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How green building is facilitating rapid sustainable growth in Africa

In this article, which forms the introduction for a book celebrating the Green Building Council of South Africa‘s 10 year anniversary, our Director of Membership and Regional Networks, Dominika Czerwinska discusses how green building is helping facilitate rapid economic, environmental and social growth across Africa.

The African continent is changing fast. According to the African Development Bank, since 2005, 20 countries in Africa are now among the top 50 most-improved world economies in business regulatory efficiency. By 2050, the African population is projected to reach 2.4 billion, and by 2030, urban populations will increase by an additional 350 million people.

This rate of change poses both challenges and opportunities. Unless growth is coupled with a shift to renewable resources, climate change will bring more food, health and economic insecurity to a continent that is already struggling with these issues.

Job creation and poverty alleviation are also key for the region. The UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates that youth in Africa make up 35% of the working age population but are 60% of the total unemployed. And what’s more, those who are employed find themselves in vulnerable employment. This is all in a region where the proportion of people living on less that $1.25 a day still exceeded 40% in 2015.

The good news, however, is that rapid growth can mean rapid transformation, and green construction is a great tool to facilitate growth while simultaneously addressing the issues of climate change, job creation and poverty alleviation. Encouragingly, the opportunities that green building brings are certainly not going unnoticed. Across Africa, we are seeing countries taking important steps towards a large-scale and long-term transformation of how buildings and cities are being built.

In Rwanda, the country’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (2013-2018) is pursuing a green approach to economic transformation. Furthermore, in January 2018, the Rwanda Green Building Minimum Compliance will be made mandatory for buildings occupied by more than 100 people. In Ghana, the National Housing Policy now incorporates an Eco-Communities National Framework and is seeing green building becoming a household word. In Tanzania, private led initiatives are resulting in the building of green affordable housing (at no additional cost), lowering utility costs and improving quality of life.

Whether policy or market based, leaders and influencers are recognising the value that green construction can yield for future generations: boosting economic growth and stability; helping to alleviate poverty; increasing access to renewable and reliable energy, and clean water. However, key barriers still exist. Across the continent these are consistently being named as a lack of awareness by the public, a shortage of skilled professionals that can design and deliver green buildings, and a scarce supply of local products despite the often-abundant availability of local, renewable materials.

Thankfully, Green Building Councils (GBCs) across Africa – currently in Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia – have recognised these needs and are working hard to address these exact barriers individually and collectively as part of WorldGBC’s Africa Regional Network.

For example, GBCSA ran the ‘My Green Home’ campaign in 2014, which created a framework for regular, middle-income families to take significant steps towards greening their homes. The campaign showcased a South African family taking measures to green their home that led to R18 000 in annual savings. Kenya GBShas adopted the Green Star rating system and has now trained over 100 professionals from financiers to tradesmen in green building practices, preparing the industry for the shift in how buildings are built. Similarly, the GBC Mauritius has trained over 150 professionals in Green Star. Namibia GBC has been working with local laboratories to support the development of local green products, and Zambia GBC has been working closely with the International Labour Organisation supporting the formation of green skills and job training through sustainable construction.

These GBCs are also playing an important role in supporting government to incorporate green building standards into national regulatory frameworks. Both Ghana GBC and Rwanda GBC were involved in the formation of the policies mentioned earlier. GBC Mauritius has worked closely with the government to include sustainability as a key component of the revised Building Control Act 2012, which resulted in the development of new regulations and codes for energy efficiency and conservation in buildings. Kenya GBS is working with two counties – Nairobi and Kisii – to draft green building guidelines under the UN Building Efficiency Accelerator programme, and is working with the national government to mainstream green building principles.

And our ambitions for these principles and what green buildings can achieve are also growing. GBCSA has launched a net zero building certification scheme under the WorldGBC’s groundbreaking Advancing Net Zero project, which seeks to ensure that all buildings are net zero carbon by 2050.

It is extremely promising to see the effects that our green building movement is having in the region, even in its infancy stage. What’s more, due to the COP21 Agreement and the United Nations’ strategy to channel funding into promoting low carbon growth in Africa, property developers could start to tap into green funds to co-fund their green building developments.

As the WorldGBC embarks on operationalising our Africa Regional Network and unlocking much-needed financial support for up-and-coming local GBCs, we have no doubt that this will soon prove to be our fastest-growing network, significantly contributing to regenerating the planet and improve quality of life for all Africans.

Dominika Czerwinska is Director of Membership and Regional Networks at the World Green Building Council. This African Network of GBC’s article formed the introduction for a book celebrating the Green Building Council of South Africa‘s 10 year anniversary.