Wednesday 1 October 2014

Informal Brick Making in the Eastern Cape

The Sustainable Building Material Index (SBMI) was used to undertake a rapid assessment of informal brick making in the Eastern Cape. Results were presented to government, funders and donor agencies during a workshop that explored how improvements in the sector could be supported.

The SBMI presentation shows current site processes, recommendations and draft SBMI assessments.

Enhancing Skills for Sustainable Buildings

Jeremy Gibberd presented on 'Enhancing Skills for Sustainable Buildings' as an input to a stakeholder forum on built environment education. The presentation aimed to stimulate discussion on actions that could be taken to enhance skills for sustainable buildings and addressed the following questions: 

What skills are required for sustainable building? 

What skills are being provided for? 

How can skills for sustainable buildings be enhanced? 

 The presentation is available below.


Saturday 7 June 2014

Construction Employment Planning and Monitoring (CEPAM)

Creating local employment is an important benefit that can be achieved to by construction projects. As well as providing work for skilled contractors, construction projects can be planned to provide work and training opportunities for local less skilled men, women, youth and people with disabilities.

Achieving this type of local beneficial impact requires planning and monitoring. Construction employment planning draws on construction knowledge and experience, design drawings, specifications and construction programmes in order to break down projects into construction tasks and the duration and levels of skills required for each of these. The duration of tasks multiplied by the number of people employed to undertake the task can be used to establish the person days of employment for each task. This process can be used to allocate work to people with different skills, women, youth and people with disabilities. Adding all of these packages of work over the full duration of the construction programme can be used to ascertain the planned employment person days for the construction project as a whole. This planned figure can be compared to benchmarks for construction employment measured in person years of employment created per Rmillion construction costs to check whether construction impact is aligned with good practice. Gauge has developed a simple tool to support this process and a snapshot from the tool is shown below.

Once the construction employment plan has been established it is important to monitor this. This can be done on a monthly basis and the number of men, women, youth and people with disabilities are recorded and checked against the projected and planned employment levels of the construction employment plan. In addition, the recording of cumulative employment days, as shown in the report below, enables overall employment impact to be tracked to ensure that targetted employment days for the project is achieved.

Gauge plans to develop the Constuction Employment Planning and Monitoring (CEPAM) tool over the next few months on a number of large construction projects and updates on the tool and methodology will be posted. 

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Sustainable Building Material Index (SBMI)

The Sustainable Building Material Index (SBMI) is a useful methodology for understanding the nature and scale sustainability impacts associated with a building material and products. It provides a rapid way of capturing, presenting and comparing key sustainability impacts of building materials. This makes it highly relevant for Architects and Clients wishing to support sustainable development. It will also be useful to governments wishing to achieve beneficial social and economic impacts through construction and infrastructure investments.

The approach is innovative in that it includes socio-economic aspects, which are not included in current building product assessment tools. It however it does not provide the level of detail found in life cycle approaches and level of diagnostic functionality achieved in social or environmental life cycle assessment.  

Building product assessment data
In a developing countries environmental, social and economic data related to building materials is generally available. Environmental databases for materials, such as those used for life cycle assessment in Europe and the US, do not exist. Industry-specific social and economic statistics, similarly, may not exist. This means that data used for assessments of building materials must be sourced directly from building material and product manufacturers. The data required is defined by assessment criteria. These are generated through an analysis of the building manufacturing industry as a system, with inputs, outputs and social and economic impacts, as illustrated below.

SBMI criteria
This analysis provides a proxy set of indicators shown in the tables below. The first table lists ecological indicators and provides a proxy for ecological footprint impact of building materials. The second table lists human development indicators and provides a proxy for human development index impact of building materials.

Measuring performance of these indicators on a product manufacturing site provides an understanding of the sustainability impacts of processes associated with products.  This is captured and presented in the SBMI and reports such as the one below can be generated. 

