By Anna-Marie Smith

Green building CT 2

Otherwise known as the city with a conscience, Cape Town is known as the growth engine of the Western Cape. And on a national scale, it has been a top investment destination for some time. From a global perspective, the city has become a fierce competitor in attracting foreign direct investment into the country.

As the city’s status of being a high return investment destination gains momentum, industry players are realigning business strategies across different sectors of the property market. Renewed focus with a global perspective on the joint benefits of long-term economic growth coupled with environmental sustainability is evident.


Accelerated growth in the commercial and industrial property sectors, as well as commerce and tourism, is linked to the practice of sustainable business principles as well as the environment. A number of support structures have enabled private enterprise to gain a foothold in local markets that would bear long-term dividends. These are provided by various business forums, the City of Cape Town, the Green Building Council South Africa and the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town.

While fulfilling its role as facilitator in the process of strategic development and economic growth, the city has partnered with business to encourage and incentivise environmentally sound business practice. Also spreading their wings to southern shores are some South African REITs companies, now regulated to compete in global investment markets.

Central to the acceleration process are the actions of the Accelerate Cape Town/KPMG Sustainability Forum. In collaboration with local business and city authorities, it aids the process of corporate implementation of green building initiatives. Chris Wheelan, CEO of Accelerate Cape Town, says South Africa currently has 35 Certified Green Star Buildings, and projections are that this number will increase to 150 by 2014, 300 by 2015 and 500 by 2016. He says examples of green building initiatives are seen nationally within different sectors of the property market. Speedy transformation in the government property sector is seeing four star ratings at offices fast becoming the norm. This is setting the tone for achievements such as the Department of Environmental Affairs Head Office in Tshwane’s accreditation of the state’s first six green star rating, says Wheelan.

Wheelan says large corporate institutions that are developing new properties, as well as those committed to upholding leases for rentals in older existing buildings, are benefiting from transformation within the property sector. He says when looking at global cities, new development and refurbishments of buildings reflect long-term vision based on tried and tested research models. Available in South Africa, he says, are locally developed models by the Green Building Council South Africa. He says these offer a wealth of research and certification training programmes to local industry, while studies such as the Davis Langdon Environmental Study of 2011 provide efficient design useful for broad applications.

Another factor driving greener operating principles that go beyond green building certification is the need for commitment to corporate reputation as well as staff wellbeing. A recent example is the design and construction behind Allan Gray’s head office in Cape Town. Michael Smith says: “ “During the planning process Allan Gray realised that the biggest lesson of green building lies in the realisation that real substance is what gains respect from clients and employees.” He says investing is about so much more than just capital growth, but rather the finer balance between optimum productivity, occupant health and corporate reputation.

Smith says the nine-month design and planning process took place in collaboration with the company’s landlord, the V&A Waterfront. During this time extensive research and feasibility studies around sustainability principles of the architectural design, construction and occupancy of No. 1 Silo were prioritised. He says: “Operating within the guidelines of the Green Building Council South Africa went hand-in-hand with a commitment to only implement tried and tested measures with clear track records.” In addition, only those that could be applied across a broad spectrum of business principles would be implemented.

Another large scale Cape Town project where impressive energy savings have been implemented is the Black River Office Park. This office development in Observatory features the biggest roof-mounted solar photovoltaic system in southern Africa. This installation, to take place over three stages, will soon be ready to take advantage of local carbon tax benefits when implemented. Estimations are that the system will save 1 725 tons of carbon dioxide per annum by not relying on electricity produced from coal.

Black River Park developer and stakeholder Joubert Rabie says it makes sense to run an operation that is green and sustainable, not only because of the impact it has on the environment, but also from a good business practice point of view. He says installation costs for this system, which will operate for a minimum of 25 years, will be recouped within the first seven years. The design allows power usage throughout the park to be monitored and micro managed.

From a business principle perspective, this was one of many factors taken into consideration before the Green Building Council South Africa moved its offices to Black River Park. Brian Wilkinson, chief executive of the Green Building Council South Africa, says the opportunity for tenants to be able use green energy and potentially go off grid means Black River Park meets some of the sustainable criteria for green building accreditation.

Also adding to the long list of green developments in the city is Hotel Verde, which will shortly be launched in the Cape Town International Airport Industria precinct. Named as South Africa’s first green hotel, it is the brainchild of a family of foreign owners who have invested heavily in a commitment to the environmental and economic benefits of sustainable development. Their wish is for Hotel Verde to serve the hospitality, business and tourist industry with an educational model that will illustrate sustainable building as it applies to hotel accommodation.

André Harms of Ecolution Consulting says his client is aiming to achieve Gold or Platinum accreditation within the stringent LEED green building certification programme. Guests at Hotel Verde will participate in a number of energy saving programmes, such as Friday night dinners served by candlelight from a wood fired pizza oven. Hotel guests will also be incentivised to reduce, recycle and reuse to minimise consumption at all levels. Of particular interest during the building site tour was a surprise view from the hotel rooms onto a green open space adjacent to the premises. Harms said this municipal retention pond, originally created to absorb water in the area, is now rented from the city by Hotel Verde in an effort to uplift the neighbouring surroundings.