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Advancing Sustainability: South African Property Sector Marks Net Zero Carbon Milestone

Redefine Properties has successfully achieved a Net Zero Carbon Level 2 Measured certification by the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) for three of their existing properties in Gauteng: 90 Rivonia, 2 Pybus, and Rosebank Link. This milestone marks the first time that commercial buildings at scale in South Africa have attained a ‘measured’ rating, based on actual performance data, including tenant consumption.

Understanding Net Zero Carbon

A ‘net zero carbon’ building is one that operates with zero net carbon emissions over the span of a year. Such a building is highly energy-efficient and uses renewable energy (preferably on site but also off site) for its remaining energy requirements, where feasible. It only relies on carbon offsets to balance its energy use as a last resort.

Redefine has achieved its Net Zero Level 2 Measured ratings through a combination of energy efficiency-enhancing projects, on-site renewable energy installations (where possible), and carbon offsets traded through a well-established voluntary carbon offsetting programme. It’s a significant achievement that signals Redefine’s commitment to performance-based sustainability and underscores the company’s leadership in the journey towards net zero carbon.

The Journey to Net Zero Carbon

The GBCSA Net Zero and Net Positive Certifications recognise projects that have taken the initiative to completely neutralise or positively redress their environmental impacts, going beyond the partial reductions recognised in the current GBCSA suite of tools.

The certification scheme aligns with international best practices and offers a clear pathway for projects to follow:

  1. Prioritise energy efficiency
  2. Use on-site renewable energy production
  3. Use off-site renewable energy production
  4. Employ carbon offsets only as a last resort

Achieving net zero carbon is a process that requires the regular assessment of measured carbon emissions ratings every year, with the certification itself renewed every three years. In South Africa, most organisations across all sectors are only beginning their net zero carbon journeys.

“Green building practices are a key milestone in the journey to net zero,” says Anelisa Keke, chief sustainability officer at Redefine. “A sound climate change resilience strategy ensures that our capital investments are safeguarded against manageable climate risk exposure and creates long-term value for our key stakeholders.”

Measured vs Modelled Net Zero Ratings

GBCSA offers two different Net Zero Carbon ratings: modelled and measured. ‘Modelled’ ratings refer to predicted energy consumption over a 12-month period for buildings as per their design. On the other hand, ‘measured’ ratings are operational ratings for existing buildings based on actual performance data over the same period.

“Most of the Net Zero Carbon ratings we are seeing in our market are based on modelled estimates of performance. Actual measured outputs can be quite different,” says GBCSA Head of Technical, Georgina Smit.

All measured Net Zero schemes must be renewed every 3 years, hence the REITs who are bold enough to commit to this methodology and be externally verified should be highly commended, as they have now started a journey that requires them to demonstrate continuous performance.

Understanding Level 2 Rating

The Net Zero Carbon certification differentiates where the boundary is drawn for measuring carbon. Level 2 goes a step beyond Level 1 by including not only base building emissions but also the operational energy use by occupants.

These are the first Level 2 Net Zero Carbon Measured ratings at scale so far in South Africa, so it’s a real milestone,” Smit says. “The move for a landlord from focusing on base build energy, which is within their control, to including tenant behaviour, is also a major consideration within the Level 2 rating that has been achieved.”

Responsible Carbon Offsets

“As REITs grapple with the environmental impacts of their property portfolios, and take positive steps towards pursuing net zero, it’s important to understand the role of responsible offsetting within decarbonisation trajectories,” says Smit. Even with great design and management, and utilising all our best available technology, many buildings will still incur a significant carbon impact that can only be addressed through offsetting. Yet, carbon offsets must only be used as the last resort, once all other aggressive emissions reduction strategies and effective, high performance building design initiatives have been implemented. Practically, it’s also critical to understand that improving efficiency and exhausting on-site renewable supply has a return on investment, while offsets have costs associated with them. 

However, we need to be realistic about the options for existing buildings to achieve net zero at this point in time in South Africa, explains Smit. “Until wheeling and procurement of renewable energy becomes easily accessible at a building-level scale, our market will require carbon offsets. The key is to understand the transitionary role of this within the greater net zero journey of a building and its lifecycle. Given the cost of offsets, building owners are inherently incentivised to move away from this option as quickly as possible.”

Redefine’s Achievement and Future Plans

“Being certified as Net Zero provides an objective confirmation to Redefine’s key stakeholders that our certified buildings have been benchmarked against global best practice efficiency standards,” adds Keke. “We will take the successes achieved from these three buildings to enhance energy efficiencies broadly across our portfolio, which benefit Redefine and its tenants, in line with our purpose to create and manage spaces in a way that changes lives.”  With this ground-breaking achievement and commitment to continuously pursue and maintain their Net Zero Carbon status, Redefine is setting a clear example for the rest of the property sector to follow.