The Virgin Active health club in Constantia, Cape Town, has received a net-zero waste certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). The gym managed to achieve this through rigorous waste reduction and on-site recycling practices, with the help of net-zero accreditation professionals, Ecolution Consulting.
“Currently, 93% of the gym’s waste is being diverted [from landfills] – an amount that was possible through an initial waste audit calculation,” explains Ecolution Consulting founder and sustainability engineer André Harms. “Food waste, overpackaging as well as the use of nonrecyclables were reduced in the [gym] cafe,” he explains.
The team at Virgin Active Constantia separate all their waste into three categories; recyclables, organic waste and general waste. Only the general waste (seven percent in total) is sent to landfill; the recyclables are sent to a nearby recycling facility and the organic waste ends up as compost.
How is a net-zero waste rating achieved?
If we look at the example of Virgin Active Constantia, we see that 93% of waste is diverted from landfill. The remaining seven percent means that the gym needs to offset this amount by purchasing carbon offsets, in order to achieve a true net-zero certification.
They enlisted the help of the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs to ascertain how many carbon offsets to purchase in order to neutralise the seven percent shortfall.
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases that can be used to compensate for emissions elsewhere. In other words, a business can ‘purchase’ (or fund) an eco-friendly initiative anywhere in the world that will offset their own carbon emissions.
Virgin Active and Kariba REDD+
Virgin Active Constantia decided to fund a forest conservation project called Kariba Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Kariba REDD+). This initiative aims to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the communities living near Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe.
Local residents can earn money by selling carbon credits to companies like Virgin Active instead of cutting down trees and selling the wood. This helps to preserve natural forests and encourages the planting of new trees. To date, Kariba REDD+ has saved over 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
The health club has purchased these carbon offsets for the next 12 months but they do intend to extend this funding to retain their net-zero waste rating. “Offsetting must be seen as a temporary solution for taking ownership for the last remaining impact one cannot currently practically resolve through best practice operations or on-site technologies,” explains Harms.
“The gym also has plans to support further diversion from landfill through providing bins for members to bring their recyclables from home to be recycled through the Virgin Active scheme,” explains Harms. Businesses are increasingly going green and aiming for net-zero waste ratings because of mounting pressure from society and government-mandated regulations.
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