The latest crop of Mauritian students for the Green Star South Africa accredited professionals course

Earlier this year I spent two months working in Mauritius – with the Green Building Council of Mauritius (GBCM) and WSP Mauritius

I was invited by the GBCM which was  inaugurated in November 2010. The GBCM is keen to adapt Green Star to the local market place – in part due to a high demand for a building certification scheme suited to the tropical island.

They asked me to share what I’d learnt from five years in Australia working with sustainable buildings and Green Star (an environmental certification scheme administered by the Green Building Council of Australia).

The thirst for green

As part of my role I ran a series of training workshops for WSP – a local building services engineering with ties to WSP in Australia. The sessions were 4 pm Fridays.

In Australia, you’d need to promise free alcohol and a hard finish time of 5 pm to get anyone to even think of coming. And you’d be lucky if people didn’t rush off early to TGIF drinks.

Here, they had me answering questions until 6.30 pm. Everything from why the GBCA was now allowing PVC products to be used in Green Star rated buildings to how many projects I’d worked on with building integrated photovoltaics to the benefits of deep sea cooling and whether this would be possible in Mauritius.

There was even a passionate discussion on the difficulties they experience with lax (or inconsistent) regulations. How they must fight for safety in systems such as fire protection on every project they work on. Let alone green.

And this was all followed up by an email debate – on everything from the benefits of Green Star for Mauritius to how the electricity supply to a green building should be reduced – a concept we are still grappling with in Australia.

Maurice Ille Durable

The enthusiasm in the private sector has stimulated some movement by government.

In 2008, the Mauritian Government announced Maurice Ile Durable, or Sustainable Mauritius. The main aim of the policy was to reduce dependence on fossil fuels – with a target of 65 per cent autonomy by 2028. This has eventuated into solar hot water subsidies, the bulk purchase of CFLs for sale in Mauritius and the replacement of all street lighting.

The government is also working on new energy efficiency regulations for the building sector –which will operate in a similar way to Section J of the Building Code of Australia.

One step backward…

Despite all the talk however, the thirst and the regulation, Mauritius somewhat lacks implementation.

By way of example, water supply is a significant issue. To the point where the mains water supply is off in the afternoon. Yet efficiency in buildings is not regulated and water prices continue to be ridiculously cheap. And on the developer front,  hardly any buildings have rainwater tanks. This is made even more surprising by their prevalence in neighbouring Reunion and Seychelles, where a complete lack of fresh water has led to domestic rainwater tank sizes the size of houses.

Green Star students

Energy supply is also intermittent. During one session at the Eco-Building conference in April the main lecture hall lost power three times. I liken an afternoon of rain to a game of musical chairs: power on, power off, power on, power off. And yet I am told developers are not interested in energy efficiency. They refuse to pay for it, as they will not reap the benefits of it after selling it on.

“You are so far ahead of us in Australia” I kept being told.

One step forward…

But is Australia really that far ahead? Many Mauritian buildings have shaded external spaces and mixed mode operation – where an air conditioned space can also be naturally ventilated. In fact, clients demand mixed mode. They think it is healthier.

And this is despite the mosquitoes, heat and humidity.

Buildings are not freezing in the middle of summer here like they are in Sydney and Melbourne. Often hallways and transition spaces are not airconditioned due to budget constraints.

I think back to all the arguments I had in Australia over natural ventilation: how it is a sub-par solution, or how it is  ‘”innovative” or how it is tricky to get right.

Natural ventilation is standard practice here.

Social Sustainability

Social sustainability was a key focus of the Eco-Building conference – which was surprising for me. I am told people don’t care about energy efficiency if the project doesn’t have social benefit. I hear terms I have had very little experience with – “inclusionary architecture” and “economic empowerment strategies”. And about the potential for a new social sustainability Green Star plug-in.

The Eco-Building conference is filled with thoughts as to how African, and especially Mauritian innovation in this realm can spread through the rest of the world.

Monique Alfris

A lone Australian thinks that Mauritius has a lot more to offer than just that.

Monique Alfris previously ran the Sydney arm of Built Ecology. She has just finished working in Ghana and Mauritius with their respective Green Building Councils, and is about to take up a sustainability role across South East Asia. You can catch her on twitter (@moniquealfris) or on her blog “Learnings and Lovings” (https://moniquealfris.com).