Green living is no longer associated with privileged First World-problem snobbery, as it was a decade ago in South Africa. With the country’s water, electricity and food restrictions, more and more of us are becoming aware of our impact on the environment and are seriously practising sustainable, energy-efficient living. Being environmentally friendly – [LT2] or “going green” – simply means that you live with an awareness of the environment and its well-being.
Although you’ll still catch the odd South African throwing litter out of a moving car, there is a definite uptake when it comes to recycling. PlasticSA reported that in 2011, an estimated 230 111 tonnes of plastic in total was recycled – a number that increased to 292 197 tonnes in 2015. T[PM3] hat’s 20.8% of all plastic redirected from landfills over the period.
There are varying degrees of a green lifestyle, of course. Based on living standards in the country, there are those who have arguably been living green as a result of restrictions to access of certain products and services, and have had to make do with what they have – such as waste material to build shelters. Then, there are those who make up the middle class of the population and who are either on or off the green boat, depending on their preferences. And then there’s the selected few who have the privilege of choosing to add some luxury to their green lifestyles – such as purchasing products like BMW’s i range of all-electric vehicles for R597 800 for a standard model[LT4] , or even solar-powered geysers, which range from R10 000 to as much as R35 000 for South African homeowners.
Depending on where one fits in, it’s either relatively easy or quite difficult to adjust to a green lifestyle. More often than not, it requires people to step out of their comfort zone (literally) and do things differently. But going green is increasingly becoming the way to live.
Green living extends to home, work and play, and although there isn’t one standard measure for it, the hypothesis that if we continue living the way we do, by 2030 we’ll need two planets to sustain us, is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies. One of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), encourages every citizen of the world to consider changing their habits by simply understanding the following: (1) water and electricity are precious, so treat them as if they cost much more; (2) find out more about the products you buy, to make better green choices; (3) shop less and buy only what you mean to keep, pass on or recycle; (4) buy local, seasonal and only what you can eat before the sell-by date; and (5) donate to green organisations to help the sustainability of their efforts.
WWF has made it even easier for the regular Joe Soap by creating an eco-friendly guide with some pretty nifty tips[LT5] , such as cleaning the coils on your fridge (those things at the back of the fridge), which can actually improve your fridge’s efficiently by 30%. When the coils are dirty, it hinders the amount of heat dispersed by insulating the coils and, as a result, the fridge needs to use even more energy to keep cold. The WWF’s comprehensive list can be found at www.wwf.org.za/act_now/green_living, and if you want to take it a step further, scroll down on the website and calculate your carbon footprint and get tips on how to reduce it[LT6] .
The Green Building Council of South Africa[LT7] (GBCSA) is an independent, non-profit company that was formed in 2007 with the purpose of greening South Africa’s commercial property sector and to promote green building practices across the country. Its green building measures include:
- careful building design to reduce heat loads, maximise natural light and promote the circulation of fresh air
- energy-efficient air conditioning and lighting
- using environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials
- reducing waste and using recycled materials
- water-efficient plumbing fittings and water harvesting
- using renewable energy sources
- sensitivity to the impact of the development on the environment.
Although the GBCSA focuses on commercial buildings, its measures are quite easily applicable to the creation of your very own green home, like eco-conscious Ghanaian-born architect, Joe Osae-Addo. The principal of architecture practice Constructs LLC, with offices in Accra and Tamale, Ghana, and in Washington DC and Los Angeles in the USA, Osae-Addo coined the phrase “inno-native” [LT8] for his approach to contextual modern architecture – a philosophy based on reintroducing traditional organic materials and methods in modern urban planning. He is popularising this concept in his hometown Accra, Ghana, through his firm, [LT9] and it is also something he practised himself when he built his own humble, yet beautiful, abode in 2004.
“It is not about edifice but rather harnessing the elements – trees, wind, sun and water – to create harmony, not the perfection that modernism craves so much,” he said in an interview[LT10] . His home in Accra, which he shares with his wife and young son, stands out among Ghana’s typical concrete architectural style, [LT11] [PM12] which stems from colonial times where houses were built with imported English Portland cement. Instead, to build his house he created his own formula – an adobe mud block, different to the traditional way in which building blocks are made using compression machinery at high pressures to form blocks. Osae-Addo took advantage of a more natural approach, which involves forming dirt-like blocks usually found underground and crafted near water, and [LT13] which don’t require compression. Instead, they solidify through chemical changes that take place as they air-dry. He also used locally sourced dahoma wood to create a hardwood, slatted deck – that allows water to seep into a concrete pan which then empties into the main drainage system – for his two square metre shower that’s ingeniously caged using bamboo poles.
