SA schools must go green, says Green Building Council

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Schools are increasingly seeing the benefits of going green through energy and water saving initiatives in the face of spiralling utility costs, says Brian Wilkinson, CEO of the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA). But, there is a lot more that can be done and schools must be educated about the benefits.

“With the 2015 school year now underway countrywide, following the back to school rush, it is an opportune time for school leaders and governing bodies to look more seriously at the benefits of green initiatives. While the main benefit may be cost savings, there are other positive outcomes, including promoting ‘going green’ to learners in their formative years,” adds Wilkinson.

The start of the new school year is also a time that many schools face the stark reality of a lack of funding and infrastructure problems, with a bigger number of learners to cater for.

Wilkinson comments: “Like businesses in our primary market – the commercial property sector – financial management has become a key responsibility for school principals, staff and governing bodies who, at times, have very few options at their disposal.”

Research done and reportage on the state of schools in the country convey a lack of funding, poor infrastructure, inadequate equipment and the sometimes dire state of school property, buildings and playgrounds.

The greening of schools offers a unique opportunity to address these issues and is an extraordinarily cost-effective way to enhance student learning, reduce health and operational costs and, ultimately, increase quality.

“As part of its mandate to not only promote green building development and innovation, but sustainable development, the GBCSA team engages with not just the commercial property sector. Many schools are already seeing the benefits of their green initiatives,” says Wilkinson.

“The key motivator of the GBCSA and the green building initiative is the fight against global warming, climate change and the effects that each of these are having on our planet. Moving beyond the commercial property sector, learning centres should provide prime opportunities for their inhabitants to not only do well on the school front, but, do good on the environmental front too,” he adds.

In the commercial property sector, green buildings have lower operating costs, are more efficient, future-proofed, provide a higher rate of return on investment and have been shown to promote wellness, healing and productivity.

Similarly, the GBCSA has seen positive results in the residential space, through its My Green Home challenge. The initiative saw the Ngewana family from Pinelands in Cape Town accept the challenge, with a complete green retrofit of their home. To date, electricity usage at their home has now fallen by 53%; water use by 44%; and, waste to landfill by 81%. This translates into a direct annual saving of about R 18,000.

“Imagine that R18 000 in the life of a poorly-resourced South African school,” says Wilkinson.

“Through encounters with those in our green network, we have found that there are green solutions that schools can implement in order to help them tackle their pressing budgetary needs.

“The benefits go beyond savings on utility costs at schools. Positive lessons the learners get to absorb through their exposure to green alternatives at school, creates an all-round win-win situation,” he adds.

“Green initiatives must be implemented at even more schools countrywide. Public schools in particular need to be empowered to be able to implement such initiatives, as many grapple with the dilemma of reducing their operating costs.

“Cost savings from going green can then be redirected to other important priorities such as better facilities and resources,” says Wilkinson.

The GBCSA is committed to promoting and facilitating greener and better buildings in the country in all sectors, and has made significant headway in the commercial property space. For a wider positive impact, the council recognises the need for greening schools as well as institutions of higher education.