Wednesday 11 December 2013

Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability

It is increasingly acknowledged that current plans to implement sustainability are not achieving the scale and speed of change required. National built environment strategies to address sustainability tend to focus on large-scale programmes in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. While this approach can
improve national environmental indicators such as carbon emissions profiles; it appears unlikely to achieve sustainability.

In recent paper titled Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability, Jeremy Gibberd argues that more comprehensive, and more local, approaches are required. Interventions at a neighbourhood level should be developed that enable day-to-day living patterns to become more sustainable over time. A key element of this are built environment characteristics and facilities which support sustainability.

Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability (NFS) are initiatives undertaken by individuals and communities to build local sustainable systems which not only improve their quality of life but also reduce environmental impacts. The paper argues that this approach is a valuable way of ensuring that sustainability is addressed rapidly and effectively in urban settings. It also argues that the NFS approach may be more efficient and effective than national programmes as it responds to the local context and develops local ownership and capacity to which ensures systems are well managed and maintained. The approach will be illustrated through NFS proposals developed for an informal settlement neighbourhood in South Africa. These proposals will be critically reviewed and recommendations for further study, made. A presentation on the concept is provided below.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Integrated Urban Development Framework

The Integrated Urban Development Framework was launched at a conference organised by the Departments of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Human Settlements on the 25 October 2013. The framework has been developed as a response to Chapter 8 of the National Development Plan. In particular, it aims to address the NDP's vision of urban South Africa:

By 2030 South Africa should observe meaningful and measurable progress in reviving rural areas and in creating more functionally integrated, balanced and vibrant urban settlements. For this to happen the country must: clarify and relentlessly pursue a national vision for spatial development; sharpen the instruments for achieving this vision; [and] build the required capabilities in the state and among citizens.

The document states it will give more practical meaning to the urban vision set out in the NDP and will provide a framework for managing urban development more effectively and efficiently and, where necessary, offer policy and legislative proposals to support the implementation of the framework.

The framework lists many of the problems with current urban situations in South Africa; 'Population growth in our cities is in an upward cycle','Our urban areas remain largely segregated','Existing property values (and land use) perpetuate urban segregation','Our municipalities are facing enormous challenge'.  It also alludes to improvements that will be achieved;  'The urban dividend will be reaped', 'Policies and resource allocation will be more effective','Civil society and the private sector will play their part','Rural development will benefit','Urbanisation will be better managed'.

The document asks for public engagement and to provide input to the framework. However in its current form, this is difficult as the the document does not address the main problems of 'what type of urban environments and processes do we need to move towards' and 'how this will be achieved'. Without this substance, it is difficult to engage with the document. The problems of urban areas are well know and the improvements proposed in the framework will remain a wishlist without appropriate implementation mechanisms.  The NDP also make specific reference to 'functionally integrated, balanced and vibrant urban settlements'. What does this actually mean in detail? This should be central to the framework but appears not be to be discussed.

There are key urban development questions that need to be addressed, such as;

  • What should South African urban environments look like? 
  • Can a vision of future urban environments be developed?
  • Can this vision be described in sufficient detail to show how it incorporates objectives of the Constitution and Nation Development Plan as well as addressing aspects such as climate change and sustainability?
  • Given the existing starting point how can this vision be achieved?
  • Are there innovative, highly effective and efficient (smarter) ways of achieving this vision?
  • What is the role of government, business, NGOs and communities in developing these environments?
  • Are there policies and processes that can be used to support the development of these environments?

Tackling these questions and outlining innovative and conceptual solutions could be used to prompt active engagement by key stakeholders and the general public and ensure that important changes in urban environments and processes are achieved more quickly.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Assessing the Social and Economic Impacts of Building Materials

A presentation on "Assessing the Social and Economic Impacts of Building Materials' was made by Jeremy Gibberd at the Sustainable Building 2013 conference in Cape Town in October 2013. This presentation and paper explore how social and economic impacts of building materials can be assessed. One of the recommendations of the study is that a Sustainable Building Material Index be developed. A draft version of this index has been developed by Gauge.

A copy of the conference presentation can be viewed below.

Assessing the sustainability of building materials from jgibberd

The full paper can also be viewed below.

Sunday 3 November 2013

The Local Climate Solutions for Africa

Training on the Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST) was provided at a special Urban-LEDS pre-event training workshop of the Local Climate Solutions for Africa 2013 Congress. Professional staff and counselors from a range of municipalities were trained on the tool and used this to carry out assessments of areas within their municipalities and develop interventions to improve sustainability.