Accra’s average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius, making air conditioning a necessity. However, so as not to compromise on his vision but still keep cool without impacting on the environment, Osae-Addo simply raised the structure of the house almost a metre off the ground on a wooden deck, to take advantage of cooling under-floor breezes that help to ventilate the entire open-plan house.
Going green also has significant health benefits. Many consumers are unaware of some of the allergens, irritants, solvents and chemicals that exist in household products like detergent and dyes, that can damage skin and even affect the central nervous system.
A local supplier tackles this issue head-on by providing environmentally healthy, effective and affordable alternatives for household cleaning, living and personal care. Sustainable.co.za’s vast product range is biodegradable, gentle on skin and contains simple ingredients, such as natural enzymes and plant extracts. You can buy anything from hemp socks and compostable flower pots to Eskom-approved solar water-heating technologies.
If you’re an aspiring eco-conscious citizen, there are plenty of initiatives that you can get involved with in South Africa. They include:
Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI)
South Africans can support retailers, restaurants and suppliers that are engaged in WWF‑SASSI’s Retailer/Supplier Participation Scheme, which aims to meet targets set for sustainable seafood sourcing. It addresses all aspects of the seafood supply chain – from the fisherman’s hook, to the seafood vendor, to your fork.
If you shop at Zando, South Africa’s largest online mall, you help the WWF shop benefit from all marketing and communications with Zando’s customer database of more than two million registered active users.
- The Giant Flag
This project is building a giant South African flag, made up of millions of coloured desert cacti and succulents, and a 4-megawatt solar field, on previously barren land in the Camdeboo Karoo region of South Africa. The construction and maintenance of the Giant Flag will create hundreds of green-collar jobs, with women constituting the majority of the labour force. All you have to do to contribute is adopt a plant, and you’ll receive a certificate with your name and the GPS coordinates of your plant – how cool!
- Earth Hour™
This annual global event, usually held at the end of March, aims to engage businesses, governments, communities and individuals to combat climate change by harnessing the power of the crowd to switch off their lights for one hour. Best part? You can participate from anywhere in the world.
If you’re wondering how cities on the African continent fare in terms of greenness, you’ll be sad to discover that no African cities made the cut in the Global Vision International (GVI) Top 5 Green [Cities in the World in 2016. According to the GVI: “Green cities are the ones who encourage and live the most sustainable lives. These cities implement things such as recycling programmes, bike lanes, community parks, and high water quality standards. Despite the traffic, masses of people and air pollution associated with cities, green cities have an active approach towards fighting climate change and being environmentally friendly.”
The Top 5 Green Cities in the World (in order) are:
- Amsterdam – Possibly the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. In fact, Amsterdam has more bicycles than people.
- Copenhagen – The capital city of Denmark has clean waterways and won the European Environmental Award in 2006. The city has more than 5 600 windmills that supply over 10% of the country’s electricity.
- San Francisco – Known as the first US city to ban plastic grocery bags, it is also known as America’s leader in solar energy use. Local artists also do their bit by incorporating recycling into their art to inspire others to do the same.
- Bristol – Located in the south-west of England, this city has doubled its number of cyclists over the past few years and was announced Europe’s greenest city in 2015.
- Stockholm – Sweden’s capital city encourages people to cycle, and has proper recycling practices that are high on their list of green priorities.
So, instead of packing your bags[LT18] , organising a visa and uprooting your life for a greener one, it would be worthwhile, perhaps, to think about how you can be more eco-conscious through your own actions – or, like architect Osae-Addo, even turn your business green. For useful tips on how to put your city on the green map, visit the GVI’s local website (www.gviafrica.co.za).
Go green today:
- Use natural household cleaners www.sustainable.co.za is an excellent resource).
- Grow your own produce (it’s cheaper than buying organic products).
- Don’t waste food when eating out (let your waiter know if you won’t be eating the chips that come with your meal, and don’t ask for tap water unless you’re planning on actually drinking it).
- Arrange your errands in one location, so you can park your car and walk more instead of driving (the exercise is a plus).
- Unplug devices in your home that aren’t in use (even though they’re switched off, they still consume energy).