Green building - why it is good for you

Results from various studies are indicating that  people in green buildings have fewer incidents of cold, flu and asthma as a result of access to fresh air, better ventilation systems and  environmentally-preferable paint and furniture. A green building is a building which is energy efficient, resource efficient and incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate its negative impact on the environment and those who live and work in them.

The benefits of green buildings are extensive, which is why the idea of using environmentally preferable building  methods  and materials when constructing  new buildings and improving older ones, is becoming more and more  important. The bottom line is that sustainable building is increasingly being  considered a best building practice by everyone from major commercial developers to affordable home owners.

Driving the  sustainable building message in South Africa is the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). The non-profit GBCSA was established in 2007 and is South Africa's official representative at the World Green Building Council. It has direct access to some of the most advanced and exciting green building and construction information in the world.

“Sustainable green living is more imperative than ever before, for the sake of the planet, our health and our pockets,” says Bruce Kerswill, executive chairman of the GBCSA.

Kerswill explains that everyone can be a part of the green building movement - in their own homes and workplaces, new and already built - not only architects, developers, construction companies and property managers can make a difference.

“Many green building practices are simple, financially accessible and beneficial for the future,” says Kerswill. “Going green isn?t expensive – neither in terms of short-term financial output, such as  for materials,  nor for long-term benefits where  environmentally sound practices inherent in green design result in lower energy and water bills, as well as other operating and maintenance costs.”

In fact, Kerswill points to  the  Kuyasa CDM Pilot Project as one of the first organizations to embrace the green building movement in South Africa. Kuyasa is South Africa's first internationally registered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and was the first Gold Standard Project to be registered in the world. It involves the retrofitting of solar water heater (SWHs), insulated ceilings and energy
efficient lighting in over 2 300 low-cost homes in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. The project will see an immediate impact on the social, health and particularly the economic well being of the beneficiaries. Here the  cost-benefits of building green and using sustainable products are being recognised.

The  environmental,  social and economic benefits  of green building  are  all  compelling. Add health rewards, and sustainable building becomes impossible to ignore. A recent study by the School of Planning, Design, and Construction at Michigan State University found that a green-certified work habitat meant a 60% decrease in allergies and asthma in staff, and a 30% drop in absenteeism  resulting from depression and stress. Greater access to daylight was a major factor, because it cuts the need for artificial lighting, and also makes the environment more welcoming and attractive.

Buildings – including your home and office – account for over 40% of the world?s total energy consumption and produce around a third of the world?s total carbon dioxide emissions Green building reduces the environmental impact of building through sustainable design and construction, as well as energy- and resource-efficient materials.

If this inspires you to make the change to green, Kerswill notes that you are not alone. More people want to be greener in more ways every day – at home, at work and at play! The ImagePower Global Green Brands Study, released earlier this month, is one of the largest global consumer surveys of green brands and corporate environmental responsibility. It revealed that in all eight participating countries (the US, UK, China, Brazil, India, Germany,
France and Australia) consumers are already using an increasing number of green products in the household, personal care and food categories.  All participating countries also indicated that they were willing to open up their wallets and pay a bit more for green options.

Furthermore, according to the study  - 60% of consumers globally want to buy from
environmentally responsible companies.

These consumers also  said they  intend  to  extend these green choices  more and more to items in the automobile, energy and technology sectors. “With this sentiment, it is inevitable that the green building movement will gain even more  thrust as a new wave of consumers embrace energy and technology as vital sustainability tools,” says Kerswill.

So how and where can you start to make the change to green building?

The  Green Building Council of South Africa  offers these easy suggestions in five different areas for a basic “eco-retrofit”  at  your office or home to create a greener environment immediately.

The earth will breathe a little easier, and so will you, if you take these simple steps:

Light bulbs: Change your traditional incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents lamps (CFLs) or  LED bulbs. Both use less much less energy  and last much longer than other light bulbs. Also, switch off the lights in your office when you leave to go home.

Paint:  Next time you paint,  opt for no-VOC or low-VOC paints. They contain much less or none of the chemicals found in traditional paints. These paints don't release chemicals into your home or office when dried, providing better indoor air quality. This also applies to furniture paints and varnishes.  A reminder for those renovating - remember that in older buildings, you could come across hazardous materials such as lead-based paint – always take precautions or call professionals.

Water:  Replacing your toilet? Choose a dual flush system that provides the option of a full cistern flush or partial cistern flush, which saves water. Also, installing flow restrictors in your existing taps can reduce the water you use when washing your hands and doing the dishes.

Garden: Indigenous vegetation can flourish in natural weather conditions, without additional watering. If you need to water your garden, the installation of a rainwater tank to collect rain for use on the garden can reduce your water bills and reduce the strain on our reservoirs.

Heating: To save money and energy heating your home or office this winter, install  seals around your windows and doors to stop the heat being sucked out and uncomfortable drafts.

Do you have any green tips? Share them with us on our website, Facebook or Twitter pages.

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