Participants welcomed the approach developed in the methodology and appreciated the simplicity of the tool. In particular, there was positive support for the way in which the methodology was able to address reductions in carbon emission reductions within a sustainable development framework. Participants indicated that this aligned well with sustainable development mandate of local government and the increasing pressure being experienced to accelerate service delivery.

Municipalities also indicated that the methodology and tool would be suitable to working with communities as it was simple and easy to use and provided a way of developing useful inputs for Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs).

The Local Climate Solutions for Africa 2013 Congress was held in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from 30 October to 1 November 2013. More information on the conference can be accessed here.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

PW 371-A EDITION 2.0 Government Specifications for Construction

PW 371- A and B EDITION 2.0 refers to the recently updated editions of construction works specifications developed by the South African Department of Public Works.  Specifications include:

  • Earthworks
  • Concrete Works
  • Masonry
  • Structural Timber
  • Structural Steel
  • Insulation, Sealants and Seals
  • Glazing
  • Electrical Works
  • Mechanical Works
  • External Works

The documents were published in July 2013 and can be accessed here. The update of the specification has been welcomed by industry and has received positive reviews. From a sustainability perspective however the new specifications do not appear to address sustainability in detail and there appear to be some gaps. These are described briefly below.

While the specifications mention of the need to consult to trade bodies such as TIASA on recycled content of insulation there is no reference to minimizing the use of insulation that contributes to global warming as a result of using CFCs and HCFCs as a blowing agent in manufacturing processes.  Sections on timber do not refer to any requirement to source timber from sustainable sources. There is also no reference to the origin of materials and components which is surprising given government's interest in promoting local content and localisation.

Electrical Works
Electrical works specifications do not include reference to energy efficiency measures such as efficient lighting, controls like daylight and motion sensors and monitoring capability in the form of sub-metering. In particular, sub-metering may be a very useful mechanism for improving energy management and accountability in government buildings and  could support energy efficiency improvements being driven by government through mechanisms such as energy performance certificates

Drainage, sewerage, water and gas supply, fire equipment, sanitary plumbing
This section of the PW 371 does not make reference to water efficiency aspects such as water harvesting systems and efficient taps, urinals, showers and WCs. The specifications include pit latrines but makes no reference to water efficient and ecological sanitation. Increasingly water is being seen as scarce resource and therefore many of the above measures should be included in specifications and are increasingly being addressed by municipal bylaws.

DEA Building: Highest Rated Building 2012/2013

The Green Building Council (GBCSA) has awarded the Department of Environment DEA's new building in Pretoria the Highest Rated Building 2012/2013. The building achieved 81 points and is currently in construction.

Gauge was the Sustainability Technical Adviser to DEA on the project and was responsible for the drafting the sustainability specifications that formed the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Agreement. This legal agreement included stringent sustainability criteria which has been reflected in the design and recognized by the GBCSA.  A previous post outlines aspects of the sustainability specification process.

The Year of Unprecendent Climate in African Cities

There is increasing evidence that greenhouse gases emissions are influencing our climate. To date, many of these changes could be described as 'precedented' or 'having occurred before in recent history'. The ‘precedented’ nature of these climate change events may be one of the reasons why global warming has not been addressed urgently, as these events are seen as part of the natural course of events. 

However a recent paper in the journal Nature draws on earth systems models  to show that in the near future the earth will begin experiencing unprecedented climate caused by global warming. Unprecedented climate refers to a situation where climate moves outside the range of historical precedent defined as a ‘shift continuously outside the most extreme records experienced in the past 150 yearsThis condition is shown in the graph below in red, with the blue and green areas indicating the first 3, and 11, years outside precedent. 

The paper goes on to plot specific dates for world cities when this condition will be experienced. In Africa this will occur in Nairobi in 2026, in Pretoria in 2043 and in Lagos in in 2029. This is shown in the figure below.

The dates listed in the paper are in the near future and have significant implications for the built environment that need to be considered and addressed. These include:
  • Local effects: Impacts of climate change will differ depending on location. Climate impacts such as flooding, extreme winds, drought need to be understood at a local level and local resilience and mitigation plans developed. Resilience and mitigation plans should consider sustainability (using for instance a framework such as the Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST))  and ensure that measures not only improve levels of local resilience but also sustainability. Gauge is also working on a resilience tool and integrating aspects of resilience into BEST.
  • Urban design and planning: Consideration of local impacts of climate change should be integrated into local development plans such as Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs) to ensure that new development is appropriately located and resilient as well as strengthening existing area.
  • Buildings: Local impacts of climate change such as increased wind speeds and flooding should be reflected in more stringent building codes. This can be addressed through revising building regulations and national technical standards as well as through municipal bylaws. 

