Leadership, News

Why Green Buildings Hold The Future Of Our Cities

Where do you live? Maybe you live in a flat some­where in Math­are North or pipeline in Nairo­bi or Nyal­en­da in Kisumu. where build­ings are packed so close­ly togeth­er that nat­ur­al light is a pipe dream. In these flats, most peo­ple have to switch on their elec­tric­i­ty even dur­ing the day. Or maybe you stay in a mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood with heat­ed show­ers that con­sume a lot of energy. 

Where do you live? The answer to this ques­tion reveals how the hous­es that we live in are hav­ing grave reper­cus­sions on our envi­ron­ment, soci­ety, and economy.

Here is a snap­shot of the hous­ing sit­u­a­tion in Kenya: 61 per­cent of our house­holds live in rent­ed hous­ing units that are most­ly in the urban areas. As revealed by the Kenya Pop­u­la­tion and Hous­ing Cen­sus (KPHC) 2019, about 90 per cent of Kenyans liv­ing in urban areas live in rent­ed hous­es. Six­ty-five per­cent of these live-in infor­mal settlements.

Despite this sheer hous­ing chal­lenge, the hous­ing mar­ket remains uncon­ducive for low-income Kenyans. Accord­ing to the Kenya Eco­nom­ic Report 2021, only two per­cent of for­mal­ly con­struct­ed hous­es tar­get the low­er-income seg­ments of the mar­ket, yet this is the seg­ment in need of decent houses. 

Con­se­quent­ly, a stag­ger­ing six out of ten peo­ple in our urban areas con­tin­ue to live in over­pop­u­lat­ed infor­mal set­tle­ments with insuf­fi­cient water and san­i­ta­tion. These set­tle­ments are not ener­gy or water effi­cient. Although it is a her­culean task to tran­si­tion them into decent green build­ings, we must com­mit to doing so. 

Indeed, the jury is out on the Government’s score­card as regards the afford­able hous­ing goal. How­ev­er, we should pro­ceed in a solu­tion-ori­ent­ed man­ner. Just as mobile phones leap-frogged land­line phones and pro­vid­ed phone equi­ty for the mass­es, green­hous­es can leap-frog main­stream hous­ing and deliv­er decent hous­ing equi­ty for the masses. 

The cur­rent non-green build­ings gen­er­ate almost 40% of annu­al glob­al car­bon emis­sions. These emis­sions come from build­ing oper­a­tions togeth­er with build­ing mate­ri­als and con­struc­tion. Build­ing oper­a­tions are the activ­i­ties through which build­ings are oper­at­ed, man­aged, and main­tained. Such activ­i­ties include plumb­ing, heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion, and air conditioning. 

It is par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal to green our build­ings because of the rapid urban­iza­tion tak­ing place glob­al­ly, includ­ing here in Kenya. If urban­iza­tion keeps up with the cur­rent pace, we shall add 2.4 tril­lion square feet of new floor area to our world­wide build­ing stock in a few years’ time. This is equiv­a­lent to the month­ly addi­tion of the entire New York City, for forty years. If these addi­tions are going to com­prise non-green build­ings, then we will deal a severe blow to the envi­ron­ment and our economy.

Out of Kenya’s 12.2 mil­lion house­holds, 7.4 mil­lion house­holds live in Kenya’s urban areas. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most of them live in hous­es that are not ener­gy or water effi­cient. As Nairo­bi expands to the wider Nairo­bi Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area; as the oth­er 46 Coun­ties also devel­op their urban cen­ters, we need to pri­or­i­tize green buildings. 

Thank­ful­ly, we are tak­ing steps in the right direc­tion. In its big four agen­da, the Gov­ern­ment has already com­mit­ted to the con­struc­tion of EDGE com­pli­ant hous­es. Excel­lence in Design for Greater Effi­cien­cies (EDGE) is the glob­al­ly accept­ed min­i­mum stan­dard for the design of cli­mate-friend­ly and afford­able homes. EDGE com­mits to a reduc­tion of at least twen­ty per­cent in these cat­e­gories: Ener­gy Con­sump­tion; Water Con­sump­tion and Embod­ied Energy. 

Away from tech­ni­cal fea­tures of such green build­ing stan­dards, we need green build­ings that will be solar enabled; rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing enabled, and waste­water recy­cling enabled. Addi­tion­al­ly, these build­ings will be con­struct­ed from local­ly avail­able mate­ri­als. This lessens green­house gas emis­sions from impor­ta­tion and boosts the local con­struc­tion sector. 

Going for­ward, we need green con­trac­tors and green con­struc­tion labor­ers to become com­mon­place in Kenya in the same way that teach­ers are. For that to hap­pen, our insti­tu­tions of high­er learn­ing should main­stream green con­struc­tion courses. 

In 2017, the World Bank revealed that Kenya need­ed two mil­lion low-income homes. That num­ber has shot high­er today. This presents a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to build green homes that will be ener­gy and water effi­cient, yet more afford­able. Let us Think and act green for posterity.

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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