Getting South Africa’s first existing building Green Star SA certification proves that Black River Park in Cape Town has a “better product” to offer, says office park co-owner PJ Rabie.

“We have found that green space is becoming increasingly more important for both local and international tenants” says Black River Park facilities manager Matt Rich. “Tenants are starting to be mindful of the environmental impact of a building, and are looking for the benefits that a green space offers.”

While greening of new buildings is imperative to lessen the environmental impact of the built environment, sustainably managing the existing building stock is where significant efficiencies and savings can be made. The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) says the EBP rating tool provides indicators to ensure a building’s environmental performance is efficiently maintained or improved upon over time. Black River Park’s North Park received its 5 Star Green Star SA rating in October 2014, under the Existing Building Performance (EBP) pilot tool.

Existing Building Performance pilot tool

Unlike the other rating tools offered by the GBCSA this one puts building operation and management in the limelight. Rabie notes increased interaction with tenants has been the biggest benefit of pursuing the rating. “We have had tremendous feedback,” he says. “The tenants understand the process and want to be a part of the journey. This has boosted relationships and tenants now have greater sense of belonging.”

“This performance rating focuses on management and the relationship between the landlord and the tenant,” says green building consultant and accredited professional on the Black River Park certification, Sally Misplon. “For this type of rating, data and practices are documented and measured over a performance period (three to 12 months) and then reported on.”

To ensure the best result, Misplon was permanently based at the property management office. Misplon notes one of her highlights of the six-month performance review period was the decision to plant a vegetable garden and fruit orchard in an unused area of the courtyard, where tenants could grow food. This decision scored innovation points.

Ten years in the making

Rabie says the certification is an acknowledgement of continued efforts over the last eight to ten years. Opened in 2004, Black River Park was constructed with many sustainability features, such as performance glass and blinds for glare. Greening initiatives, such as the installation of the largest rooftop solar system in the southern hemisphere and a borehole were considered sound business decisions.

“You have to be able to take a little risk sometimes, and this can save costs in the long run,” says Rabie. The solar system, vegetable garden and borehole costs will be recouped as the capital expenditure earns a return. The solar system is low-risk. The borehole cost about R140 000 and was recovered in 12 months.

“This rating is very much about adapting behaviour. It is not very expensive, but requires awareness and changing habits,” says Misplon.

Rabie encourages people intent on pursuing an EBP rating not to underestimate the time required to get the rating. “The scope and volume of work really is extensive. It was a full-time job for two people for six months,” he says. Misplon says that extracting the information at times was a challenge, but now that those processes are in place it will be easier. With the rating tool, the technical manual explains exactly what interventions are required, or could be pursued.

Beyond the tool

Misplon established a green travel plan; a pest management plan; a sustainable procurement policy and plan; sustainable green cleaning plans; a waste management plan; and a legionella risk management plan. With a contribution from Black River Park management, Misplon also drafted a stormwater management plan, and a hard services management plan.

As a combined effort, Misplon and the Black River Park team drew up green leases for tenants and management, developed a building user guide, building operations manual, and a maintenance plan.

An indoor air quality programme was also drawn up and indoor environmental quality testing was done in all offices. “Putting policies in place doesn’t cost any money. It requires changes in management and raising awareness,” says Misplon.

The emphasis has certainly been on raising awareness, greater interaction, communication and education among all who work at Black River Park’s North Park. Energy and water consumption information is shared, and monitoring and measuring is important, as is setting targets. The green lease may not be a legally binding contract, but it has to be meaningful, and there are rewards and penalties built in to keep interaction sustained and people motivated to participate.

 The full feature appears in the February – March 2015 issue.