Students from the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment have once again proven their mettle, clinching top spots in both the engineering, and property and construction management streams of the prestigious Growthpoint Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) competition.
In an outstanding achievement, the winners of the Greenovate competition, sponsored by Growthpoint Properties and the GBCSA, have showcased their innovative research on sustainability in the South African property market. The competition, which has been running since 2015 in the Property/Construction and Engineering streams, aims to encourage and recognise research projects that promote environmental, economic, and social sustainability. UCT’s Department of Construction Economics and Management has won seven out of nine Greenovate competitions in the Property/Construction stream.
This year’s Greenovate Awards saw a diverse range of participants, with 37 students from seven universities – UCT, the University of the Witwatersrand, North-West University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, Nelson Mandela University and Stellenbosch University – submitting entries in the property and engineering categories.
“GBCSA is proud of our Greenovate partnership with Growthpoint and delighted by the solutions developed by such bright young minds. Knowing that we are supporting the skills and opportunities of future leaders who are going to shape our future and inform South Africa’s sustainability trajectory is a source of hope and inspiration,” said Georgina Smit, GBCSA head of Technical.
Prize money of R37 000 was awarded to the winner in each category, while the runner-up received R18 500 and the third place took home R12 500.
A unique platform
According to Manfred Braune, the director of Environmental Sustainability at UCT, Greenovate provides students with a unique platform to showcase their enthusiasm for sustainable development in the built environment. Not only does it provide them with a platform to exhibit their sustainability-focused research and projects, but it also opens the door for valuable networking opportunities and potential financial rewards.
“Greenovate is an excellent opportunity for the students to demonstrate their interest and passion for sustainability in the built environment.”
“Greenovate is an excellent opportunity for the students to demonstrate their interest and passion for sustainability in the built environment, through their final-year project, and at the same time get an incredible opportunity to network with industry leaders in the space and win great cash prizes,” said Braune.
In the property and construction management stream, Aiden van Wyk and Isobella van der Merwe took home first prize for their research on the real-world savings of EDGE-certified residential estates. Sindisiwe Kalumba and Hannah Volker earned second place for their work on net-zero buildings in the South African commercial property market. In the engineering stream, Julian Banks claimed first prize for her design of an autonomous energy management agent, while Mahima Maharaj was awarded the IFC prize for her research in the same field.
Winners reflect on success
Van Wyk and Van der Merwe, supervised by Dr Saul Nurick, UCT senior lecturer at the Department of Construction Economics and Management, investigated the benefits of EDGE-certified residential estates in terms of real-world savings. Their research not only highlighted positive consumption savings associated with EDGE certification but also explored the concept of generational wealth creation through different investment tools, merging environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
“We wanted to make a difference and be pioneers in the field of sustainability. Our research aimed to find electricity consumption savings attributed to investing in green buildings and discover ways in which real-world generational wealth can be created,” the duo said.
Their research analysed over 8 million data points from a real development case study and proposed a theoretical green balanced fund accessible only to investors in green buildings, which was one of their main innovations.
Kalumba and Volker’s research, supervised by Dr Nurick, focused on the uptake of net-zero buildings in the South African commercial property market. They aimed to identify the drivers and barriers to the implementation of these resource-efficient buildings.
“Our research added to the knowledge base of sustainability and closed the gap between the academic and corporate perceptions of net-zero buildings,” they said. They conducted interviews with decision-makers in commercial property firms to understand the factors encouraging or discouraging the adoption of net-zero buildings.
“Unlike most case studies, we examined the human perceptions on the topic of net-zero buildings. Opinions are incredibly important as they determine whether or not these buildings will be implemented.” Their research utilised a traffic light analogy, categorising the drivers as green, the barriers as red, and the overlap as the amber zone, showcasing the battle between drivers and barriers in implementing net-zero buildings.
Facing challenges and envisioning the future
Both winning teams faced challenges during their research journeys. Kalumba and Volker struggled with a lack of literature on net-zero buildings specific to South Africa, while Van Wyk and Van der Merwe had to process over 8 million data points and encountered technical difficulties along the way.
The achievements of these research projects hold great significance in an era of growing attention to sustainability. Kalumba and Volker hope that their research would increase awareness and conversation surrounding sustainability, potentially sparking new interest in the subject. Van Wyk emphasised their desire to be at the forefront of change in South Africa and the world.
“We intend to publish our research in various sustainability journals in 2024. Like every research paper, it adds to the body of knowledge.”
Looking towards the future, both teams envision their research making a positive impact. Kalumba and Volker plan to publish their findings in sustainability journals, contributing to the body of knowledge and increasing awareness of net-zero buildings in South Africa.
“We intend to publish our research in various sustainability journals in 2024. Like every research paper, it adds to the body of knowledge. A brick wall is made up of many bricks. Similarly, we are happy that our paper is a contributing factor to sustainability in the built environment and specifically net-zero buildings, which is a relatively new concept to South Africa.”
Van Wyk and Van de Merve hope that property companies and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) will adopt their green balanced fund product, promoting investment in green buildings and driving positive change in the industry.
Banks was supervised by Associate Professor Sunetra Chowdhury from the Department of Electrical Engineering while Maharaj's supervisor was Associate Professor Dyllon Randall from the Department of Civil Engineering.
(Banks and Maharaj were not available for an interview.)
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