Why Zim must pursue green building rating/certification

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Mike Erick Juru

BY Mike Erick Juru
THE biggest global threat to mankind is climate change.

Real estate has the most extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment during its development, operation, renovation and redevelopment.

The use of energy, water, raw materials and generation of waste, which leads to carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is also a major cause of climate change.

Experts have noted that buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions.

The building industry consumes a global average of 30% of fresh water and generates 30% of the world’s effluents.

Further, 80% of global energy production is fossil based.

These facts naturally call for bold action from stakeholders in the built environment to take a leading role in spearheading a major paradigm shift in the way real estate is developed and managed.

While many initiatives have been considered and implemented elsewhere, the creation of green building standards, certifications and rating systems aimed at mitigating the impact of buildings on the natural environment through sustainable design would easily become the solution in Zimbabwe.

Stakeholders in the real estate sector supply chain which include the government, regulators, local authorities, investors, occupiers, managers, designers, contractors, manufacturers and financiers, must make joint efforts for the nation to meet its commitment and pledge to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change.

There has been a proliferation of standards, rating and certification programmes in the marketplace to help guide, demonstrate and document efforts to deliver sustainable, high-performance buildings.

It is estimated that there are nearly 600 green product certifications in the world.

In 2000, the Green Building Council developed and released criteria aimed at improving the environmental performance of buildings through its leadership in energy and environmental design rating system for new construction.

The Green Buildings Council of South Africa developed the Green Star SA Rating Tool, which is based on the Australian Green Building Council tool to provide the property industry an objective measurement for green buildings and to recognise and reward environmental leadership in the property industry.

Each rating tool reflects a different market sector, such as office, retail, multi-unit residential and others.

The objectives of the Green Star SA rating tools are to establish a common language and standard of measurement for green buildings, promote integrated, whole building design, raise awareness of green building benefits, recognise environmental leadership and reduce the environmental impact of development. Green Buildings Council of Zimbabwe was accredited for Green Star SA by its South African counterparts and can certify green buildings in Zimbabwe.

There are various green building rating programmes in use around the world.

They vary in their approach with some outlining prerequisites and optional credits, while others take a prescriptive approach.

Others suggest performance-based requirements that can be met in different ways for different products and project types.

A prescriptive path is a fast, definitive and conservative approach to code compliance.

Materials and equipment must meet a certain level of stringency, which is quantified in tables.

Performance-based codes are designed to achieve particular results, rather than meeting prescribed requirements for individual building components.

Outcome-based codes for example, establish a target energy use level and provide for measurement and reporting of energy use to ensure that the completed building performs at the established level.

Consensus-based standards, developed through a formal, voluntary consensus process that is exemplified by an open and due process are likely to have immediate buy-in, and international influence.

As a result, it can be challenging and time consuming determining which standards, certifications and rating programmes are most credible and applicable to a particular project or country hence the need for a home-grown solution for Zimbabwe.

The difference between codes and building rating systems is that codes are mandatory. If green codes are adopted on a widespread basis, their impact can change the building environment rapidly and extensively.

To guide the development of codes, The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) provides a comprehensive set of requirements intended to reduce the negative impact of buildings on the natural environment. It is a document which can be readily used by manufacturers, design professionals and contractors; but what sets it apart in the world of green building is that it was created with the intent to be administered by code officials and adopted by governmental units at any level as a tool to drive green building beyond the market segment that has been transformed by voluntary rating systems.

A certification is a confirmation that a product meets defined criteria of a standard. ISO defines certification as: “any activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that relevant requirements are fulfilled.”

Green product certifications are intended to outline and confirm that a product meets a particular standard and offers an environmental benefit.

Many product labels and certification programmes certify products based on life-cycle parameters, making them multi-attribute programmes.

These parameters include energy use, recycled content and air and water emissions from manufacturing, disposal and use.

Others focus on a single attribute, such as water, energy, or chemical emissions.

A green product certification is considered most respected when an independent third party is responsible for conducting product testing and awarding the certification.

Third-party means they are independent of the product manufacturer, contractor, designer and specifier.

Third-party labels and green product certification programmes can be helpful in evaluating the attributes of green products because they validate that the product meets certain industry-independent standards.

They can also offer greater assurance to consumers, designers, specifiers and others that a product’s marketing claims accurately reflect its green attributes. Many product certifications are also recognised within comprehensive green building rating systems such as Green Globes and the National Green Building Standard.

As a result, green product certifications are on the rise as market conditions change and the demand for greener products continues to increase.

It is important to note that greenwashing, which is defined as the use of green claims that are not true or are unverifiable but used to sell products or a corporate image, has become commonplace as companies try to stay competitive in the green marketplace.

Both standards and product certifications will play a role in determining the level of sustainability or performance of a product.

However, each must be considered as part of a larger process, integrating them into the overall project goals to ensure the entire project is sustainable.

The reasons for pursuing a green building certification for a project are varied. Certification through any rating system provides verification of the green nature of the project, and can be a valuable educational and marketing tool for owners and design and construction teams through the process of creating a more sustainable building.

Green building certification can also be a way to provide an incentive for clients, owners, designers, and users to develop and promote highly sustainable construction practices.

It is important to note that a building does not have to be certified to be sustainable and well-built.

  • Mike Eric Juru is president of the Green Building Council