Is Green Building Really New to Africans?

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According to the IFC, buildings account for about 40% of global energy consumption and 19% of greenhouse gas emissions. Given these statistics, reducing energy and resource consumption in buildings is increasingly becoming a focus of efforts at mitigating the effects of global climate change.

In the lead up to COP21, buildings were recognized and identified as a key sector based on its mitigation potential and realisation that 2 degree path is not achievable without reducing emissions from buildings and construction.

One of the key action points emanating from the Paris Climate Summit of 2015 therefore, was avoiding at least 50% of projected growth in energy consumption via the mainstreaming of highly energy‐efficient, near or net‐zero energy or energy‐plus new buildings, and a deep renovation of the existing stock of buildings by 2030.

More than 90 countries identified Buildings or Buildings Efficiency‐related activities in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in the lead‐up to COP‐21. While Nigeria committed to reducing greenhouse gas emission by at least 20% unconditionally, and up to 45% with international support in key sectors such as Energy, Oil & Gas, Agriculture & Land use, power and transport, it did not specifically identify the building sector as an area for action.


While I am in no position to second guess the reason for this seeming oversight, or indeed the reasons for the prioritization of the over listed sectors over the building sector, I must argue that for a country with massive challenges with on-grid power supply – causing Nigerian domestic and commercial customers to spend an average of $30MN annually to power small scale petrol and diesel generating sets as I highlighted in a previous article – we need to look beyond this annual spend to the effects CO2 emissions and noise pollution from these generating sets are having on human and environmental health, especially as they mostly occur in buildings; homes, offices, factories etc.

Consequently therefore, we must make more concerted effort to focus on the damaging effects GHG emissions and energy/resource consumption in buildings are having on the integrity of human and environmental systems. Given perennial on-grid power supply challenges in SSA, ensuring sustainability in the Nigerian/African built environment is something that should firmly be topmost in the hearts and minds of everyone in the region.

At face value, this ostensible lack of concern about emissions from the built environment would seem to suggest a disinterest by Africans about achieving sustainability within the built environment, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, sustainability is the DNA of Africans, something I got an insight into during my undergraduate days studying Estate Management when I first encountered the African definition of land which goes thus;

‘Land belongs to the living, the dead and the hosts yet unborn’.

Implicit in this definition (with somewhat spiritual undertones), is the need to use land in a sustainable manner as current holders (inhabitants of the earth) were merely holding the land in trust for their ancestors who had left it to them, as well as for their hosts yet unborn, to whom they would transfer custodianship. By no means were current holders of land expected to hand it over in a worse state than they had inherited it. This was a responsibility that was taken quite seriously.

In a subsequent course about man and his environment, I encountered the definition of sustainable development emanating from the Brundtland report of 1987 which went;

‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

The underlying similarities between both definitions are striking now as they were then when I first considered them side by side. As with many other concepts I learnt in courses ranging from town and country planning to land law, I knew instinctively that the concept of sustainable development was not something that was necessarily alien to me or my African brothers and sisters, as all around us, examples of sustainable systems of building and city development abound.

For example, when the Portuguese explorers visited the ancient city of Benin about 1485, they penned eye witness accounts of the radial road network (ring road) which still exists till this day. With respect to sustainable buildings, it is difficult to site better examples than the temples and pyramids of ancient Egypt. Interestingly, there are also many more pyramids in Sudan (Nubia) where the art first began, than there are in Egypt.

‘As Africans, we must question whether building homes with dense mud or rammed earth blocks which help regulate internal temperatures, (as opposed to the hollow blocks of today which increase spend on cooling), is really as backward as we are wont to believe, especially as insulation of external walls and the materials used in building the walls itself are identified as significant (embodied) energy saving measures in the IFC’s EDGE green building app’.

In my humble opinion, life has come full circle as the sustainable (green) building agenda presents a unique opportunity for Africans to reconnect with their essence and the dynamism of the Earth, leveraging modern technologies to innovate on ancient building materials and techniques. There is literally nothing new under the sun (pun intended).

Whole new industries producing sustainable and environment friendly building materials will spring up to meet growing demand as green building practices gain increased adoption on the continent. This is inevitable. Discerning entrepreneurs will know how to position themselves in relation to this.

For Africans, green building should be viewed as an opportunity, not an added cost and it is something we all should embrace as it presents a unique opportunity to develop home grown solutions to achieving sustainable development, whilst also demonstrating global leadership in mitigating the effects of climate change.

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