More information on the Sustainable Building Material Index can be accessed here

Sunday 27 April 2014

Sarah Baartman Centre of Remembrance Contractor Appointment

Lubbe Construction has been selected as the contractor for the Sarah Baartman Centre of Remembrance. Gauge is the Sustainability Consultant on the project being developed in Hankey in the Eastern Cape. For further details see sustainability

A briefing was held with the Contractor on the design and construction management processes. The sustainability briefing included:
  • Details: Care should be taken to understand and follow the detail of the design. Technologies and layouts used may not be conventional and should be fully understood before construction. Detailed aspects make a difference. For instance, building envelopes needed to be airtight to support passive environmental control, therefore wall and roof junctions and door and window jambs must be carefully constructed to avoid infiltration. Motion sensors needed to be correctly placed to ensure systems are on when required, and off, when not. The Contractor should remain in close contact with designers to ensure that construction matched design requirements.  
  • Local product and materials assessments: Local products and materials are specified for the building. The Contractor therefore needs to carry out an assessment of capacity and quality of local suppliers and manufacturers. Any limitations in capacity and quality should be addressed through interventions and planning. The Contractor should note local procurement requirements and plan for these.
  • Local skills and SMME assessments: Construction should draw on local skills and SMMEs. The Contractor therefore needs to carry out an assessment of local capacity and ensure that appropriate skills and capacity for construction are in place. Project specific and generic training should be in place.
  • Lead-in times: Small local building product manufacturers may not have the capacity to produce materials and components required for the building immediately and may need to gear up to this and stockpile products to ensure that requirements can be met. Similarly, there may not be a readily available local skills of an appropriate quantity and quality to meet the construction programme.  The Contractor should identify lead-in times for materials and skills and account for this in training and procurement planning.
  • Site planning: Additional requirements such as site plant rescue and protection processes, onsite recycling and training will have implications for site set up and planning. Sustainability requirements should be noted and integrated in site planning and establishment.
  • Reporting: A range of reporting requirements are included in the project. These are linked to local materials and products, job creation, SMME support, waste recycling, and training.  Templates provided can be modified if necessary, but effectively systems are expected to be in place and regular reporting will be required as per contract. The Contractor should understand sustainability objectives and related reporting requirements.

Sarah Baartman Centre of Remembrance Sustainability

Gauge is the sustainability consultant on the Sarah Baartmann Centre of Remembrance being developed in Hankey in the Eastern Cape. The centre will house a museum, a restaurant, education facilities, accommodation for school groups and gardens.  An image of the project, courtesy of Chris Wilkinson Architects, is provided below.

Gauge has worked with the design team to develop designs and specifications which are responsive to local conditions and climate. The building will have the following sustainability characteristics:
  •  Energy: Passive environmental control strategies including night time cooling, the stack effect, rock beds and cross ventilation are used to maintain comfort without mechanical systems. Low energy fittings linked to smart controls are used to minimise energy consumption. An onsite photovoltaic system generates renewable energy. 
  •  Water: Efficient water fittings are specified. Water for irrigation and flushing of WCs will be sourced from a rain water harvesting system and a local river. 
  •  Materials and products: Where possible, local materials and products have been specified. This includes locally crafted sun shading devices, furniture and fittings.
  • Landscaping: Indigenous vegetation on site will be retained, or rescued and replanted. The landscape has been designed to blend with local vegetation and features and walks into the surrounding hills is encouraged through paths.
  •  Local social and economic impacts: Beneficial social and economic impacts such as jobs, training and SMME support will be created through the design and construction processes.
Sustainability integration processes and progress will be described in future posts, including:

Contractor appointment briefing 

Nitrogen Emissions and Demitarian Diets

Nitrogen is widely used as fertilizer in agriculture. This creates a range of negative environmental effects. When this combines with car emissions it produces particulate pollution harmful to humans. Runoff from farmland cause algal blooms in dams and the sea. Nitrous oxide is also produced which is one of the most powerful green house gases.
Much of this nitrogen fertilizer is used to produce feedstock to produce beef. A recent study for the European Union calculated that halving meat and dairy products could lead to a reduction in nitrogen emissions by 25 to 40%. The reduction of meat consumption for environmental reasons has been termed demitarianism.

