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V&A Waterfront marks World Environment Day at its first totally recycled commercial building.

Picture this: More than 460 homes running on clean energy year-round. Buildings saving enough energy to power 2,500 homes. A community saving 200,000 litres of water a day, enough to meet the needs of 1,300 people. A place where residents’ reduced CO₂ emissions are equivalent to taking 6,600 cars off the road.

In a world which seems to be losing the battle against climate change, it’s hard to imagine such a neighbourhood. But you don’t have to, because it already exists. It is the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and it has achieved all this in just 16 years.

Since starting its sustainability journey in 2008, the Waterfront has blazed a trail of sustainable development initiatives to increase energy efficiency, conserve water, and promote waste recycling across its precinct. 

Key milestones include:

  • Energy Efficiency: With its investment in energy efficiency, the V&A has reduced its energy use by 40%. Its 2 MW photovoltaic solar panels generate 1,640,000 kWh of clean energy annually.
  • Waste Management: The V&A diverts 62% of its waste from landfills. This includes more than 2,300 tons of organic waste and 2,100 tons of recycling every year.
  • Green Buildings: The V&A is home to 22 buildings that have been Green Star rated by the Green Building Council of South Africa, making it one of the greenest neighbourhoods on the continent.
  • Water Conservation: A blackwater treatment plant that can process 200,000 litres a day produces treated effluent that is used to flush toilets.
  • Carbon Emissions: The V&A has achieved a 47% reduction in carbon emissions, demonstrating its commitment to a sustainable future.

In another recent development, a café was built using only waste materials harvested throughout the Waterfront precinct. The construction industry is responsible for about 19% of global carbon emissions and the Portswood Café was designed to show what can be achieved with an innovative approach.

“This is a low-tech, low energy building and certainly the first of its kind in the Waterfront. We believe that this demonstration can highlight the role of alternative building methodologies for broader applications and sector development, demonstrating circular economy thinking in practice” says Donald Kau, Head of Communications.

With a vision to enhance its environmental credentials, the V&A Waterfront has committed itself to:

  • Reducing its carbon footprint through circular design and sustainable practices.
  • Eliminating single-use plastics by 2025.
  • Ensuring new buildings achieve a minimum net-zero green rating.
  • Establishing a waste-to-energy pyrolysis plant to divert waste from landfills and produce synthetic gas for electricity, complementing solar power.
  • Implementing a desalination plant to provide fresh water to the neighbourhood, thereby reducing the strain on the city’s fresh water supply.

To share the word to a wider audience on what is possible, the V&A will soon launch a public programme dedicated to showcasing its commitment to sustainability, inclusivity, and community development. The initiative encourages everyone to awaken their better nature, recognising the goodness within and inspiring actions that benefit both people and the planet.

Commenting on Our Better Nature platform, which will run from end of June to September, Kau says: “We will be inviting everyone to engage with Our Better Nature and join us in our journey towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future. By acting from our better nature, we can create a better world for ourselves and future generations”.

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