Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Sustainable Goods and Services in Built Environments

Goods and services can be defined as the ‘most basic products of an economic system that consist of tangible consumable items and tasks performed by individuals'.In households, goods and services can be listed as follows (Redefining Progress, 2003)

Clothes and textiles
Furniture (wooden)
Furniture (plastic/metal)
Major appliances
Computers and electronic equipment
Small appliances
Durable paper products (books) and hygenic paper products (toilet/tissue paper)
Car parts for repair
Metal items, tools
Plastic products and photos
Porcelain, glass
Hygiene products, cleaning stuff
Cigarettes, other tobacco products

Postal services
Hotels, motels
Water, sewer, garbage service
Dry cleaning or external laundry service
Medical insurance and services
Household insurance

Consumption of these goods and services have a significant impact on ecological footprints. Goods and services consumption data from households can be entered into ecological footprint calculators to understand existing patterns of consumption and how these need to change to become more sustainable.

This analysis is being carried out to support the development of building assessment criteria which support more sustainable goods and services. This is leading to the development of interesting new criteria which have an increased focus on:

  • Access to the internet and communications technology
  • The promotion of sharing economy services such as Uber and Air BnB
  • Improved access to higher quality, and more durable, equipment and furniture
  • Repairs and maintenance of equipment, services and buildings. 

Sustainable Waste Criteria for Built Environments

Can waste be sustainable? Is it possible to have 'sustainable waste streams'?  'Sustainable waste streams' can be defined as waste streams which enable overall personal Ecological Footprint of less than 1.8gha to be achieved.

Achieving this in households and neighbourhoods can be determined through an analysis of  the amount and types of waste produced,  the energy intensity of the waste, and the extent to which waste is reused and recycled (Lehmann, 2011; Beigl et al, 2008).

This analysis indicates that it may be possible to have sustainable waste streams. This, however, would require particular consumption, packaging, reuse and recycling patterns to be achieved. Some of these are indicated briefly below.
  • Aluminium and glass are used in durable products, where their high energy intensity can be discounted over their lifespan. Aluminium and glass would not be used in disposable products, such as food packaging. 
  • Transportation and storage of household products, such as food and cleaning products use  durable, reusable containers rather than disposable ones. 
  • Disposable packaging is avoided as far as possible. However, where packaging is required, used, only paper, paperboard and plastic packaging is used.  
  • All waste, including organic waste, is recycled.
These patterns represent a significant departure from current practice and would require radical changes in product design, manufacturing and packaging processes as well as different retail models. Attitudes and the behaviours of consumers, manufacturers and retailers would also need to change (Sidique et al, 2010; Henry et al., 2006).

Built environments would also need to change. They would need to ensure that the patterns which achieve sustainable waste streams are easy to achieve and discourage other practices. Simple requirements for household and neighbourhood built environments that enable this are being developed and are outlined below. 

