How designing ‘green’ buildings can help to combat the climate crisis

South Africa’s buildings account for 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But the City of Johannesburg’s new draft green buildings policy aims to change that.

The policy is driving the change to a more sustainable built environment through, for example, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to achieve low to net zero carbon for all new buildings  by 2030. 

“Buildings have a relatively long lifespan of 40 to 120 years, and the building stock in cities is growing rapidly. Significant opportunities exist for decreasing emissions from buildings through reducing energy demand and then supplying remaining energy demand with energy generated from renewable energy sources, such as rooftop solar panels,” says the report.

Although retrofitting buildings with new technologies, such as efficient lighting, can help to reduce energy demand, the actual design of a building can reduce the number of energy services required. 

The draft policy details how residential development is the biggest contributor to Johannesburg’s carbon emissions and to the annual increase in carbon emissions.


Buildings consume energy and water and are also waste producers. They are essential to tackling service-delivery problems if developed in a way that minimises resource consumption. Buildings whose water and power use do not comply with the regulations will be subject to fines and penalties.

Liana Strydom, the  director of regional planning at the City of Johannesburg, said there is urgency in future-proofing the city’s buildings.  

The policy had been developed in a partnership between Sustainable Energy Africa and Cape Town, Jo’burg, eThekwini and Tshwane. The cities signed the 2018 global net-zero carbon buildings declaration as part of a C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group South Africa Buildings Programme

eThekwini recently had its draft green building policy approved by the council for public comment. 

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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