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How green building can curb youth unemployment and boost green economic growth in Africa

As Africa grapples with its burgeoning youth population and the need for sustained, inclusive and decent employment, governments would do well to look to the green building movement for support in meeting these paramount objectives.

According to the African Business 2017 report, unemployment among young people aged 15 to 24 hovers at around 12-15% – and it’s growing. In addition to this, 70% of Africa’s youth are in vulnerable employment and underemployed in informal sectors. These figures are further compounded by the fact that the youth population in Africa is set to double by 2045 to over 400 million people. Evidently, the need to create decent jobs is critical.

There is already widespread recognition that politicians in Africa need to improve the enabling environment for business and private sector engagement. Not only would this boost investment into African economies but it would, in turn, create a demand for skills and jobs. Additionally, labour market regulations exist in tandem with the political concern: The United Economic Commission for Africa notes that most employers prefer ‘mature employees’, further creating a barrier for young entrants into the labour market.

But there is a solution: the green building industry can deliver long term employment, stimulate economic growth across multiple sectors, and address the need for decent work opportunities that consider occupational health and safety, local employment and training, gender equality and equity of access to employment.

However, there are obstacles: while there is certainly a growing awareness around sustainable construction, the lack of data highlighting the financial and economic benefits of green building leading to job creation casts an air of doubt as to whether green building does, in fact, create green jobs. Yet, the Energy and Environment Partnership projects throughout Africa, supported by the Nordic Development fund has led to the creation of over 8000 green jobs over the last seven years – of which over 3000 went to women – provides noteworthy evidence to support our argument.

Indeed, creating jobs is one thing, but ensuring long term stability of those jobs is another. Youth unemployment in Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa report 14% and 27% unemployment rates respectively. The International Monetary Fund notes that in order to ensure long term stability of jobs, African countries must adopt a balanced approach to policy making, one that ensures formal sector growth, alongside finding ways to increase the productivity of the informal sector.

This sets the pace for green building as a conduit for job creation. Both the acceptance and realisation that green jobs are a possibility is an assurance that green buildings can be leveraged to ensure that SDG 8‘s targets are met. Furthermore, the green building sector provides a window for innovation and technological advances in enhancing the productivity of the informal sector and creating formal sector jobs.

Africa’s growing population and consequent urbanisation rates present an acute and urgent need for sustainable infrastructure to ensure a high quality of life for people, minimise negative impacts on the environment, and maximise economic opportunities. Furthermore, buildings are the conduits for energy and water efficiency, which are of critical importance for economic and social development in the region.

Climate Change is another increasingly pressing issue across the continent: The African Development Bankreports the negative effects of climate change are already reducing Africa’s Gross Domestic Product by about 1.4% annually. With green buildings creating a significant opportunity to reduce emissions, they are certainly not a passing fad, and employment opportunities created in this sector will only grow over time.

Indeed, green building can have a knock-on effect, stimulating growth across multiple sectors. Starting from the beginning of its lifecycle, a building requires design and consulting services; construction knowledge and skills; the availability of construction equipment; product manufacturing of building components (exterior and interior), as well as the implementation of different technologies (solar panels, systems automation etc.), facilities management, interior fit out services, water sanitation, energy production and more. Investing in green building means stimulating growth across all of these sectors. Not to mention the end-user benefits: families saving on utility bills have an opportunity to invest those savings in other part of the economy. As an example, after a green home make-over, the Ngewana family in South Africa benefitted from annual savings of R18 000.

Lastly, the holistic approach of green building brings into focus the treatment of people employed in the building and construction industry. While one might argue that economic growth can be achieved with standard buildings alone, green buildings create an opportunity to address occupational health and safety, local employment and training, gender equality and equity of access to employment.

In conclusion, from design, construction, operation to maintenance, certain skills are and will be required as Africa gears up for an overhaul in how the built environment is delivered. This presents an opportunity for economies in the region to adjust to the shifting climatic changes, providing a means to create a prosperous environment for innovative green employment.

Domnika Czerwinska is Director of Membership & Regional Networks at the World Green Building Council. To find out more about the Africa Regional Network or to become a Regional Partner, contact Dominika.