Shades of Green

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SHADES OF GREEN

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHADING STRUCTURE FOR YOUR GARDEN CAN BENEFIT BOTH YOU AND THE ENVIRONMENT

BY ANDRÉ VAN HEERDEN, MANAGING PARTNER, CAPE REED GROUP OF COMPANIES

With summer just around the corner, our thoughts inevitably turn to making the most of our outdoor spaces before it’s too hot. For many that will mean the creation of a shaded area.

There will be questions on shape and design, on size and colour, but there is one question that often goes overlooked, despite it being one of the most important of all: what effect will your choice have on the environment?

Barely a day goes by without another story on climate change, and yet many of us believe that protecting the environment remains the responsibility of governments and big corporations.

Those efforts that we do make tend to involve fairly obvious things like a bit of recycling or an attempt to use less water. Those are of course important steps, but many of us don’t realise that there are many other ways to help the environment, even down to the construction materials we use in our gardens. Using more wood in construction and landscaping can make a significant impact. But how?

Trees trap carbon dioxide throughout their life but, in unmanaged forests, when they die they are left to decompose, re-releasing the CO₂ they contain. When forests are managed and the timber is harvested, the trees do not decompose and the carbon is trapped.

When it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of a building (the total lifetime CO₂impact, including materials, construction and use), wood has unique advantages, which is why it is the only material to be featured specifically in the European Code for Sustainable Homes. Wood grows naturally and, when properly managed, is a sustainable resource.  

Unlike other materials, its manufacture needs almost no energy. Wood is a good insulator and can increase the thermal efficiency of a building, reducing energy costs and CO₂emissions for the duration of its design life. Wood can also be recycled: at the end of a building or shaded structure’s life, its wooden elements can often be re-used, or recycled as secondary products.

Managed forests and plantations also benefit the environment because the trees are replanted once they are harvested. A plantation of 1,000 hectares can hold 500,000 trees, producing 6,250 tons of oxygen and removing up to 7,500 tons of CO₂ from the atmosphere per year. With the average person using 278 pounds of oxygen per year, that’s enough for about 44,000 people.

The environmental benefits of wood as a building material apply also to thatched roofs, an increasingly common site throughout the region in beach clubs, outdoor areas and private gardens. In fact research conducted in Scotland and South Africa has proven that thatched roofs and timber pergolas are the most sensible and environmentally friendly roofing and shading structures available today. Perhaps most importantly, the thatching we use is a great insulator, reducing temperatures by as much as 10c.

Thatched roofs, and more specifically roofs that are thatched with Thamnochortus Insignis (more commonly known as cape reed), are carbon negative, thus contributing a negative value to the overall footprint.

Looking at roofs from a “green” point of view, the best roof or shaded structure one can construct would be a cape reed thatch roof. The structure is of timber poles storing CO₂ for the life of the building. The thatch does the same, with an added benefit: cape reed is not perennial, meaning that unless it is harvested and preserved, the plant dies, releasing its CO₂ into the atmosphere. By using the thatch in a roof, the CO₂ is locked in for years (our installations in the Middle East can last as long as 50 years).

So if you want to contribute to saving the world and make the most of your garden, promote the thatching industry. Not only does it store CO₂; as the demand for reed increases, a greater area of land will be put under cultivation, helping the environment and more harvesters will also get involved looking after patches of land, especially as their livelihood depends on it.

Protecting the environment relies not on token gestures, but on adopting more sustainable lifestyles. A more thoughtful choice of building materials is a good first step.

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