry associations such as Aspasa play an important role in the sustainable construction industry. At the core of its existence, the association’s main purpose is to look after the long-term sustainability of the quarrying industry by aligning it with legal, quality, environmental, labour and social requirements, etc. The building industry can improve sustainability simply by dealing with accredited, sustainably operated suppliers (of building materials), as well as denouncing unscrupulous and illegal suppliers.

“To be truly sustainable, the building industry needs to follow certain steps that will ensure that the structures and roads they build will last, as well as ensuring their businesses remain profitable in future,” Nico states.

He continues that Government is the first and most important role player as it needs to focus on infrastructure development. Schools, hospitals, police stations, houses, roads and other key structures need to be planned, developed and made to service the community in a sustainable manner.

The money allocated needs to be spent wisely, while the infrastructure that is put in place has to facilitate economic development, employment and social coherence.

Following Government’s role, it is the responsibility of built environment professionals to strive for sustainability. For example, when selecting building materials, the sustainability of supply can be achieved by simply insisting on locally produced cement, Aspasa-accredited aggregates and correctly manufactured readymix concrete from an accredited supplier.

When dealing with industry association-accredited suppliers, professionals can rest assured that the companies comply with regulations, products meet standards as laid down by the South African Bureau of Standards (SANS), suitable care is taken of employment conditions, the environment and surrounding communities.

“For this reason we plead with role players to look at the big picture when planning for sustainability,” emphasises Nico. “Government and building professionals need to look beyond the use of “green” products for new developments. In order to have a truly sustainable building industry we need to make sure the products we use are ethically derived and comply with standards. We also need to deal with suppliers and contractors that are focused on true sustainability in terms of social, environmental and economic upliftment of the region and the country.”

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