The Growing Need for More Sustainable Development Practices

While at the dawn of this century, sustainability was little more than a new buzzword favoured by eco-warriors, that has since changed. Today, in the face of a burgeoning carbon footprint and the indisputable signs of global warming, it is now a philosophy that the human race has no option but to embrace if it hopes to avoid the risk of widespread extinction. Research in the UK suggests that construction and the built environment account for 45% of its CO2 production, highlighting an urgent need for more sustainable development in this sector.

Because of its continuing reliance on coal, South Africa ranks 16th among the world’s 195 countries in terms of its contribution to global emissions. Nevertheless, the manner in which our buildings are constructed and how their operation is subsequently managed are practices with which the country’s developers should be equally concerned.

There are many ways in which the environmental impact caused by the construction industry can be curbed. The transition to sustainable development could, for example, begin by embracing the use of more eco-friendly building materials. Take the case of timber flooring. Instead of denuding the planet of the trees that are its lungs, the harvesting of bamboo, a much cheaper and stronger alternative, has little or no adverse environmental impact. As a species of grass, once harvested, it takes a mere six weeks or so for bamboo to regrow to maturity. 

Within the construction industry, of the biggest obstacles to sustainable development is its widespread dependence on concrete. Though tough and inexpensive, producing the cement it contains accounts for around 8% of the planet’s total carbon emissions. A modern alternative makes use of fly ash, a waste product of coal-fired power stations normally consigned to landfills, in place of Portland cement.

While such technological advances are significant, there are also some rather less technical options that can be of benefit in the quest for a greener construction industry. Simply refurbishing and recycling some of the materials, such as doors, window-frames, planks, and bricks obtained from recently demolished buildings is certainly in keeping with the goals of sustainable development.

Even when employing such measures, however, the new building continues to exert an impact on the surrounding environment. For example, even though massive areas of glass will ensure a well-lit interior and impressive panoramic views, they also represent a major potential source of heat loss unless they are double- or triple-glazed. Alternatively, a recently developed product, known as photovoltaic glass, though initially more expensive, could soon pay for itself by providing homes and offices with a free and unobtrusive source of renewable energy.

Once occupied, buildings and their occupants depend heavily on energy. Sustainable development measures should, therefore, include efforts to reduce energy consumption wherever possible. Solar heating or heat exchangers offer an eco-friendly alternative to gas or electric water heaters, while an induction hob could reduce the energy used by a conventional gas or electric hob by more than half.

Whether at home or in the office, a comfortable environment is important. Until now, that comfort has carried a hidden and potentially crippling cost. Construction companies, as well as forward-looking architectural firms, such as JK Designs, have joined the crusade for more sustainable development within the rapidly growing South African built environment.

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