Green Building: Benefits and Barriers

According to a recent article published on, “Our built environment is responsible for half of all global energy use and half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings consume one-sixth of all freshwater, one-quarter of world wood harvests and four-tenths of all other raw materials. The construction and later demolition of buildings produces 40 percent of all waste.” These staggering figures prove the essential need that exists within the built environment, for greener, healthier and more efficient buildings. Green buildings are not only better for the environment but provide their owners and occupants with a multitude of benefits on many levels.

What are some of the benefits that green buildings can offer? :

Lower operating costs

Green buildings reduce the consumption levels of natural resources which lowers utility costs in terms of energy, water, sewer and waste. According to the Green Building Council of South Africa, the payback periods of energy and water saving practices are becoming shorter as a result of increasing utility costs and the wider availability of more affordable green building technology.

Increased health and productivity

Have you ever considered the amount of time you spend in a building? Through design elements like temperature and lighting control, use of low-VOC paints and adhesives for better indoor air quality and the addition of indoor plants and natural air ventilation, the health and productivity of building occupants can be increased drastically. A recent study done by Harvard Chan School found that building occupants in high-performing, green-certified office environments scored 26% higher on tests of cognitive function, had 30% fewer sickness syndromes, and had 6% higher sleep quality scores than those in high-performing but non-certified buildings (Hammer, 2017).

Higher market value

Green buildings have a higher market value because they are more technologically advanced and environmentally and socially responsible, resulting in higher rental rates and property value.  In a recent study done on the European green building market, building owners reported that green buildings commanded a 7% increase in asset value over non-certified buildings.

Attracting and retaining talent

People, especially young graduates, are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues and the need for sustainable practices as a whole to help remedy climate change and our negative impact on the environment. Companies that occupy green buildings thus have the ability to attract and retain key staff due to their offices’ considered environmental impact and efficient use of resources. The element of green buildings creating spaces that are healthier, more productive (and as a result, happier), will also add to this phenomenon.

Resource efficiency

Green buildings make use of resources such as energy and water more efficiently through green technology and practices, as well as to minimise waste generated. This includes methods such as renewable energy to generate electricity, greywater-reuse systems and low-flow water fittings to reduce water consumption, as well as recycling systems and food waste management such as composting or bokashi bins to reduce waste generation. According to the World Green Building Council, green buildings achieving the Green Star certification in South Africa have shown to save on average between 30 – 40% energy and carbon emissions every year, and between 20 – 30% potable water, when compared to the industry norm.

Future proofing and resiliency

The rise in global temperatures as a result of human climate change has resulted in increased occurrences of natural disasters, which in turn emphasises the need to create resilient green buildings. Building resilience, according to, can be defined as “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption to normal life”. Building green is so much more than just green technological solutions, but also encompasses future proofing buildings in their design so as to maximise their life-cycle impact in the face of climate change and the unpredictable disasters it brings.

Potential Barriers to Green Buildings in the South African context

South Africa is considered an emerging leader in the green building market, with an increased number of residential as well as commercial properties seeing the value in going green. There are still, however, potential barriers to the growth of the green building sector, including the lack of industry understanding amongst the public, as well as the lack of green building professionals to actively drive the green building market. Other potential barriers that hinder growth are the perceived high costs of green technology solutions, which in fact are considerably less than most anticipate and prove to be cheaper in the long run. Green buildings usually incur a green premium above the cost of standard construction, which adds to the misconception that green buildings are more costly to run and maintain.

While there are potential barriers to the growth of the South African green building market, steady progress has still been made towards changing the building landscape in efforts to aid buildings in reaching their full potential of becoming change agents in society in response to climate change.