Striving for sustainable living

by Ofentse Sefolo
Striving for sustainable living

Walls & Roofs spoke with Lisa Reynolds, executive director at the Green Building Design Group. She shared some invaluable insights on sustainability and approaches that would effectively impact the building industry.

Getting started
Lisa started her sustainability career with a boss who decided that she has the capabilities to change the face of South Africa as far as energy-efficiency goes. He gave her this job to get energy efficiency standards written and energy-efficiency standards and regulations in place at a time when there were none.

This introduced her to the world of sustainability. It started with energy efficiency, moved on to water efficiency and eventually onto green buildings, which is when she truly found her place. As such her career entails water, energy, waste, carbon and job creation. The whole space lends itself to growth and change.

“The idea of making a difference is what drives me,” says Reynolds. “I really feel like we are doing something for the good of everybody. There’s an old saying: ‘If you follow your passion is, it isn’t work’. I often say to people, yes, I am a tree hugger and have been known to hug trees, but I’m a capitalistic tree hugger or maybe a pragmatist tree hugger. I still have to pay bills, yet I still believe in saving the planet.”

Her passion is for a more sustainable future. Reynolds believes that sustainability is about looking after our resources. She notes that sustainability is not only about the environmental side of things, it’s also about the sustainability of people. “If I want to know how to save water in my house, I’ll go speak to the woman who carries 25 litres on her head,” she enthuses. “She will be able to tell me how to sustain life under these conditions. Let’s use this opportunity within the sustainability space to create jobs and help people to be sustainable as well.”

Standing in the gap between policy and implementation

“When I started my career, I noticed that there are good standards and policies in the country, but there’s a gap between the policies and their implementation,” explains Reynolds. “If people don’t know how to apply or implement them naturally, they won’t get done. Then you find that the greatest work of fiction is sitting on shelves when it should in fact be implemented. As such, I work in the implementation space.”

When a company approaches Reynolds, she identifies its energy profile with the intention to improve it. She reminds businesses that it’s not just about policy but about implementing the ideas people have. She adds that people want to do things right, but they don’t always know how to go about this.

Understanding that leads to compliance

Using her knowledge and experience, Reynolds identifies some of her favourite projects and explains why. “My favourite project is the one we are currently working on,” says Reynolds. “It entails the training of the building control office staff – building control officers, plan examiners and building inspectors in municipalities. I’m training them on what the 10400-XA, which is the current energy-efficiency standard says for them. There’s a version 2 coming out, but there’s a huge lack of compliance to the current version. Not because cities or companies don’t want to comply, but I believe it comes down to understanding. At the moment we are working on a rollout programme to train municipalities on how to interpret and understand the energy efficiency standards to improve their level of compliance.”

People talk about zero-carbon buildings by 2030, but how are we going to achieve this? “Let’s get the foundation right. If we build on this foundation then we these greener initiatives and have a better foundation to build on,” Reynolds mentions. “That’s been my life’s work and I want people to comply. At the end of the day, it’s the law – so just comply. I will make this firm statement: If you don’t comply with the basics, you are not allowed to complain about load shedding. If you’ve wasted energy in your buildings, then you’ve wasted country resources, so you have no right to complain.”

Design and materiality

It is Reynolds’ opinion that people have this concept that going green is expensive and that it looks a certain way. “It’s not PV panels on a roof – this is not what it’s all about,” she highlights. “It’s about how you design to minimize the use of resources. Going green is about using resources effectively and efficiently. How do I ensure passively and actively that people living and working in this building are also going to use minimal resources? The design should enable all to use what they need and not waste it.”

She explains that the sustainability of designs is found in the simplest designs. “You often find people talking about sustainability and then throw technology at it,” Reynolds highlights. “It’s really not about technology. It’s about passive design. You design a building so that people use less resources and use them more efficiently. It’s about systems and optimization of design. A good example is sunlight. But it’s a combination between using sunlight and shading. Use natural lighting but shade properly, so that you don’t have to cool the building artificially – and this is where passive design plays a key role.”

In terms of materiality and design, Reynolds believes that people need to go back to their roots and how they used to design. She explains that the industry has been influenced by international design for a long time. More and more architects are going back to their roots – using orientation, shading and natural materials.

“We need to get back to using stones that are natural to the area in which we are building and use the geography of the area,” she says. “Use natural wind direction, for example, if you are at the coast, look at the prevailing wind and design accordingly. Sometimes we get lost in what is being done elsewhere. I’m a strong proponent of buying local, because you don’t want tons of embodied energy, which is material in transport.

“There are great examples out there, such as a hospital in Botswana which is built above the ground with massive pipes under the building, so that the ground doesn’t heat the building and the wind passing through naturally cools the buildng. People talk about innovative technology or alternative technology, but it’s also about using current technology in an innovative way.”

When Reynolds specifies products, she will look at what is the best energy performer and what is the safest to use. As an example, for a hospital she won’t use a combustible insulation. It’s a combination of what works for that application and what is safe. Safety, sustainability and performance – and trying to buy local.

Solar Panel Photovoltaic installation on a Roof, alternative electricity source – Concept Image of Sustainable Resources

Tips for architects and pet gripes

Whether it be for a new building or for a retrofit, architects should look at how we used to build and try to build more sustainably. Reynolds emphasises that sustainability in design is first prize. “If you say that you are going to build sustainably, do it in the design phase,” she advises. “Energy efficiency interventions can be retrofitted, but it usually involves analyzing the original design and can incur extra costs.”

“For example, if people design to retrofit and place PV panels on the roof, was that roof designed to hold the specific weight? Is the roof orientation correct? You want back-up batteries, but do you have space to put them somewhere? If it’s designed that way, it’s much easier for everyone involved. You want to recycle your waste, but do you know how much space is needed for separation of waste and recycling? Put yourself in that sustainability design space and it doesn’t cost that much more. It costs 5 to 10% more to build green.”

If you put an energy-efficient intervention in your design, it’s got payback. It has been shown that most of the energy-efficiency designs have a year to two years, and you are saving energy forever.

When it comes to her pet gripes, Reynolds mentions looking at this energy-saving standards and viewing it as a pain instead of embracing it. “It’s looking for what’s wrong with things instead of saying well, let’s try and make the best of this. Just as much as you would never design a wall that won’t stand up you should never design a building that won’t save energy,” Reynolds concludes. “There is going to be a standard on water efficiency coming our way soon, and I encourage industry experts to embrace it instead of opposing it. It’s a national imperative that we build efficiently and sustainably. We need to do what we can to reduce carbon levels and save water. If more architects, builders and sub-contractors embrace it because it is the right thing to do, its going to drastically improve our profession.”

Green Building Design Group
Tel: 082 773 2928
Email: lisa@greenbdg.co.za
Website: www.greenbdg.co.za
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