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: