Construction giant Basil Read’s developments division is moving ahead with a series of initiatives that are aimed at reducing its carbon footprint, a vision which has come to life at the division’s site office in Cosmo City, in the north-west of Johannesburg, where a 1 105-ha mixed-use, integrated housing development is advancing.
The initiatives that were introduced by the company’s developments division ensure that not only is the impact of the construction company’s footprint on the environment reduced but also that people’s lives in the communities where the company is developing new towns are also improved, says Basil Read developments project manager Robin Siebert.
The Pilot Nursery
He explains that staff was given training for a pilot nursery at Cosmo City, equipping them with the skills needed to grow trees, shrubs and vegetables. The nursery was a result of the division wanting to grow its own indigenous trees and shrubs for use at developments such as Cosmo City and Savanna City, in the Midvaal municipality, where a 1 454-ha site is being developed into a mixed-use, integrated housing development.
This initiative started after the development of Cosmo City, when trees were bought to green the initial phases of the development. However, Basil Read’s nursery is expected to produce about 70 000 trees by the end of 2010.
“In many cases, the seeds for these trees have been obtained from the trees at golf courses and then germinated. The company continues harvesting seeds to ensure a sustainable supply,” says Siebert.
An estimated 13 000 trees have been sent to the Savanna City project, where a total of 500 000 will be required. The plan is to establish an even bigger nursery at this development and eventually turn it over to the community to sustain, he says.
At a later stage, a medicinal plant park will be created, which will be open to the community to collect plants for their healing properties.
The nursery is also used as a platform to provide Cosmo City’s residents with free training on how to create and maintain their own organic vegetable gardens using cost-effective and water-wise methods, some of which are based on the permaculture EcoCircle approach.
“Each month, a small group of residents is invited to visit the nursery to see what can be grown with relatively little effort and cash outlay. Once people see how simple it is to grow their own produce, word of mouth will gradually ensure that the message spreads throughout the community. We also encourage residents to grow different types of vegetables so that they can exchange items with neighbours,” says Siebert.
A garden competition is run each year to inspire and motivate residents to continue maintaining their gardens. Food for Thought
The site nursery also provided a soup garden, which was developed by a young entrepreneur, Claire Reid.
The concept incorporates Reid’s reel garden- ing product, which consists of a strip of biodegradable paper containing prefertilised seeds encased at the correct depth and distance apart for optimum growth.
Once the paper strip is planted at the indicated depth, all that needs to be added is water. The position of the seed is shown on the strip, which means that water can be placed directly on the seed, reducing water consumption.
Siebert explains that the soup garden, measur- ing 1 m × 2 m, contains seed strips of a range of vegetables that would provide a family with sufficient soup ingredients for a month.
“The strips for a complete soup garden would cost between R15 and R30, making it cost effec- tive for the local community. We intend to encourage our various contractors and suppliers to become involved in sponsoring the cost of the soup garden seed strips, which will be handed out to community members,” says Siebert.
Vegetable gardens have also been introduced at the schools for the children.
The developments division has started an earthworm farm to assist in waste management and organic gardening by creating vermicompost, nutrient-rich, organic fertiliser for the trees, shrubs and vegetables.
The earthworm farm, starting with 5 000 worms, was set up on site to assist in waste management and for the production of the vermicompost. An estimated five-million worms now make up the worm farm.
Siebert explains that a portion of the compost is sold and the remainder is used on all the plants at the nursery, while the earthworm urine is collected and diluted with water to create an organic pesticide.
Basil Read’s reduced environmental footprint vision is being extended to the actual construction of the houses, each of which is designed to be within 400 m of a park.
The developments division’s green project aims to create the use of energy efficient methods for all its developments. This involves all housing units, maximising natural resources and good designs to enhance living conditions without pollution.
Solar geysers and insulated ceilings are features of the new houses at Cosmo City, with the aim to have these initiatives as standard fixtures in future developments.
Features that will be introduced in future include underfloor insulation, insulated bricks and TrueSeal windows, with the systems being electronically monitored to evaluate the extent of energy savings provided by each system, reports the company.
The new low-income houses are currently being fitted with solar geysers and insulated ceilings and a biogas facility is in the process of being set up at the hotel school in Cosmo City.
The division says that, in Savanna City, all the planned 18 900 houses will be fitted with energy-saving systems.
“We would like to install solar water heaters as a standard addition of this project, but, as the units for each house would prove to be expensive, we are considering registering for a carbon credit programme to recoup the money spent on the installation. This money would then be put back into the project and used for extended developments,” says Basil Read developments MD Des Hughes.
Carbon credits will be received for each carbon reduction unit in place. The cost of registering as a carbon supplier is about R2-million, but the company feels that it is a long-term investment and, owing to the extent of the project, is worthwhile.
Basil Read’s developments division believes that education has been the key in ensuring a smooth transition for the families moving into Cosmo City, most of whom have previously not lived in a formal environment and may be uncertain about what to expect or what to do, says Hughes.
A Basil Read team provides residents with key lessons on issues such as waste manage- ment, water and energy savings, general bylaws of the community and garden maintenance, besides others.
The division has started a free educational newspaper for residents that has subsequently been handed over to the community as a business venture for them.
Resident associations were established, for each section of Cosmo City to assist community members. About 5 000 excited and proud families have moved into their new homes at Cosmo City.
“We also use local contractors, as well as assist in the creation of work opportunities for more than 8 500 people, the majority of whom are from the community,” says Hughes.
Cosmo City emerged out of a need to provide accommodation for the informal settlers of Zevenfontein, near Dainfern, and Riverbend, 25 km north-west of the Johannesburg city centre.
It will provide 12 500 houses of various sizes, churches, parks, community centres, shopping centres, 12 schools and an industrial park, with all the requirements to make a town sustainable.
Hughes explains that it integrates families from different income groups into the settlement, as well as complying with government policy in terms of a sustainable development.
Basil Read Developments division is committed to implementing sustainable energy at its developments, as well as greening the environment. The company reports that the group’s head office is equally committed to energy-saving initiatives, with a new solar panel installation providing an estimated 25% of the office’s power needs.