Durable products
A local retailer exists within 2km of the household that sells durable furniture, equipment and containers. Durable furniture consists, as a minimum, of dining table(s), chair(s), bed(s) and cupboard(s). Durable equipment consists, as a minimum, of 5 items of household equipment used in households locally such as a TV, a DVD player, a computer, an electrical kettle and lamps. Containers include, as a minimum, containers for potable liquids such as water, milk and juice, containers for fresh vegetables and fruit, containers for bakery products, containers for beans and pulses, containers for eggs and dairy products such as cheese, containers for cereal products such as maize meal, oats and flour and containers for cleaning products such as soaps.  Durability is defined as products that are designed to last at least 5 years in normal use. Durable equipment is defined as equipment that has a guarantee that covers repairs and maintenance from the manufacturer for this period. 
Retail reusable containers
A local retailer within 2km of the household provides the following products: water, milk and juice, fresh vegetables and fruit, bakery products, beans and pulses, eggs and dairy products such as cheese, cereal products such as maize meal, oats and flour and cleaning products such as soaps without packaging. Purchasers of these products are able to obtain the quantities of product they require, decant and transport these in their own reusable containers.  
Household reusable containers
Households have facilities in the form of space and reusable containers to store water, milk and juice, fresh vegetables and fruit, bakery products, beans and pulses, eggs and dairy products such as cheese, cereal products such as maize meal, oats and flour and cleaning products such as soaps. The capacity of the space and containers provided should be adequate for at least 1 week’s consumption of these products. Facilities in the form of sink and a drying area of 0.5m2 should also be provided to clean and dry reusable containers.
Avoidance of  aluminium and glass waste
Grocery retailers within 2km of the household do not have products that use aluminium or class as packaging.
Household recycling
Households should have at least 1m3 of accessible volume with recycling containers for waste streams in the kitchen or within 10m of the kitchen.
A recycling space with 1m3 volume per household should be provided within 2km of each household.  Containers should be provided for at least the following types of waste; paper and paperboard aluminium, other metal, glass, plastic, organic waste. The space should be covered, well-ventilated, protected from vermin, provided with a water supply and have surfaces that can be readily cleaned. The location should be within 10m of a public highway and easily accessed by both households and recycling contractors.
Retail recycling
Grocery retailers should have a recycling area with at least 1m3 volume per 100m2 of retail space.  Containers should be provided for at least the following types of waste; paper and paperboard aluminium, other metal, glass, plastic, organic waste. The space should be covered, well-ventilated, protected from vermin, provided with a water supply and have surfaces that can be readily cleaned. The location should be within 10m of a public highway and easily accessed by both the retailer and recycling contractors.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Soil Carbon Sequestration

Soil is the biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet after the oceans and holds four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world. However, deforestation and industrial farming has degraded this capacity in 40% of all agricultural soils.

New research published in Science suggests that regenerative farming methods including woodland regeneration, no-till farming, cover crops, nutrient management, manuring and sludge application, improved grazing, water conservation and harvesting, efficient irrigation, agroforestry practices, and growing energy crops on spare lands can help restore soils. This not only improves food security but also has the potential to sequestrate 5-15% of global fossil fuel emissions.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Informal Trade

Surveys of Pretoria CBD indicate that the locations of informal trade and the types of goods and products sold, change over the period of day and can be complex.

It is important that support and infrastructure being developed for informal trade understand this. This complexity is being addressed in structured processes to develop integrative infrastructure for informal trade based on the following five steps:

• Surveys and locations
• Diversity and development paths
• Operating agreements and tenure
• Infrastructure and services
• Storage and logistics

Tax Incentives to Create Employment and Encourage Repairs

While emissions from energy consumption in Sweden are decreasing, their emissions from consumption of goods are increasing.

To address this, the government would like to make sustainable consumption more affordable by providing tax breaks for repairs to equipment.

This is reflected in Budget for 2017 which will cut the VAT rate charged on minor repairs to things like bicycles, shoes and clothes.

Tax refunds will also be offered to people to get their white goods, such as washing machines and dishwashers repair, rather than throwing these away.

Swedish taxpayers can already claim 50% of the labour cost of paid house work, such as employing a cleaner, from their income tax bills.

More detail can be accessed here

Track the 2016 Solar Challenge

The Sasol Solar Challenge is a competition for teams to design, manage, build and drive solar-powered vehicles across South Africa.

Local and international solar-powered cars travel as far as they can on various roads and loops between Pretoria and Cape Town, with some teams travelling distances of over 4000km. 

The 2016 event from 24 September to 1 October 2016 traverses some of the world’s most beautiful and diverse landscapes, from desert and savannah to mountains and coastal forest.

Track the competitors live on a map here.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Converting building for Housing

The Hub has been developed in the Netherlands as a way of converting empty buildings into comfortable housing is a short space of time. 

The Hub has been developed in the Netherlands as a way of converting empty buildings into comfortable housing is a short space of time. 

Hubs include a kitchen, a bathroom, toilet and provide heating, a sound system, an internet connection and are 15m2 in area. 

 More information is available here.
Scientists have claimed that 2015 was the warmest year on record. 

By using climate data from Accuweather, the New York Times have charted the range of actual city temperatures experienced for 2015 relative to normal the normal range. 
You can access these charts for your city here. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Human Habitat Creation

Habitats are defined as the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds (influences and is utilized by) a species population.

