The Green Street Retrofit – The Cato Manor Case Study for Social, Economic and Environmental Change

Find out how thirty low-cost houses located in a small cul-de-sac road in Cato Manor near Durban received a “green street” upgrade. The “green street” project was initiated to uplift homes in low-income areas with retrofits.   

Read below about the Cato Manor Green Street case study launched by the British High Commission, in association with the Green Building Council of South Africa and the World Green Building Council.


A Cato Manor Green Street resident, Deliwe Nobukwe, opens a tap to get hot water in her home for the first time, courtesy of her new solar water heating system. The related plumbing and safe electrical wiring are also evident behind her. 


The Cato Manor Green Street case study was officially launched in Pretoria on Monday 30 July by the British High Commission, in association with the Green Building Council of South Africa and the World Green Building Council.


The historic township of Cato Manor in Durban was the location for South Africa’s first ‘Green Street’ upgrade in a low-income area. Completed ahead of the COP17 international climate change talks in late 2011, thirty low-cost houses in a small cul-de-sac road received a green upgrade, otherwise known as a retrofit. It was led by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), primarily funded by the British High Commission and endorsed by the Department of Environment Affairs.


Dame Nicola Brewer, the British High Commissioner to South Africa said:


“The British High Commission was pleased to fund this exciting project late last year. The aim of the green upgrade was to demonstrate the range of socio-economic, health and environmental benefits possible through sustainable design and resource efficiency interventions in low-income houses; and to show that people’s quality of life can be improved, while keeping development on a low carbon path. 


I visited the Green Street myself during COP17 in December 2011, with the UK’s Minister of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spellman who planted a Marula tree there. It was wonderful to hear directly from the residents about how this green upgrade has had such a positive impact.  You’ll hear more about this in the presentation to follow shortly. 


We also decided to fund this ensuing case study because it’s important to record the results and lessons from this kind of pioneering project, so that others can learn and benefit from it. We hope this contribution will help with decisions about how to improve on the greening of human settlements in the future.


The UK is committed to promoting global low carbon growth and supports South Africa’s efforts in this vital area. The British High Commission’s Prosperity Team manages projects valued at over R12 million a year in support of South Africa’s low carbon, economics, and trade objectives.


The UK government, through the Department for International Development, and the Department for Energy and Climate Change is currently exploring options to support South Africa’s low carbon aspirations through much larger renewable energy and energy efficiency interventions. – Interventions that will not only help lower South Africa’s carbon emissions but will bring economic prosperity and create much needed jobs.


Thanks to the Green Building Council of South Africa for initiating and leading this project, and it’s good to see that the Australian government will be funding Phase 2.


We trust that you will all use this case study to help to spread the word and play your part in building a low carbon future.”




Resident Deliwe Nobukwe stands in front of her home which has undergone a ‘green upgrade’. The solar water heaters for two homes are seen on the roof behind her. 


“This is where the environment and the development agendas meet” said Brian Wilkinson, the CEO of the GBCSA. “As a COP17 legacy, the Cato Manor Green Street is a living showcase and celebration of how greening interventions in low cost housing can improve quality of life for residents and provide multiple benefits for the country.”


Findings and case study outcomes


The high level findings from this pioneering project, including policy implications and estimates for what could be achieved by a nation-wide retrofit of existing low-cost housing, were presented by Sarah Rushmere of the Green Building Council of South Africa.



The team install an insulated ceiling in one of the houses at the Cato Manor Green Street


“Some of the positive outcomes from the project include residents having hot water on tap for the first time through solar water heating; a saving of up to 25% on electricity; improved water and food security through rainwater harvesting and food gardens; greater comfort through better insulation (reducing peak Summer temperatures by 4-8°C); and less need for fuels like paraffin, coal and wood, which means reduced health problems and fire safety risks for these homes,” explained Rushmere.



A resident uses her  Wonderbag™.  These highly efficient insulation cookers save energy and make the kitchen much safer.  If it is used on average three times a week, a heat retention cooker can save 0.5 tonnes of carbon per year, per house. 


“Through this project carbon emissions have been avoided, revenue generated for the community through the work opportunities created and carbon credits sold.  Residents also received a range of practical training sessions and education workshops.”


Improved quality of life for residents



A resident tends her new vegetable garden. A rainwater harvesting tank and solar water heaters can be seen on the roof of two house units behind her. 


Rushmere underlined further benefits if retrofits just like the one completed in Cato Manor were done for 3 million existing low-cost houses. “Energy and water savings are estimated to be worth about R 3 billion per year (at current tariffs). This is money that would stay in the pockets of residents and be retained in the local economy. The electricity saving would be over 3400 gigawatt hours (GWH) per annum, which is  equivalent to about a third of what a city the size of Durban or Cape Town uses. For the purposes of generating revenue on international carbon markets, almost 10 million (9,720,000) tonnes worth of carbon credits are possible.”



The team which installed energy efficiency measures


“In terms of employment, it is estimated that about 36.5 million days of work could be created, equivalent to employing over 165,000 people for a year of work (or more people working for shorter periods, which would be the case for retrofits done with involvement from trained local residents). This indicates a huge opportunity to help generate skills and work, save costs and to contribute to the national ‘green economy’ drive,” said Rushmere.



Karabo gets the first water from the first rainwater harvesting system which was installed in 2011.





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