Monday 21 October 2013

IARC: Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths

A recent report from a World Health Organisation agency, the International Agency for Cancer Research has found that sufficient exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer. It points to research that shows that in 2010, 223,000 deaths were attributable to lung cancer caused by air pollution. While air pollution has been linked for some time to respiratory and heart diseases, the link to cancer indicates increased levels of risk. The agency identifies primary sources of outdoor air pollution as being from transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooling.

There are number of implications for buildings of this report. These include:

  •  Heating and cooling of residential buildings: There should be a strong focus on passive design in residential environments. In particular, solutions should be found to ensure that the burning of coal and other fuels in and around houses for heating is avoided. Where fuel is burnt it should be burnt in a way that avoids risk of diseases. 
  • Transportation: There should be stronger requirements to separate vehicular environments from environments where people live and work. In particular, workplaces and residential areas that are beside highways and roads with large volumes of traffic should be evaluated. Measures to reduce vehicular pollution should be taken such as reducing congestion, using more efficient vehicles with, for instance, start-stop technology and electric vehicles and improving provision for public transport, walking and cycling.
  • Stationary power generation: There should be increased awareness about the risk associated with pollution from local petrol or diesel powered generators and stand-by generators. Where possible these should be avoided and renewable energy systems used.     
  • Guidelines: These findings should be reflected in guidance documents including the WHO Guidelines on Indoor Air Quality shown above. In particular it needs to be translated into practical measures that can be taken by Planners and Designers in urban areas and Architects in buildings. 

Saturday 19 October 2013

Built Environment Capability for Sustainability

The World Wildlife (WWF) definition of sustainability as being the achievement of above 0.8 on the Human Development Index (HDI) and the achievement of an Ecological Footprint (EF) below 1.8 global hectares per person has a range of implications for the built environment (see Defining Sustainability). This definition is referred to as the EF-HDI definition.  These implications can be explored through the concept of built environment capability for sustainability.

Capability refers to the ability to do something, or the capacity to achieve a particular result. Built environment capability is therefore the capacity of the built environment to support the achievement of a particular result, such as the achievement of sustainability targets. This concept acknowledges that built environments, in themselves, are not sustainable or unsustainable. Even in areas where infrastructure has been carefully designed and managed for sustainability,overall sustainability performance can still be poor as result of users deliberately or unintentionally using this infrastructure incorrectly, or not using it all.

The concept of built environment capability is therefore not deterministic, and acknowledges human preference by affirming the importance of developing sustainable solutions that are preferable to prevailing or conventional solutions. This can be supported through high quality design and solutions which result in improved quality of life. 

Built environment capability confirms the pivotal role that the built environment plays in enabling, or precluding, human life and activity from becoming more sustainable. In particular, it asserts the ability of the built environment in enabling, supporting, and encouraging activities and lifestyles of occupants which are more sustainable.

Therefore in terms of the EF-HDI definition of sustainability, built environments can be described in terms of Ecological Footprint Capability and Human Development Capability.

Ecological footprint Capability
Ecological Footprint (EF) Capability describes the extent to which the built environment is configured and includes the characteristics required to support the achievement of ecological footprint targets as defined in the EF-HDI definition of sustainability. This capability therefore describes the extent to which the built environment supports required performance levels in areas such as ‘Food’,’Shelter’ and ‘Mobility’.

Human Development Capability
Human Development (HD) Capability describes the extent to which the built environment is configured and includes the characteristics required to support the achievement of human development targets as defined in the EF-HDI definition of sustainability. This capability therefore describes the extent to which the built environment supports required performance levels in areas such as ‘Education’, ’Health’ and ‘Quality of Life’.

Built Environment Sustainability Capability
Built Environment Sustainability Capability is a combination of EF and HD capability and provides an overall measure of the extent to which the built environment of an area supports sustainability.  Ecological Footprint Capability, Human Development Capability and Built Environment Sustainability Capability is measured in the Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST) and presented in figures and graphically in reports such as the one shown below.