This was the subject of an Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africa (ILASA) Seminar on 11 May 2016 and number of interesting presentations were made by John Masson, Siegwalt Kusel and Ben Breedlove.

My contribution was titled 'Human Habitat Creation' and addressed the following questions:

  • What is a sustainable human habit?
  • What are the specific requirements for a sustainable human habitat? 
  • How can sustainable human habitats be achieved?
  • Can a structured process be developed to enable this to happen at a neighbourhood level?

The presentations led to a very interesting discussion on how  methodologies used by Landscape Architects and Habitat Designers to design habitats can be applied at a wider built environment scale.  Copies of the presentation on gauge site soon.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Why buildings collapse

Buildings in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, a bridge, a mall in South Africa, and a church building in Nigeria have collapsed. Building Investigators attribute these failures to:
  • Inadequate foundations
  • Poor and counterfeit building materials 
  • Workers making mistakes and a lack of supervision
  • Excessive loading 
  • Non-compliance with building regulations and a lack of controls

They suggest that often corners are cut during construction to maximise profit and that corruption is usually the reason that standards are not adhered to and proper checks are not carried out.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Integrating Informal Trade

City planning and urban design in many African cities are based on western and colonial standards that ignore the informal economy.  However, informal trade has been identified as one of the main sources of employment and it is estimated are that this provides between 20 and 75 percent of employment in many African countries. A range of benefits are associated  with informal trading including:

Creates employment
Requires very little capital
Can improves security as there are more 'eyes on the street'
Convenience, as goods and services that can be accessed easily
Can improve street life and the vibrancy of an area or street
Reduced transport impacts as local access is provided to services and goods
Increased city efficiency as densities and trade is increased
Improved resilience through diversity in the local economy
Reduced cost and waste as repairs on items like appliances and shoes are carried out instead of these being disposed of

Despite these benefits, there is very little support for informal trade and many city plans and policies ignore informal trading.

Informal trade can be easily designed for in new streets and be supported through interventions in existing streets.  The example below shows how a city block, individual buildings and city furniture, such as bus stops can be modified to support informal trading.  These interventions are described below, with the numbering referring to the numbers in the sketch.
Existing city block (left) and the same city block with integrated informal enterprises (right)


2. Pavement
3. Semi-private area that could be used by employees to access food provided by an informal trader who could also supply passing trade.
4. Food and beverage informal trader with stool seating that did not impinge onto pavement pedestrian traffic.
5. Small informal trading stall with awning which could sell small grocery or other items and receive power from the building. It can also be secured and closed off from the street. By occupying an 'indentation' in the building informal trade would not affect passing traffic.
6. Small lockable compartments where traders could park mobile sales trolleys and goods at night instead of having to transport these. During the day, these trolleys would positioned in street locations where traders would sell their goods.
7. A plant nursery run by an informal trader in a garden of an established local business. To reduce costs, traders could enter into agreements with landowners to maintain gardens in return reduced rental for prime locations.
8. A cafe run by an informal trader in a garden belonging to an established business. To reduce costs, traders could enter into agreements with landowners to provide in-house catering  in return for reduced rental for prime locations.
9. Trading locations designated on streets for designed for mobile trolleys which provide appropriate shelter and services such as power.
10. Bus stop
11. Informal businesses which are able to assist with some of the non-core services required by established businesses such as printing, stationary and courier services. These would be accommodated on established business premises and would provide services to both the passing other local businesses, passing trade as well the established business.

Friday, 15 April 2016

What Africa will look like in 100 years

Interesting article in the Daily Telegraph on ''What Africa will look like in 100 years''. It makes the following assertions:

  • By 2100, it will be home to 4.4 billion people - four times its current population.
  • By 2050, more than half of Africa’s 2.2bn people will live in its rapidly expanding cities. That’s the equivalent of the population of China.

Given the implications of this huge growth, it suggests that current development trajectories are not promising and may not be able to  "deliver on the aspirations of broad-based human development and prosperity for all". 

