Adequate research and innovation needed to spur green building progress
Briefly tell us how we should understand green building.
The term green building can be understood both as a product and as an activity.
As a product, a green building is a building that has been designed, constructed, and operated in a way that creates a positive, not a negative impact on occupants’ and the planet’s well-being.
As an activity, green building is the practice of adopting measures that promote resource management efficiency and site sustainability while minimising the negative impact of buildings on human health and the environment.
This practice complements the conventional building design concerns of economy, durability, serviceability, and comfort.
Why should anyone care about green buildings?
We spend about 90 per cent of our time in buildings. The quality of these buildings has a great impact on our health as occupants and the well-being of the planet.
The built environment is responsible for significant environmental damage. It accounts for the largest share in the use of natural resources, by land use and material extraction.
The industry consumes some 40 per cent of the world’s fossil energy, 25 per cent of forest timber, and 16 per cent of the world’s freshwater.
The building sector must, therefore, do its part in achieving the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion.
This requires a radical transformation of the methods of designing, constructing, operating, and decommissioning buildings.
There is a growing global consensus that ‘green building’ is a useful approach to achieving this transformation.
As a country, how are we fairing in terms of green building adoption and what needs to be done to break hesitancy?
Regionally, Kenya is leading in mainstreaming the green building agenda in its construction.
Civil society has played a critical role in activating national awareness and advocacy on green building.
It is because of those actors that now the government and other players are cultivating this ground to ensure that the seeds that were planted are nurtured and grown into mature fruits for the nation’s posterity.
Green building is already recognised in a number of policy frameworks as one of the important means of achieving green growth, and climate change mitigation.
For example, a few green building elements, such as energy efficiency have been integrated into the revised energy regulations, the Draft Revised Building Code.
In terms of the practical application of the green building concept, the private sector has fairly understood the business case for building green and takes a leading role in its uptake.
Academia is also making a gradual shift by rolling out training programmes (as post-graduate programmes or specialised course units) in environmental design, as well as constructing new green campus buildings.
Is the belief that green buildings cost more than traditional houses true?
It is true that some green building elements cost more at the initial time of construction or installation, however, they end up being cheaper in the long run. On the other hand, there are many other green building strategies that don’t cost more or are even cheaper than contemporary alternatives even at the time of construction.
For example, by orienting the building properly on-site and designing it to take advantage of natural light and respond to the climatic elements, such as the sun, wind, and rain, choosing locally sourced natural, renewable, and reused materials only require informed and environmentally-conscious thinking, not more money.
What do we need to do as a country to encourage the adoption of green buildings?
There is a lot we need to do as a country, such as developing evaluation software tools that are integrated with the normal design and construction management tools, encouraging public green building construction and improving awareness and technical capacity on green building through strategic and sustained messaging via mass media.
There is also need for continuous professional development and reorienting the curricula for built environment professionals, improving incentives for green building products and certified green buildings.
Where in Kenya can one purchase green building materials and products?
There are a few manufacturers and distributors that are supplying green building materials. The beginning point would be to ask the consultants you have engaged in your project (architects, engineers) and the suppliers you intend to procure from about the green credentials of the materials they are specifying or selling. Though we are not yet there material-wise, the ongoing development of online directories of green building materials and products will ease the process.
What is the biggest obstacle in the adoption of green construction materials?
I would call it the ‘Triple-A challenge of access’ to green construction materials and technologies.
I feel that low investments in research, development, and innovation in the construction sector in Kenya, and the rest of Africa has created a shortage of appropriate, affordable, and locally available green building materials and technologies.
It is unfortunate that despite being endowed with a lot of natural resources that could be sustainably processed locally to produce construction materials that are healthy and low in their carbon footprint we, as a nation and a continent, continue to rely heavily on imported equipment and materials that are developed in industrialised nations.