Defining Sustainable Built Environments
Therefore, if sustainability is defined by the World Worldlife Fund (WWF) as the achievement of a maximum Ecological Footprint (EF) of 1.8 gha and a minimum Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.8, sustainable buildings must have the capability, or the required configuration and characteristics, to enable occupant populations to achieve these EF and HDI minimum standards. 

Are Sustainable Buildings a Constituitional Requirement?

The South African Constitution is widely recognised as one of the most progressive constitutions worldwide. It has a strong focus on human rights and the environment. This recognised through a requirement for reasonable legislation and other measures to be developed to ‘secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development’

This paper aims to understand the implications for the built environment of this statement through interpreting and expanding this into an explicit set of requirements for the built environment. The paper discusses these requirements in light of existing legislation and reflects on whether adequate measures are being taken in the built environment to implement and promote environmental aspects of the South African Constitution.

The review reveals that current building-related legislation only partially addresses the environmental and sustainability rights stated in the Constitution. The paper outlines a number of areas where legislation falls short of Constitutional requirements and makes some recommendations on how these gaps could be addressed.

Keywords: Built Environment, Constitution, Sustainability

Contact me for a copy of the paper.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Community-Municipality Partnerships and the Greenest Municipality

Greater Tzaneen has been selected as the greenest local municipality and Ekurhuleni as the greenest municipal municipality as part of the Greenest Municipality Competition run by the Department of Environment. Criteria used to select the greenest municipality include:

  • Waste management
  • Energy efficiency and conservation
  • Water management
  • Landscaping, tree planting and beautification
  • Public participation and community empowerment
  • Leadership and institutional arrangements

Participation in this annual competition is open to all South African municipalities and 111 municipalities entered.
It would be interesting to know more about the competition and the criteria. For instance, what might leadership and institutional arrangements refer to? Similarly, how might public participation and community empowerment be assessed? 
Public participation and community empowerment could be a highly effective way that municipalities support sustainability so it would be valuable to have more information. For instance, does this criterion include recognition and support for community- initiated projects by municipalities? If it does, sharing experience and examples of these types of projects could provide valuable learning that other communities and municipalities may wish to emulate. In particular, it could provide valuable models of how municipal resources can be used to respond to local need and create greater impact through community partnerships. In addition, encouraging and supporting active involvement by occupants in developing their neighborhoods may help alleviate the sense of frustration experienced by communities which is currently being exhibited in the increasing number of service delivery protests.

It may therefore be useful for DEA and their municipal partners to explore the potential of this idea further. A simple first step would be to provide communities with more detail on the competition such as the criteria and assessment methodology. This could be done through a dedicated website and could help stimulate valuable greening community-municipality partnerships.
The Building Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST) supports public participation and community empowerment by enabling local sustainability assessments to be carried out. Carrying a BEST assessment enables communities to understand the extent to which local infrastructure supports sustainability and helps identify interventions that can be undertaken to improve this. In this way the framework provides a structured process which can be used to develop local sustainability strategies and community-municipality partnerships.

More information on the green municipal competition can be found at:

More information on the BEST tool can be found at:

Sunday 15 September 2013

Contracting for Performance: The Department of Environment’s New Building

Strong clients are often key to good buildings. Strong clients have a clear vision of what they require and pursue this in interactions with professional teams, contractors, funders, occupants and facilities managers. The mandate of the Department of Environment (DEA) made it essential that they aimed for a green building. The decision to use a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to develop their building provided a number of valuable mechanisms to support the achievement of a green building. These included:

  • A Request for Proposals (RFP) process which required bidders to assemble comprehensive project teams including a full design team, a facilities management team, a contractor and financial and legal teams.  This enabled project proposals to cover a wide range of aspects related to the building including designs, specifications, facilities management systems, procurement policies and management models. In this way integration from the outset was supported and the client was able to carry out detailed evaluations of proposals before selecting and appointing a bidder.
  • Detailed RFP documentation where performance requirements could be specified. This enabled DEA to set energy efficiency, renewable energy, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and landscaping targets.  This ensured that proposed approaches and designs could be developed within defined parameters and performance evaluated in an objective and structured manner. 
  • A contract negotiation period where a clear understanding of the requirements and enforcement mechanisms were developed between DEA and the bidder.  This ensured that bidders fully understood DEA’s green building intentions and the proposed mechanisms that would be used to ensure that targets were achieved.
  •  A PPP agreement which specified design and operational requirements and set out how these would evaluated and reported on. This agreement included penalty regimes that would be employed to ensure targets were achieved. 