Solutions recommended include;

  • infrastructure that improves  education,health and security and economic prospects
  • sustainable governance systems
  • embracing new urban paradigms,
  • better data, better decisions and
  • diversified economies

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Consumption and Production Envelopes

At a recent presentation at Power and Electricity World titled ”Design and Operation Optimisation: Lowering the Cost of Sustainable Buildings”, the concept of Consumption and Production Envelopes was presented.

This concept has been developed by Gauge and supports a hierarchical and structured approach to design, management and technology decisions. A key objective of the approach is to match consumption and use of resources in built environments with local productive capacity. Strong alignment enables systems to be highly efficient and achieving additional productive capacity enables increased resilience and net-positive built environments. The approach has informed the development of tools such as the BEST and SBAT and is being developed further.

Cities as Engines of Economic Inclusion

Cities in developing countries are often portrayed as a source of problems such as high levels of unemployment, crime, poor services, overcrowding, pollution and ill-health. However, for the people who move to them, cities are seen as a means to a better life; a place to get work, start a business, and get an education. If designed and managed in a different way, can cities in developing countries enhance and direct this positive energy to build economic growth? Can the right characteristics and configuration be developed in urban areas to support positive development and avoid marginalisation? Is it possible for cities to be engines of economic inclusion, rather than the source of problems?

A recent study of Medellin in Columbia indicates that this is possible. It shows how the city has transformed its reputation as a city associated with crime and drug trafficking to a rapidly growing vibrant and inclusive economy. The study attributes this transformation to the following characteristics;

  • Cities do not make poor people. Cities attract poor and vulnerable individuals looking for a better future. Therefore, they must be accepted and integrated into the city's dynamics in order to foster their individual and collective potential. As shown by the 8.9% reduction in poverty between 2008 and 2013, according to Colombia’s department of statistics.
  • Architecture must never be a barrier to human interaction. The best way to reduce inequality is to promote connections and face-to-face engagement between individuals, without regards to their socioeconomic condition.
  • Public and accessible urban services reduce inequality. Allowing individuals across the board to enjoy a city, its surroundings and services are the best ways to make them active citizens.
  • Education drives change. Placing libraries and other cultural assets alongside public transport systems played a central role in selling the new brand the city wanted to create for itself, placing it squarely in the collective mindset.
  • Using technology as a means and not as the end itself. Medellin understood that whatever technological upgrades were needed, its success would rest with the function it fulfills and not in the scientific advancement it represents.
  • Last, but not least, placing culture high on the list of priorities helps to unleash a citizen's potential. Culture plays a major role in a city's transformation due to its ability to bringing people together, to move forward from traditional socioeconomic paradigms, and to share a vision and common values.

These characteristics are reflected in criteria in the BEST and SBAT tools which aim to support positive, inclusive development in urban areas and buildings. The tools identify infrastructure prerequisites required for inclusive sustainable development and measure the extent to which these are integrated in buildings and urban areas.

The tools have a very strong emphasis on the local area and on the nature of services, products and interaction that can be accessed within easy walking distance of a building. Thre is also a strong emphasis on local services such as access to education and health facilities as well as economic opportunities and productive technology. The tools are available to inform urban development and building projects and are particularly suitable for developing country contexts.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Local Content of Building Materials and Products

The buildings below have just been completed and assessed using the Sustainable Building Assessment Tool (SBAT). On the surface, they may appear similar, and could even be the same building. There may also not be much difference in the functionality of the buildings, but there are very large differences in the sustainability impacts of the buildings.

One building has been constructed using imported components, while the other, has been constructed using locally manufactured materials and components. Local content, or the use of local materials and products and materials, can make a big difference in sustainability performance.

Buildings constructed of local materials and components create local jobs, small enterprises and manufacturing capacity. Local jobs pay for local schools, local health facilities and local production of food, improving health and education.

Less transportation means less pollution and environmental damage. Locally available skills and materials support effective maintenance and repairs, increasing service life and reducing waste. Procurement of local materials and components create a diversified local economy that is more resilient to global economic shocks and exchange rate changes.

