Thursday, May 6, 2010

LIVE BLOG - Promoting Green Building Rating Systems in Africa - Alternatives to Nation-Specific Green Building Councils

UN-Habitat Human Settlements Advisor Robert Kehew.

Alternatives to Nation-Specific Green Building Councils

Although it is clear that the implementation of a Green Building Council is not a solution for instituting sustainable building practices in Sub-Saharan Africa, rather, it is a potential way to create a framework for developing the methods and metrics needed to advance the field of sustainability in Africa. However, a Green Building Council is a complex mechanism that relies on input and involvement from many different players within the building sector - architects, contractors, developers - as well as support from industry and government. So, while many countries in Africa lack formal economies advanced enough to support complex industry as well as battling political systems rife with corruption, the question arises, how small can a nation's building sector be and still support a full Green Building Council?

If there is a correlation between a nation's Gross Domestic Product and the size of a building sector, then the smallest existing GDP's with a full-service Green Building Council are New Zealand and South Africa. The United Nations estimates that the building sector accounts for 5-15% of a country's GDP. According to the World Bank, in 2009 South Africa is second in GDP among African nations behind Egypt, and almost twice that of the next two rankings (Nigeria and Algeria). After this, the number drops precipitously.

If a country cannot support a full-service Green Building Council, are there alternatives? According to Robert Kehew of UN-Habitat and Bruce Kerswill of the World GBC, there are.

Kehew lists Government-sponsored rating systems and Sub-Regional GBC's as options. Government rating systems are able to focus primarily on energy efficiency and can easily integrate simple rating metrics into existing regulations, however, many governments already deal with corruption and other issues that may minimize the importance of sustainable design within the larger political and social context. Sub-Regional GBC's are systems that may straddle several nations that share trading relationships, common codes and regulations, and/or cultural ties. This allows several countries to share cost, responsibility, and benefits. This model, however, also relies on the cooperation and power-sharing between potentially strained political systems and relationships.

Bruce Kerswill of the World GBC recommends a phased approach to growth where larger, more developed nations act as a hub for smaller nations and assist in the development of rating systems and networking. This model requires that the developing country may need to adapt or customize the existing rating tools to suit their individual country-specific needs. This works well where countries share geographic similarities or borders, but may require additional time and effort where similarities or geographic proximity do not exist.

Beyond this, are there more options? The immediate reaction from the writer of this blog is that GBC's may not be appropriate for countries at this stage of development. Where GBC's are systems that help to quantify, coordinate, and track the performance of green buildings (a very simplified definition), they are essentially bookkeeping measures. Where a nation lacks the infrastructure to support this system, it is possible that implementation of educational programs and community awareness campaigns about sustainable concepts and methods may be a better use of resources. Once these ideas and technologies are in place, and the advantages of sustainable design are understood and experienced, it would be a natural progression to then begin to quantify those results.


  1. I agree with the blogger's reaction at the end of the post. This is also the weakness of LEED in the US. That new property development has no requirements for efficient systems or construction is astounding; I am optimistic though that countries that are just considering standards and councils (and may be less averse to govt. involvement) have a chance to take another course.

  2. It’s a very nice step taken to save our ever shrinking natural resources and fight against the global-warming. Such a step on international level to encourage the construction of green building. is the present need of the time.