Sustainability has become one of those keywords that politicians bandy about to raise their profiles, and then conveniently forget when their contracts are signed or their tenure is secured. It’s a particularly popular concept among social development projects that always aim to be self-sustaining or have long term sustainability. It’s now being applied to the design, construction and management of buildings with the focus on the needs of developing countries.
In South Africa, which can be considered a developing country in many ways, the problem of sustainability in buildings is being addressed by CSIR Building and Construction Technology. One of the most important methods that they have developed is the Sustainable Buildings Assessment Tool (SBAT). SBAT collects information at all stages of the building lifecycle for analysis, which can then be saved on a database for use in future projects.
Sustainable development entails meeting the needs of those in the present while making provision for the continued existence of resources for future generations. Effects on the environment must also be considered and the natural surroundings preserved as far as possible.
SBAT addresses 15 areas in the construction of buildings that need to be assessed in terms of their relationship to the surrounding social, economic and environmental systems. These areas include:
· Materials and components
· Local economy
· Efficiency of use
· Adaptability and flexibility
· Ongoing costs
· Capital costs
· Occupant comfort
· Inclusive environments
· Access to facilities
· Participation and control
· Local education, health and safety contractors
One of the most important considerations that need to be included in sustainability is the impact the development has on the local economy. To measure the extent of the effects SBAT has come up with 5 assessment criteria.
These criteria include:
· The use of local contractors and labour in the construction on the building.
· The volume of building material supplied locally.
· Whether or not local components, fittings and furniture were used.
· The extent to which local small businesses such as contractors, manufacturers and retailers were supported throughout the entire construction process.
· The local maintenance of the building and its systems.
For sustainability to be successfully integrated into a construction project, it needs to be addressed as early as possible. A meeting to brief all of the stakeholders in the project about sustainability and a shared vision of its future is imperative. A site analysis is important, as it helps to establish possible problems that will need to be addressed, and potential resources that can be drawn from social, economic and environmental assets.
All of the information gathered to date can be used to set feasible sustainability targets for the construction project. The client’s commitment to sustainability, as well as the design team’s understanding of the overall concept needs to be established. Information gleaned from the site analysis should have revealed the extent to which the project can rely on local businesses and how much work will have to be contracted. Similar projects can be examined to get an idea of the time frame and overall expenses required.
One of the focus points of sustainability is to do as little harm as possible to the environment. It’s recommended that when a building has ceased to serve its original purpose, it’s refurbished and reused. In some instances this is not possible, in which case as much of the building should be recycled as possible.
Building sustainability is a growing industry in many developed countries, such as the USA and Australia. In developed countries the focus is on maintaining the current lifestyle while curbing the consumption of natural resources. In developing countries, the aim is to improve the quality of life of the citizens, while preserving resources and preventing a negative impact on the environment. Wherever building sustainability occurs, however, it must never be forgotten that in preserving our environment, we preserve humanity. Sustainability might be a politician’s word of the moment, but that doesn’t detract from its global value.