While opinions may be divided about the suitability of PPP processes in South Africa, the DEA project indicates that it can provide an effective way of procuring a green building. The DEA building has received a 6 star Greenstar rating from the GBCSA and is currently the largest building in South Africa to achieve this level of performance. Gauge was the Sustainability Technical Adviser to DEA on the project.

Further information on DEA’s building can be found at:

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Hedonometer and the Geography of Happiness

Quality of life is a key criteria in defining and assessing sustainability. There are a range of ways quality of life is measured. A well known method is the Human Development Index (HDI) developed by the United Nations. While this is effective and widely accepted, it is does not capture subjective perceptions of quality of life. Subjective perceptions of quality of life reflect what one feels about your position in the world and your satisfaction with this. Another way of describing this is happiness.

Interesting new research draws on online comments made by people using Twitter to measure what people communicate about themselves. By tracking words like Christmas and mother or hurricane and terror and assigning values to these (1-sad, 9-happy) for about 100 million words a day, the research suggest measures of happiness can be captured over time. The tool developed for this is called the 'Hedonometer' and the results are shown in the graph below.  

Of particular interest to the built environment is how this approach can be applied spatially. This is outlined in a paper titled ‘The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place’. Using geotags words are link to locations and mapped, to produce maps of happiness or other social phenomenon such as concerns about obesity. This shown in the map below.

More information on the Hedonometer can be found at:

The paper on the Geography of Happiness can be found at:

Monday 26 August 2013

SATS 1286 on Local Content

A diverse, thriving local economy has been identified as an important requirement for sustainability. A diverse mix of small business means that economies are more resilient and jobs are retained even if there are economic downturns in one, or more, sectors. Local small business have to deal with the consequences of their actions in the long term and therefore tend to be more interested in sustainability and minimising negative local impacts. In rural areas diversity of work and economic opportunities help to retain youth, maintain communities and reduce disruptive rural-urban migration.

Local economies can be supported through procurement which favours local production. In South Africa the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA) Act 5 of 2000 enables the government to use procurement to support increased local production. It sets out minimum local content requirements for designated sectors for goods, works and service contracts.

In order to support the achievement of minimum local content requirements the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has developed SATS 1286 which are technical specifications for determining local content. The SABS also provides a verification service which confirms local content. The specifications and service were launched in July 2013.

While the specification and verification process may seem bureaucratic and limiting it could lead to substantial government funding flowing to local businesses and industry instead of going offshore. If this flow is substantial, and reliable, significant growth in local businesses may be possible along with corresponding increases in employment and incomes.  While the system has been developed for government, the private sector can draw on the same principles in order to ensure that they procure in a way that supports and develops the local economy and therefore sustainability. Information on the standard can be found at:

Friday 23 August 2013

Tshepo 10,000

The City of Tshwane has launched Tshepo 10,000, a training and employment programme aimed at youth between the age of 21 and 35. Youth selected for the programme will be trained by the University of Pretoria and Tshwane University of Technology. Training will focus on entrepreneurship, infrastructure development and maintenance and youth will be encouraged to set up cooperatives to work on city infrastructure in the following areas:

  • Electricity and energy
  • Water and sanitation
  • Roads and transport
  • Housing and human settlement
  • Environmental management

The success of the programme will be determined by the efficiency with which it is able to create skilled and motivated people and small cooperatives who are actively involved in long term ongoing work to improve infrastructure. If it works, the programme could provide a valuable model that municipalities could use to address the pressing problems of maintenance backlogs and youth unemployment. More information on the programme can be found at:

What is Resilience?

Within the sustainability field, resilience has become a new buzzword. There are an increasing number of programmes and guides on resilient cities, resilient architecture and resilient infrastructure being developed by organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. To understand these developments it is useful to review definitions and the development of the original concept.

There are many different definitions of resilience (Adger 2000, Perrings 1998, López-Ridaura, 2005, Zhou 2009, Holling 1973, Pimm 1984, Lele 1998). The concept has its origins in ecology and Holling describes resilience in terms of relationships within a system, the ability of a system to absorb changes and the capacity of these relationships to persist after this change (Holling 1973).

