Economic and regulatory approaches to improve the environmental performance of buildings in South Africa

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 11
  • Abstract:

    resisted by industry, government and the public. As such, they were used only in exceptional circumstances. More recently, there has been a realisation that economic instruments can be a powerful complement to direct regulations. Consequently, economic instruments1 are playing an increasingly important role in the environmental management of buildings. The activities of the con struction industry are driven by economic forces, so using market mechanisms is a logical strategy to pursue the objectives of sustainable construction.2 Perhaps the question is not whether economic mechanisms should be employed to improve environmental building performance, but rather how this should be achieved. This paper suggests that it can be achieved by using the economic instrument of ecolabelling to create market competition for improved building perform ance. Ecolabelling has traditionally been associated with household products, but has more recently been applied to a wider range of products, including buildings and building materials. The basis for building ecolabels is provided by the results of building environmental assessments, which evaluate building per formance. In developed countries, these assessments have stimulated market demand for ‘green’ building developments. Building environmental assessment methods have used the concept of ecolabelling to provide consumers with an additional benchmark in renting or purchasing buildings. Yet, it is unknown whether the South African building market will be similarly responsive to ‘green’ market incentives. In South Africa, where the majority of the population are struggling to satisfy their basic needs, and lack proper education, the environmental ‘ethos’ of the general public has not developed to an extent where environmental issues are seen as a serious priority. Building environmental assessment methods in South Africa are evolving from ‘green’ evaluations that were pragmatically developed to respond to imme diate needs, to the measurement of ‘sustainability’. Ecolabels can now reflect the performance of building development in terms of all aspects of sustain ability, including socio economic, technical and environmental dimensions of sustainable construction. This has been made possible by the development of a unique South African building environmental assessment method that measures sustainability, namely the “Sustainable Buildings Assessment Technique.” Although much has been written about economic mechanisms, practical guidance on how to implement these mechanisms in building developments is scarce. This paper outlines some of the opportunities and constraints associ ated with market driven and environmental performance in buildings. The limitations of economic approaches in South Africa include a lack of environ mental awareness, misconceptions of ‘green’ buildings, building industry constraints and the market dependence of voluntary assessment protocols. Regulatory approaches are not without their own limitations, the most significant of which is the acute shortage of resources in South African environmental authorities, a factor that is likely to restrict the effectiveness of regulatory approaches. The paper goes on to examine the particular problems associated with de veloping world markets (such as South Africa’s). Furthermore, the relationship between regulatory, ‘command and control’ approaches and economic, market driven approaches is discussed. It is concluded that the ideals of sustain able construction can best be achieved by using regulatory approaches in conjunction with economic instruments.