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Green building or greenwashing? It’s time to act

By Peter Muiruri | March 24th 2016
An environmental friendly house in Karen, Nairobi developed by Sandalwood Developers. Notice the high roof that allows cool air to circulate within the building. The artificial lake in the foreground adds to cooling effect while adding aesthetic beauty to the home. PHOTO: PETER MUIRURI

NAIROBI: Some real estate developers are adopting shrewd marketing practices, hoping to edge out their competitors. Some of them are labelling their projects “green” despite hardly integrating sustainable practices.

Walk around the city of Nairobi and its environs and you will not fail to notice several new buildings with the “green” tag, a phrase meant to hoodwink prospective tenants who care about environmental-friendly practices.

In the West, this phenomenon, known as greenwash, has been used by socially and environmentally destructive corporations in an attempt to preserve and expand their markets or power.

A mining company, for instance, may use unorthodox means of extraction without due regard to the environment.

In “mitigation”, such a company may sponsor a local green project in a veiled attempt to draw away attention from the real threats to the environment.

Local government officials eager to receive sponsorship of such projects may look the other way even in the face of incorrigible damage to the environment.

Environmental experts are worried that such practices are gaining currency since there is no particular policy in place to check the parameters used by such developments before the loud proclamations.

At a recent media training on environmental reporting at Maanzoni Lodge, Musau Kimeu, a leading figure in green architecture, said the government ought to put in place specific guidelines that can be used by the construction industry rather than each one deciding what is green and what is not.

“Such greenwashing practices are confusing to the public and do not give the true picture of the development. In fact, there should be penalties for such blatant assertions that can result in legal problems in future,” said Kimeu.

According to Kimeu, the media and the public in general need to be educated on ways of identifying greenwash.

“The media ought to know what constitutes both proper green practices and greenwash. They should not be content with just touring a site and being told that it is the greenest project around.

They must interrogate the claims and demand to see the evidence of green architecture in the project,” he said.

However, with no specific guidelines on how to spot green practices, unscrupulous business people will continue hoodwinking the public through greenwashing practices.

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