Demitarianism and a reduction in meat consumption without avoiding meat altogether (vegetarianism) could be an appropriate strategy for areas of Africa where marginal land may support livestock but not crop production. However this reduction will only happen if people are given alternative food consumption and production options.  This has implications for the built environment.

Built environments can support a reduction in meat consumption in a number of ways and this has been developed as criteria within the BEST and SBAT tools. Support can be provided in the following ways:
  • Vegetarian options: Building policies and catering contracts can require that facilities such as restaurants and canteens provide vegetarian options. This can also be extended to favour local products and therefore stimulate the local agriculture and reduce transport impacts.
  • Local production: Urban and site designs can provide for local production of grown food such as vegetables and fruit. This can located areas of the site or on the roof of the building.  If designed appropriately food produced can enhance diets of building occupants and reduce the consumption of meat.
More information:

Friday 11 April 2014 is a South African site that matches journeys of people travelling the same routes enabling rides to be shared. Sometimes referred to as lift clubs, sharing cars increases the number of passengers in a car, reduces traffic and pollution and can lead to very significant savings, as costs for fuel and e-tolls can be split between passengers.

 More information can be found at:

South Africa's 2050 Pathway Calculator

South Africa has developed a 2050 Pathways calculator. This is an interactive online tool that enables users to input levels of technological change in relation to energy demand and supply. The calculator plots demand and supply trajectories to 2050, as indicated in the graphs below. Projected carbon emissions are also show in MtCO2 eq/year.

Sankey diagrams are used to indicator energy flows. This is particularly effective at demonstrating how wasteful electricity generation is currently, with about 50% of electricity generated being lost, as indicated below.

The site works well and different scenarios can be easily and quickly tried. The criteria selected and level messages indicated by the tool however generate a number of questions.

For instance, it is sometimes not clear whether criteria refer to transport or to built environment changes. Setting out criteria under the conventional headings of ‘transport’, ‘built environment’ etc could help clarify this. The wording for levels could also be clearer and it would be useful to have an explanation on the basis and assumptions included in the calculator. For instance, it would be useful to have further clarity / detail on the following:
  • Efficiency Improvement; 'Lever level 1'
  •  Public Services; '25% energy reduction owing to reduced  leaks in water system'. 
  • New Building Code Strength; 'Buildings built after 2030 are 55% more efficient than today'
  • Accronyms; such as CHP, GTL,CCGT and CTL . 
The site also links to a UK version of the calculator where detailed assumptions are provided. It would have been useful to provide this information for the South African calculator and it will be important to include this if the calculator is to stimulate debate and is used as an input into policy. The calculator could also provide a valuable educational tool and as in the UK version, it would useful to link this to an ‘educational pack’ for schools.

South Africa’s 205 pathway calculator can be found at:

UK’s full Excel version of the tool can be downloaded from:

Friday 7 February 2014

Locally Responsive EcoTourism

Many people are in two minds about ecotourism. Tourists visiting developing areas bring wealth that is valuable for developing social infrastructure such as clinics and schools. Visitors also help create and maintain small businesses such as guest houses and restaurants.

On the other hand, there are the obvious carbon emission impacts of international and local travel. There are also a wide range of negative impacts that come with uncontrolled development including damage to the pristine environments which may be the main attraction for visitors in the first place.

hammock banana island sierra leone dublin

An interesting take on ecotourism has been the ecosalone approach developed in Sierra Leone. This describes the attractions of potential ecotourism areas and presents local development needs, as articulated by the local communities, such as the need for a ferry or a school. The site also proposes innovative 'locally friendly' attractions that may be supported such as:

  • Story telling festivals
  • Language and cultural lessons
  • Tour guide schools
  • Agricultural work tourism
  • Home stay programmes
  • Build observation areas
  • Cultural dance lessons

While the approach does not address the obvious negative carbon impacts of travel, it provides and interesting alternative to conventional tourism development. This is done by attempting to shape development to suit local needs and be 'locally-friendly' instead of catering for conventional international tourism standards and attractions.

