Emira gives biodiversity preservation the green thumbs up

Emira gives biodiversity preservation the green thumbs up
Indigenous landscaping at Knightsbridge office park an Emira property

Emira Property Fund (JSE: EMI) has made meaningful progress on its biodiversity policy in consultation with the Biodiversity Disclosure Project and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, building on its impacts at the forefront of environmental sustainability in South Africa’s listed property sector.

“Emira is proud to have initiated its biodiversity plan, and aims to enhance it even further as we continue on our journey to protect the natural environment. South Africa’s natural ecosystems are under pressure and there is a need for greater environmental sustainability locally and globally — we need to act now. Emira strives for positive environmental impacts through our substantial real estate portfolio and by working with others towards shared ecological goals,” says Emira CEO Geoff Jennett.

The Biodiversity Disclosure Project (BDP) began its Biological Diversity Protocol (BD Protocol) three years ago, creating a framework to enable organisations to identify, measure, account for and manage its impacts on biodiversity. The protocol was finalised earlier this year. Emira immediately seized the opportunity to undertake a biodiversity audit and pilot project at its head office building in Knightsbridge, Bryanston, Johannesburg.

Knightsbridge is located in the Egoli Granite Grassland, which is unique to the Gauteng Province. It is classified as critically endangered by SANBI (2019). Due to urbanisation, cultivation or building of roads, less than 32% of this vegetation type remains untransformed– a figure that is rapidly nearing the national 24% target for conservation protection of this type of vegetation. Only 3% of Egoli Granite Grassland is conserved in statutory nature reserves.  This means Knightsbridge is located in an area where there is a genuine and urgent need for biodiversity preservation and restoration.

Emira engaged the ecologists of The Biodiversity Company for the audit, and the recently developed Knightsbridge proved to be an ideal subject case – it was developed with indigenous landscaping, natural bioswales and its original 30-year-old trees were replanted in the office park after being removed and kept safe during its construction.

“All the office buildings at Knightsbridge have received a 4 Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), so it was important to Emira that this pilot project also promoted an understanding of how the BD Protocol and GBCSA sustainable management policies work together,” explains Justin Bowen, head of sustainability and national development manager of Emira.

The Biodiversity Company said in its findings, “The design and construction of Knightsbridge Office Park was found to be excellent in allowing Emira to mitigate numerous impacts through engineering controls. In addition, the operational controls in day-to-day management of aspects such as waste management was found to be above par. In the 12-plus years of environmental auditing, the audit team has not found a comparable office park in terms of overall environmental management.”

Following this project, a biodiversity action plan is being crafted for Emira based on the BD Protocol. These actions include indigenous landscaping, removing and controlling alien vegetation, encouraging habitats for indigenous birds, installing beehives in appropriate spaces, water harvesting and improving erosion and stormwater drainage – many of which Emira started doing a while ago.

The new beehive at Knightsbridge is in fact the fourth that has safely been installed at different Emira office properties in response to mounting concerns about the global decline of honeybees. Dwindling honeybee populations and the associated loss of pollination is a real concern considering about a third of the food we consume each day relies on pollination, mainly by bees.

At Emira’s Albury Office Park, Hyde Park Lane Office Park and Epsom Downs installations, new bee swarms have already moved in naturally and Knightsbridge has had a swarm relocated to its installation. These hives are set to produce about 60 litres of honey at each site, each with its own unique flavour according to its park’s local flora and landscaping.

Two years ago, Emira launched a pilot project to tackle the invasive shot hole borer beetle infestation plaguing Johannesburg’s trees, after also being found in other provinces across the country, and the project was a resounding success.

In addition to working with the GBCSA and Endangered Wildlife Trust, Emira also has strategic partnerships with the World Wide Fund for Nature and Trees for Africa. This year is the third successive year that Emira has offset its operational emissions by working with Food and Trees for Africa to plant trees both on its properties as well as fruit and indigenous shade trees at under-resourced schools. Over the past three years, it has planted over 600 new trees.

Emira’s purpose includes serving communities responsibly and protecting the environment, and our policy and plans to reduce our environmental impact and further preserve and restore the natural biomes at our properties supports this.” notes Jennett. “We have already created a sustainable environment of indigenous plant life at many of our properties for everyone who uses them to enjoy. The next step is developing formal individual biodiversity plans for every one of our directly-held properties.