The 6th Sin of Greenwashing in the SA Building Industry

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  • We have added a sixth green sin in South Africa’s green building industry.
  • Toxic chemicals found in building materials go largely unchecked by green building consultants, government regulators and green leadership organisations that carry out green building accreditations.
  • These chemicals bio-accumulate up the food chain; pollute our air and waterways plus cause illness and even death to human, plant and animal life.

Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company or industry appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is. We have added toxic chemicals used in the building industry to the list of greenwashing sins prevalent in the South African green building industry:

The sin of using toxic chemicals in building materials and features:  The use of toxic chemicals in the manufacture of building materials plus the installation of building features is widespread in South Africa. These chemicals, which are listed as hazardous, pollute the environment. Some chemicals bio-accumulates up the food chain and end up being consumed by birds, fish, animals and humans.  All are a health hazard to construction and factory workers (often causing long-term illness and even death. Green Building Africa is in the process of compiling a building materials watch list identifying such chemicals and the materials they are found in.

The other sins are:

The sin of pretension: Green buildings are glamorised and advertised in glossy magazines. Green features are rattled off with little evidence of functionality and practicality. The underlying pillars of sustainability and realities of climate change are lost in trendy canapés and free champagne.

The sin of no evidence: Green buildings typically carry an accreditation that is not backed up by evidence or independent third party verification. Not one so-called ‘green accredited building’ in South Africa makes performance reporting available for public or government scrutiny.

The sin of false branding: Becoming a member of a green building organisation does not make your company or product green. The association misleads consumers into thinking that a product or service has been through a legitimate green certification process. Most green building organisations do not vet their members nor their members’ products or services. Effectively anyone can be a member as long as they pay their subscription.

The sin of fronting: Fronting commonly involves reliance on data or claims of compliance based on misrepresentations of facts, whether made by the organisation claiming compliance or by any other person. Fronting also involves companies or individuals who have not disclosed their qualification, representation or interests fully.

The sin of marginalisation: The green building industry stakeholders are seen as self-serving which is underpinned by large corporate sponsorships. The work tends to circulate between sponsor organisations while the government and the general public are seen as peripheral. The barriers to entry are significant while access to verify product, service or building performance is restricted.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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Green Building Africa promotes the need for net carbon zero buildings and cities in Africa. We are fiercely independent and encourage outlying thinkers to contribute to the #netcarbonzero movement. Climate change is upon us and now is the time to react in a more diverse and broader approach to sustainability in the built environment. We challenge architects, property developers, urban planners, renewable energy professionals and green building specialists. We also challenge the funding houses and regulators and the role they play in facilitating investment into green projects. Lastly, we explore and investigate new technology and real-time data to speed up the journey in realising a net carbon zero environment for our children.

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