Green Building Council South Africa’s Green Star Accreditation System Exposed as a Sham

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  • Green Star Certification issued by the GBCSA appears not to be independently vetted
  • Serious questions around patriarchy, marginalisation, credibility, and governance are now raised on the GBCSA’s Green Star accreditation methodology and rules.
  • There are now calls for an independent forensic audit into all Green Star accreditations awarded by the GBCSA

Climate change is upon us in South Africa. Buildings are responsible for over 30% of the world’s carbon emissions. A probe into the GBCSA Green Star accreditation scheme reveals a culture of patriarchy and marginalisation.

According to the GBCSA website, ‘ the organisation was founded in 2007, we are a dedicated team working in collaboration with industry bodies, leaders, government departments and professionals to develop market-based green building solutions for the transformation of the South African property industry. We are a member-based organisation whose core focus is green building certification and training. We advocate for all buildings to be designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable manner’.

As with many NPO’s the GBCSA depends on its donors for its existence. The donor base was formed by its founding members who include large listed property developers like Growthpoint and Aurecon, a global engineering and infrastructure advisory company.

According to Growthpoint, they are a Platinum Founding Member of the Green Building Council South Africa, one of its five members of the Green Building Leadership Network, and one of over 60 documented sponsors and partners of the GBCSA.

Growthpoint has 97 certified Green Star accredited buildings and over 100 green certifications. 16 are by Design and 8 are ‘As-built’. 82 Green Star accreditations are for Existing Building Performance.  That is roughly a third of all GBCSA Green Star accreditations in SA.

According to a statement from Growthpoint, they conduct in-house eligibility tests of their buildings prior to certification submission, in line with their responsible cost-effective operation. They use third-party consultants for all certification submissions which include Aurecon, Aecom, and Royal HaskoningDHV. The problem is that these service providers are also sponsors and/or founding members of GBCSA.

According to an ex-employee of Aurecon who wishes to remain anonymous, “Green Star consultancy work in South Africa is a sham because the work gets circulated among the same foreign-owned companies who are direct sponsors of the GBCSA. There is no real independent assessment”.

We asked Aurecon how many Green Star accreditations they provided consultancy services to.  They were not specific in their response choosing rather to provide a generic response. The impunity at which the patriarchy is carried out is confirmed by a statement on the subject from Charlotte Middleton, ARUP’S Marketing & Communications Leader Southern Africa who simply responded ‘any information you need is in the public domain and freely available’.

A consequence of the patriarchal culture is the marginalisation of local up and coming green building consultants in the country. According to Dora Modise, CEO of the GBCSA, there are over 1000 certified Green Star accredited professional in South Africa. In light of South Africa’s socio-economic challenges and legacy of apartheid, why then has the GBCSA and sponsors like Growthpoint kept the work circulating between a number of foreign-owned international service providers instead of independent, qualified locals?

The patriarchy has also resulted in competitor property developers and service providers simply not to bother with a GBCSA accreditation or choose an alternative like LEED. It is little wonder that the GBCSA is one of the worst performing Green Building Council in the world in relation to years in operation, country population, country size and the number of buildings. The GBCSA has awarded just over 300 Green Star accreditations with over 50 % of them by ‘Design’ in 10 years. Australia for example has over 1600 accreditations.

GBCSA has clearly allowed a culture of patriarchy and marginalisation to exist when awarding Green Star accreditations. This raises serious questions regarding corporate governance issues not only with the GBCSA but also some of their donors. They will no doubt have to look at their own compliance and due diligence when awarding grant funding to the GBCSA.

Mr Manfred Braun, Chief Technical officer of the GBCSA, failed to respond to a request for comments on the issues raised in this article including which third party consultants they use to vet Green Star certification applications on behalf of the GBCSA.

Dora Modise has her work cut out to restore credibility to the GBCSA and their Green Star accreditation system. There are now calls for an independent forensic audit into all Green Star accreditations awarded by the GBCSA. With climate change events unfolding around the country, the situation is urgent. The GBCSA can ill afford to serve selective interests or a global development paradigm. The focus needs to be on the people of South Africa and our environment.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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