Thursday 6 February 2014

The Value of Green Space

Increased incidences of mental illness have been shown to exist in cities. Conversely living near green spaces has been shown to reduce mental distress. A new study confirms the strong link between well being and green spaces. The study is based on 10,000 individuals finds strong correlations between the lower mental distress and well being for people who live in urban areas with more green space.

This confirms the importance of providing green areas in cities and specifically, near to where people live and work, so that this can be experienced everyday. Given that many of our cities are already developed and some have limited parks and gardens, how can more green spaces be provided?

This could be achieved by:

  • Taking over derelict urban areas and developing these as food and ornamental gardens.
  • Upgrading and greening 'brown route networks'  (see Green and Brown networks).
  • Requiring all buildings to provide areas of green. On tight congested sites this could be provided in the form of planted beds, roof gardens and creepers or vertical gardens. 
  • Requiring buildings and sites which develop, or already have gardens, to make these publicly accessible and share these with neighbors and passersby. 
These requirements have been included as criteria in the BEST and SBAT tools, which aim to support the integration of sustainability into the built environment.

More information:

SANEDI Building Energy Consumption Feeds

The graph below is from South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI)'s website. The graph shows energy consumption in kWh per month for SANEDI and for a number of tenants. The coloured energy consumption histogram is clickable and the specific energy consumption attributable to the different tenants can be ascertained.  

The graph easy to understand and should support energy consumption improvements by SANEDI and their tenants. But does it? For instance:
  • Is energy consumption in the building good? 
  • How does this compare to other buildings or to benchmarks?
  • What are the loads that the building is having to cope with, in terms of number of people and operating equipment? Is the building doing well in terms of these?
Additional information on the site would make increase the usefulness of the data and enable the above questions to be answered.  For instance, it would be useful to know the area of the building, the number of people that occupied the building and the operating schedule of the building.

Normalising the building's energy data in to kWh/m2 per year figures and referencing SANS 204 benchmarks, the consumption of similarly sized buildings in the same climatic zone would enable the current energy consumption data to be compared and evaluated. Thus, the provision of a little extra information would make this this energy consumption feed much more interesting and useful. Gauge has been working on reporting format for energy and more information is available here.

Green And Brown Networks: Time To Give Up On The Car?

The German city of Hamburg is developing a plan to become ca-rfree over the next two decades. This will be achieved through a network of interconnected parks, playgrounds, sports fields, allotments and cemeteries (gruenes netz) which will link up to enable people to walk or cycle safely to most parts of the city. 


Green networks in Hamburg, congestion charges in London and cycle superhighways in Copenhagen suggest that the car is no longer being seen as a viable means of transport in the future and that more sustainable systems are being sought.

Can the green network model be applied to African cities? The answer is that there already numerous 'brown networks' of paths that people use to walk between points in many cities and villages. These are informal routes; between buildings, besides rivers and through unused parts of the city. These are muddy in wet weather and can be narrow, overgrown and dangerous.

Formalizing these routes could make a significant improvement to urban mobility and would not be expensive. Obstacles could be removed and routes could be made wider and more even. Solar lighting and the strategic location of  small stalls (spazas) for passing trade could be used to improve safety and support small businesses. Dedicated pedestrian routes away from roads would supplement public transports networks and reduce accidents caused by people walking along roads. The development and maintenance work involved in these routes could also be easily carried out by unemployed trainees (on Expanded Public Works or  Tshepo10,000 programmes), creating employment.

Therefore, greening the brown route networks of African cities may be a sensible alternative to the ongoing, and increasing expenditure, on roads, especially as leading world cities appear to be giving up on the car.