Since its application to ecology, the concept of resilience has evolved and been applied to a wide range of fields including anthropology (Vayda et al 1975), ecological economics (Perrings et al 1992), environmental psychology (Lamson 1986) cultural theory (Thompson et al 1990), management literature (King 1995), property rights and common property research (Hanna et al 1996) and social sciences (Davidson-Hunt and Berkes 2003).

Defining resilience in the urban context is a relatively new and this tends to be multi-faceted. For instance, the World Bank defines resilience in cities in terms of social, infrastructural, economic and institutional resilience:

  • Social resilience refers to the demographic profile of a community including by sex, age, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status and other key groupings, as well as a community’s social capital. Social capital, although it is difficult to quantify, refers to a sense of community, the ability of groups of citizens to adapt, and a sense of attachment to a place.
  • Infrastructural resilience refers to the vulnerability of built structures including property, buildings and transportation systems. It also refers to sheltering capacity, health care facilities, the vulnerability of buildings to hazards, critical infrastructure, and the availability of roads for evacuations and post-disaster supply lines. Infrastructural resilience also refers to a community’s capacity for response and recovery.
  • Economic resilience refers to a measure of a community’s economic diversity as well as to the overall employment, number of businesses, and their ability to function following a disaster.
  • Institutional resilience refers to the governmental and non-governmental systems that administer a community (World Bank 2012).

A review of resilience definitions reveals that while these may differ, there are two enduring themes.  The first relates to an ability, to maintain particular aspects of a system, in spite of change. Thus the characteristics of the system in terms of function, structure, identity and feedback are retained during, and after, change (Folke 2006).

The second relates to the capacity of a system to recover after a change. This refers to self-organising, regenerating and reorganising characteristics of a system that enables it to reform and maintain itself (Folke 2006).

New Standard for Developing Skills through Construction Works Contract

The Construction Industry Board (CIDB) have developed a new standard which addresses how training objectives can be achieved as part of construction projects. The standard aims to help clients, such as government, who wish to achieve social and economic objectives such as training and job creation, as part of infrastructure and built environment development projects. The standard sets out contract skills development goals (CSDG) for different types of project including civil engineering, electrical engineering, general building and specialist projects. These goals are defined in terms of a notional cost of training opportunities which the contractor must spend on workplace training of employees and interns during the project, defined as a percentage of the total contract amount.

The standard provides definitions, calculation methodologies, contract clauses and monitoring processes which can be used to achieve training objectives.  A criticism of the approach is that it is based on cost which does not necessarily ensure quality or maximise impact in terms of the number of people trained. The prescriptive approach may also lead to increases in project costs. An alternative approach could have been based on improvements in levels of academic achievement and hours of training. This would link more neatly with the way courses and learning achievement are defined in terms of notional hours and credits by academic frameworks such as Unit Standards and Qualifications developed by South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The standard however is a significant improvement on the vague and unenforceable requirements for training often currently included in tenders and contract documentation. A draft copy of the standard is available on the CIDB’s website here:

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Defining Sustainability

There are many definitions for sustainability. Probably one of the most well known is: 

“…development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and aspirations” (World Commission on the Environment and Development 1987).

However this definition, and similar ones, may have inadvertently been a stumbling block to the implementation of sustainability in built environment as the definition could not be readily translated into action. Button (2002), for instance, suggests that this definition has a biblical vagueness. He argues that this definition is very difficult to apply to urban areas as it only refers to temporal and generational effects of sustainability, without addressing key geographical aspects and the inherent dynamism of cities.

Newer definitions of sustainability are more relevant to the built environment. A number include resilience as a preferred, or essential, characteristic of sustainability. López-Ridaura et al (2005), for instance includes resilience as a key attribute of sustainable systems:

“..the degree to which a system is sustainable will depend on its capabilities to produce, in a state of stable equilibrium, a specific combination of goods and services that satisfies a set of goals (the system is productive), without degrading its resource base (the system is stable)
even when facing ‘normal’ (the systems is reliable), ‘extreme’ and ‘abrupt’ (the system is resilient) or ‘permanent’ (the system is adaptable) variations in its own functioning, its environment or co-existing systems”.

One of the most relevant definitions of sustainability for the built environment has been developed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This describes sustainability as being the achievement of above 0.8 on the Human Development Index (HDI) and the achievement of an Ecological Footprint (EF) below 1.8 global hectares per person (World Wild Life Fund, 2006).

