The future sustainability of our built environment is in the hands of today’s property developers.

With this in mind, the iconic Melrose Arch mixed-use precinct in Johannesburg’s leafy northern suburbs has set the precedent for sustainable cities in South Africa for over a decade, starting long before the green building movement officially began in the country.

Today, it continues its legacy of pioneering sustainability. Leading South African property company Amdec are owners in Melrose Arch. By taking a long-term view and optimising the critical mass of mixed-use developments, Amdec has become a front-runner in green building innovation in South Africa.

And, says head of sustainability and green building for the Amdec group Josef Quraishi, it will continue to push the sustainability envelope.

Sustainability is a win-win

Amdec sees sustainability as a win-win. “When we develop, we look at the broader context of investing in communities. A thriving community is good for business; the more attractive a community is, the more desirable our buildings become,” says Quraishi.

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He adds: “Amdec will continue with our commitment to find new and better ways to create greater sustainability and better resource efficiency, and use our hard-earned experience in sustainable development not only to benefit those who live, work and visit our developments, but also for the property industry as a whole.”

Quraishi believes that, as a pioneer in sustainable development in South Africa, Amdec has a lot to offer by sharing its experiences and knowledge. “Our sustainability journey hasn’t been easy, and Amdec believes that sharing our lessons is important, as it helps others along the learning curve, and supports the movement for sustainability,” he says.

Quraishi was part of the team who helped develop Green Building Council South Africa’s (GBCSA) Socio-Economic Category - a world-first for rating tools. In doing so, the GBCSA took the lead in developing a set of socio-economic criteria for green building rating tools. Socio-economic factors are particularly relevant in developing countries such as South Africa, and extend green buildings to encompass not just environmental sustainability but also socio-economic sustainability. 

Encouraging positive impacts

The way we design, build and operate our buildings can address, to some extent, societal challenges such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education and skills, and health. This GBCSA tool is designed to both measure, and encourage, these positive impacts.

The Socio-Economic Category allows the socio-economic achievements of new buildings and major retrofits to be recognised and rewarded under Green Star SA tools.  It is a separate optional category for which projects can be rated alongside their standard Green Star SA certifications. As part of the initiative, the GBCSA simultaneously developed an International Socio-Economic Framework for the World Green Building Council, which can be used by other green building councils to apply to their rating tools.

Quraishi points out that while South Africa has building codes that talk to sustainability, Amdec always looks to do more and do better. By considering the bigger picture, Amdec’s green building ethos has far-reaching positive impacts. Its holistic approach to green building is helping to change the way people think and live.

“Developers like ourselves can contribute to our socio-economic context, not only with green building but by uplifting local communities, transferring skills, training and mentoring, and using local people and products. Even when contracting large building companies for developments, we can ensure they pay it forward as part of our agreement with them. From a sustainability perspective, as a developer we have a responsibility to do what we can where we can,” notes Quraishi.

Uplifting local communities

Amdec puts this ethos into action wherever it develops. Among its community-specific initiatives, it has used material from construction excavation to rehabilitate a public park and is also taking care of a river course to ensure its banks are well maintained and help reduced flooding.

When it comes to green building itself, Amdec is aware this is a skill that existed long before the company did. “Yes, technology plays a big role in today’s green building, but it isn’t the only factor. There are age-old proven methods of creating greener buildings, going back to nomadic structures that were oriented and built to a height that would provide shade for cattle. Similarly there are exciting ways to reuse and upcycle materials happening all around us, as smart people and communities find ways of creating exciting opportunities with items that others may see as worthless,” says Quraishi.

So, Amdec’s approach to green building goes beyond active green building technologies to also incorporating more subtle elements of green building in design and orientation.

While tree-lined streets, such as those found at Melrose Arch, are beautiful, what may not be immediately apparent is that they also play an important role in green building. The tree canopies provide shading on the front of buildings, helping to keep them cool. The bottom level of a building, and the upper levels, are usually the hottest. The trees mitigate the heat of the sun that bounces off the road. This increases comfort inside the building and decreases a building’s cooling costs.

With Melrose Arch, and Amdec’s next R4 billion mega development of Westbrook, a 128,000ha mixed-use suburb in Port Elizabeth, it is taking the opportunity to explore the latest technologies in sustainability. In fact, Amdec hopes to take Westbrook entirely off the grid.

Reducing electricity consumption

Among the solutions Amdec has identified is the gas-powered trigeneration plant, which is only in use at a handful of properties in the country. Capitalising on its benefits, it would reduce electricity consumption at a mixed-use precinct such as Melrose Arch by 50 percent, halving its dependence on the country’s power grid. Alongside this, Amdec has also invested over R100 million into alternative fuels, recycling waste and biofuel, and putting gas back into its system to be used within Melrose Arch. This will be the first time this is deployed in context of a South African mixed-used precinct.

Quraishi notes that for Amdec, it is not just about sustainability and doing the right thing, but also about helping their clients to reduce their occupation costs and keeping them working when load-shedding hits. “Amdec is responding to the challenges of South Africa’s energy crisis,” says Quraishi. “This helps to take strain off our power grid, and our building users’ pockets, as well as being good for the environment and helping communities prosper.”

While Amdec is adding more resource-efficient features to its assets, whether there is a rating tool available for them or not, it is also pursuing more green ratings for its properties. Having already earned Green Star SA ratings for two of its buildings in the last two years; Amdec plans to boost its pace of investing in green buildings by taking this number to six in the next 24 months. This means it will pursue more Green Star SA ratings for all its new developments, and some of its existing ones.

At Melrose Arch, Amdec has earned its two Green Star SA ratings: 40 on Oak was South Africa’s first multi-unit residential project certified under the Green Star SA system, with a 4-Star Green Star SA Pilot certification and The Worley Parsons head office was awarded a 4-Star Green Star SA Office v1 Design rating.

As part of its multiunit residential rating at 40 on Oak, Amdec cut energy consumption for each apartment by 50 percent and water consumption by 40 percent making the Melrose Arch apartments even more desirable. For the green rated office, it lowered energy consumption by 40 percent and water consumption by 50 percent.

A platform for sustainable buildings

Melrose Arch will also play a leading role in Amdec’s future targeted green star ratings, two of which have already been registered at GBCSA. For existing buildings, Josef explains that Amdec has prioritised getting ratings for single-tenant buildings. “Then we’ll move on to our multi-tenanted buildings, which can be more challenging,” says Josef.

The green inner-workings of Melrose Arch support more than a single building, they underpin a whole precinct, making it an enabling platform for sustainable buildings. Melrose Arch is also packed with ingenious designs and small, smart green touches that also create an enjoyable environment. It includes a central district cooling plant that utilises evaporative cooling so its buildings use less air conditioning than usual, it uses gas and has integrated recycling. Its mixed-uses and pedestrianisation reduces the need for cars, it also benefits from good access to public transport.

Josef explains that blue-chip businesses want their markets to know they are doing the right thing, so occupying a green rated building is becoming a business imperative for them. Amdec is like-minded and answering the call for green rated buildings in South Africa. “Green buildings are also commercially desirable because they boost productivity and profitability by creating healthy workspaces that also mean lower absenteeism,” says Quraishi.

With soaring energy costs, clients across Amdec’s portfolio of assets, including its Evergreen Lifestyle Villages, enjoy the benefits of Amdec’s energy-efficient, water-efficient and cost-efficient focus. 

For Amdec, its green building ethos is simply good business. “With our sustainability initiatives, Amdec ensures that whatever we do has a positive impact on their environment, in their community and beyond,” says Quraishi. 

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