By Peter Muiruri

The push towards sustainability has been gaining ground for some time, and while many ‘green buildings’ hardly live up to the name, the tide is turning.

The w for green technology got a notch higher within East Africa following an initiative by the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat and the Kenya Association of Manufactures (KAM).

A memorandum of association signed between the two organisations seeks to mobilise resources to put up 400,000 energy efficient housing units within the region.

In the programme, the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have committed to set aside a little over a billion shillings to kick start the project while the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will contribute Sh243 million.

Officials of both organisations say there is a need to build capacity for stakeholders in the built industry to come up with energy efficient residential and commercial buildings. Interestingly, not many people understand the entire scope of a green building.  

Green Building

A green building is one whose design and lifetime of operation guarantees the healthiest possible environment.  Its mode of construction should ensure the least disruption in land use, water and energy. In addition, such a building is a producer and not a net user of limited resources such as water and energy.

To ensure sustainability, such a building should incorporate solid waste management techniques, use renewable energy, harvest rainwater for domestic use while its construction should use locally available materials.

According to Vincent Kitio, head of UN-Habitat energy unit, reducing energy consumption through proper building techniques ought to be a priority in this era of diminishing resources.

“An estimated 50 per cent of the total energy generated in developing countries is used in urban buildings alone, consuming more energy than the transport or industrial sectors. The building sector accounted for 38 per cent of greenhouse gas emission worldwide, contributing significantly to climate change,” says Kitio.

On its part, KAM is supposed to raise awareness among its wide network of members on green construction practices that lead to further reduction in greenhouse gases.

While Africa is endowed with natural resources that favour the building of sustainable homes and business premises, the local construction industry continues to suffer from lack of professionals trained in green architecture.


In a previous interview with architect Musau Kimeu, a leading environmental design expert, he pointed out that Kenya has less than 20 such architects. This is the highest number in Africa.

“Lack of proper expertise in environmental design is largely to blame for the slow progress in green architecture. Labelling a project green without the requisite components may result in misinformation to the general public,” said Kimeu then.

As a result, many projects that claim to be “green” only incorporate an aspect or two of the technology with fears that the technology will raise the overall cost of a project.

While the entire construction team may not be made up of professionals in green technology, there is a need to have one or two part-time consultants well versed in this area to give direction to the project, especially in site design principles.

According to Musau, many buildings in Nairobi that may have been hyped as sustainable do not meet the said criteria.

“Their classification as such may end up lowering the requirements of green design since many developers may inadvertently use them as examples of sustainable architecture,” said Musau.

To this end, the UN-Habitat–KAM initiative seeks to establish a proper rating system for sustainable buildings as well as developing an award system for the same.

Experts say escalating costs should not be the guiding principle in determining whether to go green or not, since the idea ought to be incorporated in the planning stage of the project.

They say lower utility costs in the long term far outweigh any high costs during the construction phase.


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