The Human Development Index was developed by the United Nations as an alternative to economic progress indicators and aimed to provide a broader measure that defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices and enhancing human capabilities (United Nations Development Programme, 2007). The measure is based on:  

  • A long healthy life, measured by life expectancy at birth
  • Knowledge, measured by the adult literacy rate and combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio
  • A decent standard of living, as measure by the GDP per capital in purchasing power parity (PPP) in terms of US dollars

An Ecological Footprint is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea required to provide the resources a human population consumes and absorb the corresponding waste. These estimates are based on consumption of resources and production of waste and emissions in the following areas:

  • Food, measured in type and amount of food consumed
  • Shelter, measured in size, utilization and energy consumption
  • Mobility, measured in type of transport used and distances travelled
  • Goods, measured in type and quantity consumed
  • Services, measured in type and quantity consumed
  • Waste, measured in type and quantity produced

The area of biologically productive land and sea for each of these areas is calculated in global hectares (gha) and then added together to provide an overall ecological footprint(Wackernagel and Yount, 2000). This measure is particularly useful as it enables the impact of infrastructure and lifestyles to be measured in relation to the earth’s carrying capacity of 1.8 global hectares (gha) per person.

Sustainable Development Trajectories

The World Wildlife Fund have combined the Human Development Index and Ecological Footprint in to graph as shown below (World Wild Life Fund, 2006). This shows that countries in Europe and North America have very high Ecological Footprints and acceptable Human Development Indexes (above 0.8), while countries in Africa have unacceptably low Human Development Indexes (below 0.8) but have Ecological Footprints within the biosphere’s allowable capacity per person.

The graph also indicates national development trajectories (the lines between the diamonds and dots). For example, the trajectory of the USA has been steep, with a large increase in their ecological footprint and relatively limited improvement in their Human Development Index in the last 20 years. In contrast, Hungary, over the same time period, has improved their Human Development Index to achieve the minimum sustainability criteria and, at same time, reduced their ecological footprint.

This suggests that strategies based on an understanding of current HDI and EF performance can support a shift towards sustainability (Moran et al, 2008). This is supported by Holden and Linnerud, who argue through reference to purchasing price parity and ecological footprint measures, that developing and developed countries require different strategies to achieve sustainability (Holden &Linnerud, 2007)

There is therefore a strong argument that built environment development strategies should respond to local EF and HDI performance and, through appropriate provision, support sustainable development trajectories. 

Sustainable Resilience or Resilient Sustainability?

Sustainability and resilience have become key concepts in new approaches to urban development. However, an understanding of these concepts and how they apply to cities is still being developed. While both concepts are regarded as important imperatives, it unclear how they relate to each other and whether one should be prioritised over the other. For instance, should models of future urban development aim for sustainable resilience, or for, resilient sustainability?

This paper reviews the concepts of sustainability and resilience from first principles and extrapolates implications for urban areas and the built environment. This is used to develop, and define minimum built environment standards and identify important physical characteristics associated with these concepts.

The paper finds that while resilience is a valuable way of considering how urban environments can be developed and managed to accommodate change, resilience should not take precedence over sustainability. The paper argues that sustainability should be a primary overriding concern in urban development processes and that resilience considerations should be drawn on to enhance this approach. The paper identifies key built environment resilient sustainability characteristics and describes how these can be integrated into urban areas and buildings. Finally the paper suggests that further research into these characteristics could provide valuable insight into how resilience and sustainability, or more specifically, resilient sustainability, can be integrated into built environments.

KEYWORDS: Built environment sustainability tool, BEST, Resilience, Sustainability, Urban

Contact me for full paper. 

Sustainability Assessments of Building Materials in Developing Countries

The analysis of materials in terms of sustainability is still in its infancy and is not well understood. Current methodologies tend to focus on environmental issues and rely on life-cycle assessment, or similar processes. While these systems address environmental impacts, few of them include social or economic aspects and therefore can not be said to assess sustainability (as defined by organisations such as the United Nations). In many developing countries the lack of social and economic indicators is a significant shortcoming as there is an strong interest in using construction and related industries to creatr beneficial social and economic impacts such as job creation.

This paper investigates the nature of sustainability assessment of building materials. It defines sustainability in order to ascertain the implications for building materials. This is developed into assessment indicators for building materials and an index, or proxy measure of sustainability, for a building material or product. This index, termed the Sustainable Building Material Index is described, and critically reviewed, in order to develop conclusions and recommendations for further research.

Key words: Sustainability, Building Materials, Methodology, Sustainable Building Material Index, SBMI

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