Every man needs his rest. And so I recently found myself in Africa, trying to forget about energy efficiency. But even on holiday, that’s more difficult than it seems: to my excitement, nearly every house in Mauritius was equipped with good-old solar geysers. And solar PV is rapidly making inroads, with current payback periods at just 8 years. Some other observations: the island would benefit from a recycling system, buses that drive on natural gas rather than diesel, and there is a nascent market for eco-tourism (swimming with dolphins was certainly the highlight of the trip). While reading my way through Richard Branson’s latest “novel,” Screw Business As Usual (which is not nearly as entertaining as his first book, “Screw It, Let’s Do It,” but certainly a worthy description of business that have successfully embedded environmental and social sustainability into their business operations), my thoughts would wander back to the beginning of my trip to what the Economist once dubbed “The Lost Continent” (well, sometimes even The Economist can be wrong). After the Energy & Cities conference in Boston (see previous blog post) I headed to Cape Town for the annual convention of the Green Building Council of South Africa. 20hrs of travel later I discovered that my bag had not been able to keep up with me, but I managed convincing my cab driver to ask his wife to wash my sweaty shirt, and the next morning he indeed showed up at 8am... Unshaven, but freshly smelling, I first enjoyed the talk of Jerry Yudelson, who gave a great speech about the actual performance of green buildings (his talk was fittingly titled “If It Does Not Perform, It Is Not Green”). I then started my presentation with some amazing numbers, glanced from “The Rands and Sense of Green Building” (send me a note for a free copy): the average energy price increases in South Africa over the past four years. 2008: 27.5%, 2009: 31.3%, 2010: 24.8%, 2011: 25.8% (inflation was about 5% in the last two years, 6% and 10% in the two years before). As a matter of fact, ESKOM, the national utility, had just announced the expected price increases for the next three years: some 16%/year. Those numbers resonate with building owners and occupants – energy is rapidly becoming a significant operational burden. Needless to say, my meetings with the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), Old Mutual and some other major real estate investors, discussing the relevance of sustainability for their portfolios, went quite well. There is no doubt that energy efficiency is squarely on their minds. Unrelated to sustainability, but when I left South Africa after nearly a week in Cape Town and Joburg, I felt confused. This time I mainly saw the “rich” areas. Eating in Cape Town’s great restaurants, taking the impressively efficient Gaudtrain into Joburg, visiting buildings that can vie with the latest developments in the US or Europe, one gets an impression of a very Western, well-developed, equal society. But walking on the streets, staying in the gated communities and seeing the endless slums (subsidized solar geysers abound – apparently some rogue equipment installers offer poor residents cash money for the geysers. Being needy in the short term, some fall for this trap…), the extreme differences in wealth become immediately apparent. You can feel the clear black-white divide, 20 years after the Apartheid ended. Fifty percent youth employment suffocates a generation of talent. And you wonder where this society will go – the Economist wondered about that recently as well.