The Green Scene

The green movement has been long in the making, although it has only recently been adopted as a way of life and indeed, the ‘it’ thing. From your living room, to the South African economy, sustainability is creeping into the very way we live our lives and interact with our surroundings.

These days, an object in a store or online is a part of a long value chain that touches our lives in many more ways than we realise. Where the materials were sourced, how the product was manufactured, packaged and transported all form a part of its story, a story that will come to shape the future of our planet. It is the need for sustainability that has driven many conceptual designers and innovative entrepreneurs to present solutions to some of the most pressing challenges we currently face. As consumers and a country we have many needs, this presents itself as a double-edged sword: how do we meet our needs, but do so in a sustainable and energy-efficient way?

As a developing country, we have a long way to go as far as infrastructure is concerned. The State has already made a lot of funds available for this purpose to address shortfalls in housing, education and healthcare, among others. It is our responsibility however to ensure that we push for these projects to be conducted in such a way as to put minimal strain on the already fragile environment.

Many individuals and organisations have stepped up this challenge, setting an example of how we can be greener. Similarly, innovative designers, who take sustainability very seriously, have blessed the world of interior, industrial and fashion design. Stunning fabrics made from sustainable sources demonstrate that we don’t necessarily have to compromise on aesthetics or convenience.

Making the green choice is by no means easy. It takes time and energy to find solutions and to challenge the status quo. In our fast-paced world, dominated by insatiable consumption needs, manufacturers and suppliers are producing faster than ever, delivering cheap products whenever and wherever we want them. But it might be time to consider that a little extra time and money right now, could be an enormous investment in our future.

The world of interior, industrial and fashion design has recently been blessed by some of the most gorgeous and innovative products for your home, wardrobe and office. Being green has never been so sexy and so smart!

Many sectors are also benefiting from green innovation that is reshaping the way we think of construction and infrastructure.

Hemp has been used as far back as the Stone Age, from textiles to paper. Recently it has gained a lot of popularity and is slowly finding its way into the daily lives of countless people. Hemp products ranging from moisturisers to clothes are now available in many stores and online. What is particularly interesting though, is that hemp has proven itself to be a heavy weight in the construction and industrial space.

It may come as a surprise that this sometimes misunderstood and controversial species of plant can be used as an effective and eco-friendly component in building and construction. Hemp can be used to create building materials that are non-toxic, extremely resilient and puts very little strain on the environment.

The fibres of the plant, when mixed correctly and under the right temperature and pressure, can be turned into a heat- and fire- resistant building material that can be used for flooring, ceilings, walls and insulation. The benefits of using something like hemp in building materials could have a very big impact in our country. It could create a completely new, unexplored industry, bolster agricultural activity and create many jobs and businesses.

It has been estimated that the concrete industry is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions worldwide. High corporate taxes on carbon emissions are gaining ground overseas, and many experts agree that pressure on these companies will only increase as society starts backing the green movement. This is exactly what is exciting about going green – we have challenges, but there are many, many solutions.

Some industrial designers have even used hemp pulp to build some seriously stunning furniture. The designs are often sleek, stylish but warm with earthy tones. This shows that going green doesn’t mean you’re compromising on luxury and style. You can fill your home and office in a way that complements the environment and your own personal taste in aesthetics.

Only using eco-friendly materials won’t alleviate the impact of construction on our environment. The methods and techniques of construction should also reflect the materials used to ensure that every step along the way is eco-friendly. Often it is the water used, or energy consumed that makes building and construction projects harmful to the environment.

Eco-friendly construction techniques include salvaging old materials that what would otherwise be considered waste or using clever masonry techniques in which to optimise strength and durability but reduce the amount of actual materials that is used. Good examples of this include salvaging plumbing parts that are usually discarded; or even crushing old brick, concrete or stone to use as a supplement for sand usage. Being clever with what you have, can go a long way in saving you money and time.

There are many materials and techniques that have been identified as being eco-friendly. Arguably one of the most interesting materials is bagasse. Bagasse boards are made from leftovers in the production process of sugar or sorghum. After the plants have been crushed to extract all their juices, there remains a fibrous waste – that would otherwise be discarded. It is then used to make boards and panels for building purposes. The best part, bagasse can also be burned for heat and fuel with a clear conscience, as the burning process emits less carbon dioxide than the plants absorbed while growing.

