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27 October 2022


An episode of Moneyweb’s The Property Pod interviewed Lisa Reynolds, CEO of the GBCSA. She shares insight into where the green building movement is currently, and how far the council has come since its establishment a decade-and-a-half ago.

“I think that the Green Building Council has really had a huge impact in South Africa … It started in 2007 and we did our first certification, our first green building, in 2009. Over the years it was a really, really slow startup. We celebrate that we had double our certifications every year, but if you’ve started on a low baseline doubling is not as great.”

“But we are very proud to say that at this point we’ve had 905 certifications since 2009. What does it that mean? And [how do] we equate it into what we’ve really saved?”

“If you look at it, it really equates to approximately 1 320 million kilowatt hours per annum, and 1 590 million kilogrammes of carbon that have not gone out into the atmosphere. The other thing is that 1 220 million litres of drinking water has been saved.”

“So, if you look at it, the CO2 that we’ve saved is equivalent to 395 000 cars off the road every year.”

“The water that we’ve saved is equivalent to the water needs for 1.6 million people. So, if you look at that, it’s really a huge, huge achievement. What I like to say is we talk about climate change, and we talk about effective climate change. We started in 2007 and we’ve done this saving already – imagine if we hadn’t.”

“I always say we do a little bit of doom-and-gloom about climate change and changes. Of course, we have to be able to discuss it, we have to discuss the risks of it. But again, if anybody hasn’t started looking at climate-change mitigation, today is the best day to start. But hey, we started in 2007.”


“Over the last couple of years, we’ve done 100 certifications, on average, a year. And then from 2020 to 2021 we’ve done 40. From ’21 to ’22, we’ve done 165, which shows you that it really is growing exponentially.”

“But I think what’s really important to note is that we have grown in a time of lockdown, in a time of pandemic, in a time of huge load shedding and when people tell us that the economy is tight, it’s low. We speak a lot about the ‘green economy’ and the ‘green recovery’, and it’s really that if you’re going to build and you’re going to build back, let’s build back better.”

“That’s really what it’s about. We can see in the certifications that are coming through that people are aware that they should do things a bit differently and better, and that’s been reflected in what we’ve achieved.”

Give us some history on the GBCSA, how it came into being and what its mandate is?

“I think it was really back, already in 2006, that Bruce Kerswill and I think it was Neil Gopal [CEO] from Sapoa and a few other parties sat down and discussed this whole concept of green. I think Bruce had been to Australia and had looked the green buildings and the change that they had made. Green Building Council Australia is five years older than us. They were 20 this year, I think.

“[Bruce Kerswill] was really inspired by the concept of building better. He was quite a pathfinder at the time, and did quite a bit of investigation.”

“The first CEO was Nicola Milne, and they really found that the link to Australia made sense, because of our similar climates, similar lifestyle and things like that.”

“We started, and I think it was really quite a pathfinder movement. There were a few people within the industry who had done good work as far as greener buildings were buildings that had been built, houses that had been built off the grid, and things like that. But they were really few and far between. It was to ask how we make this something quantifiable, measurable, and really then encourage South Africa to move into building resource-efficient buildings. I think it just went from there and we haven’t looked back.”


“I joined the Green Building Council as CEO on 1 June 2020, so right in the middle of lockdown. But I have been involved with the Green Building Council since conception; my claim to fame is always that I was one of the drivers who drove the writing of energy-efficiency standards for buildings, and served on the regulatory advisory committee for the regulation of energy-efficiency standards and regulation in buildings.

“That is really how I got involved with the Green Building Council. I served on the board as well. So I think it’s probably a natural step to be CEO.”

“I think you hit the nail on the head – we have to look at going a step further. When the Green Building Council started in 2007, it was really ‘let’s get green buildings going, let’s look at this whole concept of green’. What we find these days is that a well-designed building can already almost naturally achieve a four-star rating.”

“The first building that we did was a four-star-rated building, and it’s quite an achievement to get there. And what we’ve found over the last 15 years is that building better buildings has almost become the norm.”

“So, when something becomes the norm that should be mildly aspirational, [and] we have to move the goalposts a little. I know sometimes people despair and go, oh, we’ve just got here and now you’re moving the goalpost. But it’s where we are driving; we are driving to net-zero carbon.”

