Build using natural materials

The process of making cement is not gentle on the Earth. In addition to the mining process required to obtain the raw materials, there is also a major industrial manufacturing process involved in making cement – then the transport of the completed product to depots, before moving on again to the building sites. This alone is good reason to look at using locally sourced, natural materials that do not involve industrial processes and major scale transport impacts.

You can build beautiful, cost effective and structurally sound homes and commercial buildings using a wide variety of natural materials such as straw bales; cob; rammed earth; sandbags or adobe.

See Topic Green Buildings – using Natural Materials for further information – in the Enviropaedia.

Build using alien woods

When using wood in your building (for flooring, lintels, banisters, panelling and window or door frames) look into the possibilities of using alien vegetation that local municipalities have been trying to clear out of your area.

Keep an eye out for hemp

Hemp, although not yet commercially grown in South Africa, is a fast-growing and versatile building material. Hemp can be mixed with lime to form light and durable cement, and can also be used as environmentally friendly and pest resistant insulation, or as an input for fibreboard. Contact Hemporium (listed in the Directory) for more information or to source Hemp building materials.

Install bamboo flooring

Bamboo can provide a beautiful and eco-logical alternative to wood flooring. Bamboo is technically a grass, as it grows from a rhizome root system and it is a fast growing, hardy material. When the plant is harvested, it re-shoots without needing to be replanted. Mao bamboo, the species used for bamboo flooring & boards, is not eaten by Pandas or similar endangered creatures, so no animals are endangered when the bamboo trees are harvested. Mao bamboo is not grown locally, however, and needs to be imported from Asia. Take this into consideration when comparing the eco- benefits of bamboo to other green flooring options that meet your needs.

Use FSC certifed, sustainable timber

To avoid using timber that has been unsustainably or illegally harvested, look for the FSC stamp of approval. Sustainable timber comes from certifed, sustainably managed forests and the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is one of the global organizations who are involved in the certification system. They are a non-profit association and have accredited certifiers throughout the world to certify the forests and timber plantations in that region. The FSC label provides a credible link between responsible production and consumption of forest products, enabling consumers and businesses to make purchasing decisions that beneft people and the environment as well as providing ongoing business value.

Install a cork floor

The bark of cork trees can be harvested once every 7 to 10 years without harming the tree or its habitat, making it    a highly renewable product. Cork makes a durable wood flooring that is naturally mold-, moisture- and rot resistant. Cork flooring is also biodegradable and non-toxic. The main downside of this type of flooring is that it needs to be imported into South Africa from the Mediterranean, and emissions are generated during the transportation process. Take this into consideration when comparing the eco-benefits of cork to other green flooring options that meet your particular needs

Hire a green architect

When designing a new building, employ an architect that is committed to and experienced in designing and using sustainable building methods and materials. Work with them to create a beautiful, functional and environmentally friendly space. For a list of suitable architects, look at the associated organisations under the Topic Green Architecture in the Enviropaedia.

Use recycled building materials

When building a new structure, incorporate recycled or second hand materials to reduce the energy used in the production of materials for the new structure. When older buildings are demolished, materials such as stone and wood can be reused, as well as useful parts such as doors, windows, mantels, and hardware.

Source local building materials

To cut down on transportation costs and emissions, use locally available building materials wherever possible. Building materials may even be gleaned from the site itself. For example, if your structure is being erected in a naturally rocky area, find ways to sensitively incorporate local rock into your building.

Retrofit existing structures

Before demolishing an old building, consider whether it can be retro-fitted to fill your new needs. By using an existing structure as a base, you will reduce building costs, and reduce the environmental impact of your project.