Local content, or localisation, in built environments, can be supported through the use of the Sustainable Building Assessment Tool (SBAT) 'Local Economy' criteria. The Sustainable Building Materials Index (SBMI) can be used to support more sustainable and efficient local building material and component manufacturing processes.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Cities in Motion Index: South African Cities rank 104, 117 and 119th.

The Cities in Motion index has been developed to measure and rank world cities in terms of their future sustainability and standard of living. The index is made up of the following ten criteria:

1. Governance and the People’s Participation
2. Urban Planning
3. Public Management
4. Technology
5. The Environment
6. International Outreach
7. Social Cohesion
8. Mobility and Transportation
9. Human Capital
10. The Economy

The index ranks London, Tokyo and New York in the top three. Cities are also categorised in terms of whether they are Challengers, High Potential, Consolidated or Vulnerable, as shown in the graphic below.

African cities such as Cairo and Johannesburg are classified as Vulnerable and High Potential. South African cities such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town are ranked from 104 to 119, with Durban performing best, and Cape Town, worst.  A review of the spider diagram provided for Pretoria below indicates that reasons for low performance are the poor scores for social cohesion, international impact, human capital, environment and technology.

A review of these criteria reveals that perhaps some of the criteria are loosely named. For instance, social cohesion performance is represented by measuring the number of deaths per 1,000 inhabitants, the Gini coefficient; the unemployment rate, and the consumer expenditure on housing per capita, in millions of constant dollars per inhabitant in 2013. It is not clear how these indicators provide a measure of the social cohesion which is normally defined in terms of trust, consensus or intensity of social interaction within a population.

The basis for the inclusion of criteria is also not explicit. For instance, the indicators for ‘International Outreach’ are thousands of air passengers, number of meetings and thousands of tourists. While ‘International Outreach’ may be a good measure of business or tourism activity it is unclear why this is an indication of future sustainability, as increased air travel is associated with increased carbon emissions rather than improved sustainability. Here, other indicators such as the type and scale of information and communications technology (ICT) available, may more suitable as this enables meetings and economic activity through video conferencing, email and the internet without the carbon emissions associated with travel.

It could be argued that long term sustainability can be enhanced by investing in capability for increased resource efficiency. For instance, investments by cities in better ICT, more energy efficient buildings, improved public transportation and renewable energy can support high levels of economic activity while reducing carbon emissions and pollution at the same time. Criteria that measured this type of capability may be a better indicator of long term sustainability than current business activity. This idea is explored in the development of the BEST and SBAT indicator systems.

More information:

Rainwater harvesting: Playing a valuable role in increasing the resilience and sustainability of water supply

South African is a water scarce country and studies indicate that 98% of available water supplies are already exploited. In addition, a number of South African cities, such as Johannesburg, are vulnerable to water shortages if a severe drought occurs (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2011).

NY Times
Therefore, it is important to understand how water can be used as efficiently as possible and to explore alternatives to municipal piped water supplies. Rainwater harvesting provides a simple way of capturing and storing water which can be used to supplement, or replace municipal water supplies. It can be used to reduce the pressure on municipal systems and provides a valuable buffer for households and businesses against drought and local water shortages.

This article describes how rainwater harvesting can play a valuable role in increasing the resilience and sustainability of water supply. The different types of rainwater harvesting systems are described and advantages and disadvantages of the technology listed. Some of the key design and operational principles are presented to enable the practicality and applicability of systems to be understood. Finally, conclusions are drawn and policy, and other, recommendations are made to support the increased adoption of rainwater harvesting systems in South Africa.

Full article can be accessed here

Water in Sustainable Buildings

Water systems in sustainable buildings are different in a number of ways from conventional buildings. Characteristics of water systems in sustainable building include:

  • Self sufficiency: Sustainable buildings may aim to meet all, or most of their water needs from rainwater harvesting.  
  • Water quality: The quality of water is matched with use. For instance, the best quality water may be used for drinking and cooking and poorer quality water, such as grey water, used for flushing toilets and irrigation. 
  • Onsite retention: In natural environments vegetation and soil absorb and retain a large proportion of rainwater that falls on to it. Sustainable buildings aim to emulate this by ensuring that buildings and sites absorb and retain rainwater on site and avoid generating large quantities of runoff.
  • Evaporation and transpiration: Air can be cooled and the humidity increased through evaporation of water and transpiration from plants. This may be used in sustainable buildings to improve comfort levels without the use of mechanical systems.

