South Africa's Eco Pioneers

Companies Embracing Green Innovation

This month at Sustainable, we’re celebrating the people and companies who are making a real contribution to the green sector in South Africa. Reducing consumption of fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy, and decreasing pollution and carbon emissions are of fundamental importance in this country – according to data released by the International Energy Agency, South Africa ranked 12th in the world for carbon emissions in 2009, with an average of 9.5 tonnes per person and an annual total of 465.1 million metric tonnes. In the face of issues such as climate change, those who are implementing measures to reduce their environmental footprint deserve praise, recognition and consumer support. Here’s a selection of just a few companies who are making an effort to become cleaner and greener.

Backsberg Wines

South Africa’s only carbon neutral winemaker (one of only three in the world) is located on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains near Stellenbosch. The wine farm offsets its carbon emissions with a tree-planting programme, and also utilises various methods to reduce the amount of carbon produced during the production process. These methods include the conversion to biofuel, developing methane digester technology, and using lightweight bottles for packaging. Backsberg has also adopted an unusual vineyard design – vines are planted in a ‘V’ pattern, which promotes the growth of more leaves but reduces energy costs as fewer tractors are required. Grapes are handpicked, they make their own compost, and skylights have been installed in the factories and outbuildings to save on electricity. Ten percent of the wine estate has been set aside for the production of renewable energy, and the land is irrigated with waste water from the winery. Other innovative solutions include the use of straw bales to cool the cellars during the day, the development of a special water pumping system which cools the red wine as it ferments without the need for electrical refrigeration, and the conversion of old wine barrels into furniture when they are no longer fit for use. Backsberg certainly endorses the sentiment of their award-winning PET bottled specialty wine, “Tread Lightly”.

Growing Paper

Growing Paper, is, as the name suggests, a small company that produces and sells a range of paper products, such as cards, calendars and gift tags. However, this is a stationery store with a difference. The handmade paper is manufactured from paper waste collected from a nearby school in Malmesbury. The water used during the paper-recycling process is subsequently used for farming activities on the land where Growing Paper is situated. The paper is embedded with either herb or flower seeds – as such, the product can be recycled by simply planting it in the ground. The paper disintegrates, whilst the seeds germinate. You can grow basil, thyme, wild rocket, African daisies, Buck bay vygies, or nemisia. Beautiful products and environmentally friendly methods? This one’s definitely an eco-winner in our eyes.

The Green Cab

The Green Cab is an eco-friendly transportation service that makes use of Biodiesel and Liquefied Petroleum Gas. These two fuels have much lower greenhouse gas emissions than their traditional counterparts. The Green Cab works primarily in the tourist industry, providing airport and conference transfers, as well as peninsula tours. The company has also come up with its own “Green Driving Code”, which provides advice on how to alter your driving so as to conserve fuel – changing gears efficiently and avoiding excess revving are two such tips outlined in the guide.


The South African retail giant also deserves a mention, as they really are pioneers in the field of green innovation, and set a great example for other retailers to follow. They were the first company in the country to start selling free-range eggs, and they also use fibre from recycled plastic bottles to fill their duvets and pillows, preventing around 500 000 discarded bottles from ending up in the dump. None of their beauty products are tested on animals. All Woolworths seafood is caught according to sustainability regulations. Sustainable fibres such as wool, organic cotton and bamboo are used in many of their clothing garments. Many of the smaller stores, particularly those at Engen, come equipped with public recycling facilities. And that’s just the start. (They’re not paying me to say this, I promise.) Automated lighting has been installed in over 300 stores, whilst new stores are designed with solar panels and energy-efficient lighting. Their Farming for the Future programme promotes a more holistic approach to agriculture, reducing the use of chemicals and maintaining soil health. Woolworths works with farmers to ensure that food is grown sustainably, biodiversity is preserved and water quality is maintained. Trial water conservation projects have been initiated in some stores, with the planting of indigenous shrubs and installation of rainwater tanks. The Palmyra Junction store in Claremont, Cape Town, is the company’s flagship green store. This particular branch has skylights to allow in natural light, underfloor heating that recycles the excess heat generated by the fridges, deliveries that arrive in reusable containers, and a truck refrigeration system that makes use of liquid nitrogen. Woolworths has set itself various goals when it comes to energy consumption and sustainable products – we can only expect more eco-innovation as they try to reach their targets.

Hotel Verde

Hotel Verde, whose name literally translates to “Hotel Green”, is set to open at the Cape Town International Airport in July. The 145 room hotel embraces the ideal of sustainability, from the construction process to the building materials and utility consumption. For example, energy is generated through solar panels and vertical wind turbines. There is also a roof garden, and electric shuttles are used to transfer people to the airport and back. Grey water is used to flush the toilets, and rainwater tanks have been installed to collect water for irrigation and cleaning purposes. Double glazed windows provide effective thermal and acoustic insulation, whilst geothermal loops are connected to heat pumps in order to regulate the building’s temperature. The most innovative aspect of this new hotel is the regenerative drive in the lift system. When the lift is travelling in a “light” direction – a full cart going down, or an empty one going up - the motor acts as a generator which produces power. This power is then fed back into the system, allowing around 30% of the input energy to be recaptured.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these 5 green pioneers. Can you think of other South African brands that are making headway with regards to environmental sustainability?