“It’s a world goal, it’s a C40 [global network] goal, and we are really there to support that. We have put net-zero carbon [as] a rating tool. We’ve also got net-zero water, net-zero waste, and net-zero ecology rating tools. So the whole concept of net-zero is very important.”

“Now, why I mentioned the other net-zeros is that when we look at a lot of the global drive, it really is on the net-zero carbon, because obviously climate change comes from the amount of greenhouse gas that is already in the atmosphere. But as an African country, as a water-poor country, we have to look at water as well. And worldwide there’s a huge net-zero carbon push. But as I said, as a responsible stakeholder within the space where we live, we have to look at water as well. It’s a scarce resource.”

Are green buildings just overpriced edifices or do they really deliver value over time in terms of cost savings?

“ESG [environmental, social and governance] reporting is now an international trend. If you want any building, portfolio owners or managers really need to have a good ESG report. We play a huge role in the ‘E’ of ESG – it’s environment – and obviously a little bit on the social. I like to think that we do make a difference on the social side, but I’ll go into that a little bit after.”

“I often call myself a pragmatic tree-hugger or pragmatic hippy, in that I do want to save the planet, but things do have to make business sense.”

“Sustainability is also about sustaining people’s jobs, sustaining livelihoods. The MSCI does a property index every year, and over the last five years they have checked the performance of green-rated buildings, green-certified buildings and non-green-certified buildings.”

“There is about a 3% higher return on investment for accredited green buildings, as opposed to non-accredited buildings.”

“I’m reading that over five years while they’ve been doing it on a cumulative basis, there’s been a total return of 42.1%, and it has outperformed the non-certified sample by 13.2%. That’s huge. That should persuade people that green is the way to go.”

“Even during the lockdown period and the Covid period, the vacancy rate of green-certified buildings was lower than those of non-certified buildings. And, even though over 2021 the net operating income was in the negatives, the certified buildings were minus 5.8% and the non-certified minus 10.1%. That’s a huge difference in real terms.”

Energy-performance certificates for buildings

“I was the chair of the working group that actually wrote the standard for energy-performance certificates. So what the Green Building Council is doing at the moment is training courses on what the standard means, and what the regulation means – what you have to do.

“So, from the energy-performance certificate, this regulation you mentioned, as a building owner you would have to have your energy performance ratified, collected by the independent energy-performance certificate and inspection body which is accredited by Sanas [SA National Accreditation System]. So the second part of our training really guides [you] to your Sanas accreditation. So we’ve been involved, but more on a training side.”

“We won’t really be involved in the actual certification side because, again, where does this energy performance certificate regulation come from? It’s really that if you don’t measure, you can’t manage. That’s what it’s about – that if you look at this regulation, there are standards to cover new buildings. But we’ve got a huge existing building stock and we don’t know what energy does [in those buildings].”

“These buildings, how much energy do they consume? How much greenhouse gas and carbon do they put into the atmosphere? So what this exercise is about is a snapshot of where buildings are now with a view of improving over time.”

“So, as with anything, when we look at new builds complying to regulation is a minimum requirement. And then to be a green building you have to be better than the minimum requirement. And [for] somebody with EPCs [energy performance certificates], the EPC is really a picture of where you are now, where the building is now. Obviously over time we expect green buildings to be at the higher level.

“At the moment there are still – I won’t bore you with some of the details – but there are still certain things that need to be refined to get to a better view. But in the interim, collecting this information is quite important.”

“Yes, [the deadline for EPC certification] will be extended. I think it was a little bit of which comes first – inspection bodies or EPCs, and it wasn’t quite balanced. But I know many people in the property sector are doing the energy-performance certificates, but also, I have been told that an extension has been requested, and I think it’s awaiting the minister’s signature and approval. So we don’t know what the date is, but the deadline will be extended.”

“But again, we don’t want anybody to take their foot off the accelerator – because it is a mandated requirement. So even if it’s extended there is a huge amount of buildings that fall under this energy-performance certificate regulation …”

“Always, obviously, comply with regulation. But because of the logistics and the number of buildings that need to be done, it would have to be extended – the deadline.”

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