More information on water systems in sustainable building can be accessed here. 

Characteristics of Sustainable Building Envelopes

Building envelopes in sustainable buildings are different from conventional buildings in that they aim to achieve a wider range of objectives and work in a different way.

Some characteristics of sustainable building envelopes are:
  1. Responsive: Green building envelopes are designed to respond to their local context and work with external and internal conditions to achieve optimum environments within and around the building. Therefore, the building envelope may have additional acoustic treatment in areas which receive noise from external environments and have strong visual and physical connections (through balconies, windows and external doors) where external light and thermal conditions support human comfort.  
  2. Dynamic: In order to achieve optimum conditions on an ongoing basis, green building envelopes are dynamic and adapt to changing conditions. Thus, more of the building envelope may have shading in summer than in winter to minimise unwanted heat gains. In winter, the envelope may allow more sunlight to enter the building than in summer to allow this to warm the building.  
  3. Controllable: Providing users with greater control over local environments is a central strategy in most green buildings. Building envelopes, therefore, are likely to have large numbers of operable windows that can be easily opened and closed by occupants. They may also have controllable internal blinds and external solar shading which can be used to maximise internal daylight quality and avoid glare and solar gain. 
  4. Ecological: Green building envelopes aim to support the development of ecosystems and plant and animal life around the building. Therefore, the envelope may be used to create habitat for animals such as birds and the roof and balconies may be planted. 
  5. Breathable: Designers of green building often try and achieve the same performance qualities found in good outdoor clothing. The outer layer of the building envelope, like a raincoat and umbrella, provide protection against weather such as wind and rain. The middle layer, like shirts and jerseys, provide warmth and thermal insulation. The inner layer, like a vest, is comfortable to touch and wicks away excess moisture. 
  6. Microclimatic: The building envelope is used to support the development of local microclimates. Thus, envelopes may be used to create sheltered, sunlit spaces around buildings as amenity areas for occupants.  They may also be used to create vegetated, shaded areas from which cool, fresh air can be drawn into the building. 
  7. Energy generation: Building envelopes provide excellent opportunities to generate renewable energy for use in the building. This is done through photovoltaic and solar water heating panels and wind turbines. Ideally these are integrated in the design of the building envelope to improve the aesthetic quality of the building and minimise material requirements. 

A brief introduction to sustainable building envelopes can be accessed here.

Sustainable Food Environments

Food consumption patterns can have a significantly negative impact on the environment, as well as beneficial impacts on human health and well-being. For instance, locally grown food has much lower carbon emissions associated with it compared to imported, highly processed, foods. Similarly, a balanced and nutritious diet ensures health and wellbeing while a poor diet leads to increased susceptibility to ill-health and disease.

Achieving sustainability will, therefore, require food that both promotes health and has low negative environmental impacts (sustainable foods). Built environments can hinder, or support, access to these foods.

The Ecological Footprint measure can be used to define preferred, or more sustainable, food and diets. This can be used to propose ‘measures to promote sustainable diets’ such as:
  • Neighbourhoods should include a retailer of, or access to, fresh vegetables, fruit, beans and pulses, bakery products and milk, cheese and eggs.  The cost of these products should be affordable for the local population. 
  • Highly processed, non-local food products, oil, tea, coffee, beers, juice and wine, meat and fish should be more difficult to access than locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. 
  • A proportion of household gardens and open space within the neighbourhood should be allocated to vegetable and fruit production. 
  • Restaurants with menus based on locally produced fruit, vegetables and include vegetarian, dairy and egg-based dishes, should be given preference over restaurants which have menus based on high ecological footprint items such as meat and imported items.  
Further analysis can be used determine built environment configurations and characteristics that promote access to sustainable foods and to develop ‘sustainable food environment criteria’ which can be used to assess built environments.

Further detail on this study, and the sustainable food environment criteria, can be accessed here.