Necessity is the mother of invention, it’s been said. This has never been truer than it is today. It has been estimated by Greenpeace that fast fashion is doing a lot of damage to our environment. The organisation reports that a single pair of jeans takes around 7 000 litres of water to produce. Considering that around 2 billion pairs of jeans are manufactured every year, it’s not hard to see the damage that we are doing. The example of the jeans is only the very tip of the iceberg; and soon we will have no other choice but to seek out alternatives in the textiles that we use.

You can indulge in those leather jackets and shoes with not a trace of guilt. Not to be confused with the polyvinyl chloride varieties (PVC), real vegan leather is often produced using kelp or cork – it’s almost impossible to imagine that! Cork especially, produces a stunning leather alternative, which can be used for anything from a handbag to a belt; some designers have even created beautiful office stationary using this gorgeous material.

It makes sense to seek out alternatives for materials such as leather. The tanning process involved with the production of leather from animal hide has a devastating effect on the
environment, something that very seldom reaches mainstream media. The number of animals that are slaughtered, the water that is wasted, the toxic chemicals that are used in tanning all make for a convincing case to try an alternative.

Choosing eco-friendly materials has a bigger impact than you may initially realise. The True
Cost initiative has reported that more than 90% of cotton used in textile manufacturing is genetically modified; and cotton farming is now responsible for 18% of the world’s pesticide use. Not to mention that the amount of chemicals used to bleach or dye genetically modified cotton is still relatively high, which is scary considering that your skin is the largest organ in your body.

When choosing your eco-friendly material remember that even textiles made from bamboo, hemp or organic cotton, may still be bleached with heavy chemicals or sourced from unsustainable land; so always research the product thoroughly; and ask all the right questions. Choosing products that have met strict criteria also encourages a market that remains transparent, ethical and sustainable.

Alternatives for certain materials will have to be adopted to ensure sustainability for consumers going forward. PVC for instance, is made up of highly toxic ingredients, which during production emit equal amounts of toxic waste into the air, such as dioxins and mercury. In order to make PVC usable and stable, lead and other toxic ingredients have to be added to the already 75% chlorine content. The problem is that no matter where PVC is in its life cycle, its very, very bad news: dangerous to burn, dangerous to put in a landfill, extremely difficult to recycle, the list goes on and on.

Moody’s Investors Service recently announced their confidence in the renewable energy sector in South Africa. According to the agency, South Africa had the highest year-on-year growth in the renewable energy sector in the world. What is particularly positive to take note of is the fact that this sector attracted a significant amount of foreign direct investment into the country,
demonstrating the confidence investors overseas have in the viability of non-traditional sources of energy.

According to a recent study by Friends of the Earth International, 82% of Africa’s energy is supplied by the use of fossil fuels. However, this number could be very different if we were to exploit the non-exhaustible resources that we have on the continent, such as sun, wind and water. In fact, it has been estimated that through solar power alone, Africa could meet around 70% of its energy needs; an additional 18% could be met if we exploited the power of the wind.

South Africa could, by the year 2050, meet an impressive 60% of its energy needs through solar energy; and according to a recent study by researchers from Stanford University, the job opportunities that would be coupled to this is significant, currently estimated at around 600 000.

The study also found that, with a combination of traditional rooftop solar panels, solar plants and CSP plants, the country could meet 100% of its energy needs by 2050.

Noupoort Wind Farm has started operations this year, with an output of 80 MW over an area of 7 500 hectares, which will meet the needs of 70 000 households. The wind farm is situated in Northern Cape and cost around R1.9–billion to build and it is an exciting look at what the future may hold. What makes this project particularly impressive is that operations not only started on the scheduled date, but it was also built completely within budget.

Projects like Noupoort Wind Farm come from the government’s initiative in which it has identified the high level of renewable energy potential in the country. The government has introduced several programmes in the hope of reducing the consumption of traditional energy. The Clean Energy Programme, for instance, will spend around R1.2-billion on 131 146 solar powered
heating units; and over R600-million to subsidise the installation of power-saving lighting in public spaces. South Africa is making wonderful progress on these kinds of projects, and currently it is estimated that we have already achieved 29% of our target for renewable energy sources for the year 2020.