Intelligent building design promotes energy efficiency

Recent years have seen green buildings mushroom as companies announce new head offices with ever more impressive sustainability measurements. In October Cape Town will host 92 global building councils at the World Green Building Congress.

Eric Noir, who founded sustainability consultancy WSP Green by Design in 2002, says green buildings make good sense for business and the planet.

The company was acquired by WSP Group Africa in 2008 and provides a wide range of sustainability consulting services for both buildings and precincts.

Its recent track record includes sustainability consulting to the Wangari Maathai Institute in Nairobi and green-star certification for the South African Military Health Depot in Tshwane.

Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency isn't just a moral imperative anymore as resources are scarcer while demand keeps rising. Noir believes society needs to re-examine consumption patterns to turn waste into a resource.

Water availability, too, is a concern, with predictions that 20% of the world's population will be living in countries with absolute water scarcity by 2025.

Intelligent building design and alternative technologies can address these issues, with potential solutions showcased in corporate offices.

The Vodafone Innovation Centre in Midrand was recently awarded a six-star rating — the highest available — by the Green Building Council of South Africa.

The building generates more energy than it uses, and "everything serves more than one function", says Noir, whose team provided sustainability consulting for the project. "We had to invent, explore and innovate."

Listed companies, in particular, have an incentive to save on water and electricity, thanks to the JSE's insistence on social and environmental impact reporting.

Interest in green buildings is on the rise elsewhere in Africa too, as corporates minimise the risk of supply disruptions.

But increasingly, forward-thinking companies are moving beyond these criteria to maximise what Noir terms indoor environmental quality.

This incorporates the use of natural light, views from office windows, glare control and the building's thermal envelope — "everything that gives people a better working environment".

In return, staff are more productive, making a difference to the bottom line.

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