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Is the DEA Head Office as Green as it’s Painted?

It was all about “walking the green talk” in Pretoria yesterday, at the ground-breaking ceremony that marked the start of construction on our country’s first-ever Government-owned sustainable building. The building, situated in Arcadia, will serve as a head office for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and it’s estimated that construction will be completed within the next two years.

The idea of a major sustainable building project, funded by the National Treasury and designed to fit Climate Change Policy specifications, is certainly an uplifting one – but after taking a closer look, one is forced to ask the uncomfortable question: is this R8-billion building really as green as it could be, or should be?

At First Glance

The DEA Headquarters will include training facilities, a conference centre equipped for international events, and catering facilities to provide for this. Here are some of the basic facts and stats on this Government-funded green building:

• The structure will occupy 3.1309 hectares of land and will measure 34 x 143 square metres;
• Eco-friendly construction materials will be used, some of these locally sourced;
• The head office will have capacity for 1305 DEA employees;
• There will be more than 1100 parking bays available;
• 10% of energy consumption in the DEA HQ will be solar powered;
• The building will include features such as internal climate control, compact fluorescent lighting and maximum natural light resources;
• The building’s placement in one of Gauteng’s major cities will make it easy for DEA employees to use eco-friendly methods of travel, such as public transport, car-pooling or even cycling.

A Closer Look

On the surface, it does sound like the project is committed to meeting eco-friendly standards, but think about it a little longer; R8 billion is a massive amount of money to spend on one project, specifically a large and luxurious head office.

Surely a corporation like the Department of Environmental Affairs understands the importance of allocating funds to, well, environmental affairs? The kind of affairs that affect underprivileged South Africans – hundreds of thousands who could easily live in small but secure, fully solar powered homes, instead of informal shelters? Is R8 billion really a justifiable amount to spend on a head office that will use only 10% solar power? And what’s this about internal climate control? Eco-friendly buildings are supposed to rely on proper insulation and ventilation instead of artificial, energy-consuming temperature control.

Furthermore, if the DEA wishes their 1305 employees to use eco-friendly transport, why allocate so much space and cost to the construction of over 1100 parking bays? These numbers hardly sound like they’ll play a role in reducing SA’s daily carbon emissions.

Green Projects, Greenbacks and Government Jets

Make no mistake, we’re not looking to discourage the SA Government in their efforts to support sustainable causes; but it must be obvious to anybody involved in an earth-friendly industry that R8 billion could have been allocated far more fairly and strategically, with widespread environmental benefits. Mere weeks ago there was an outcry about our President’s purchase of a luxurious Boeing 777-200 LR for R2 billion – yet the spending of R8 billion on 5-star HQ for an organisation like the DEA has hardly raised an eyebrow.

Malawian President Joyce Banda, who recently downsized the Malawian Government’s vehicle fleet and sold her Presidential jet, could certainly serve as an inspiration to South African MPs – and it seems like our Environmental leaders are in need of similar inspiration. What are your thoughts on the DEA Head Office project? Is it really as green as it’s painted, or just a waste of greenbacks?

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