Despite repeated appeals to developers encouraging them to put up green buildings, experts are worried that only a handful seem to be heeding this call. During th­e 2016 Annual Green Building Conference held at the Strathmore Business School in August this year, many developers lamented about several issues that make construction tougher for those who heed the call to design and put up green structures.

“Building green actually works in Western countries because governments there understand the value that they deliver to the economy and hence offer incentives for their contractors to go green. However, in Kenya, green building is yet to be profitable because the costs of putting up an energy-efficient structure are exorbitant,” explained Mr Samuel Onyango, a contractor at the event that was organised by the Kenya Green Building Society (KGBS).

Meanwhile, Mr Simon Macharia, an architect, complained of the lack of awareness of uniform green building standards that should be applied by builders in the country. “Many players in the construction sector have the misguided notion that they can simply borrow green building standards from Europe and apply them in Kenya, oblivious of the climatic differences between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. What we need are green building standards laid out and approved for application in Kenya by the government,” Mr Macharia said.

The indifference among property developers in the country to going green is beginning to worry the United Nations. Consequently the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), in collaboration with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has launched a programme known as Promoting Energy Efficiency in building in East Africa.

The Chief of UN Habitat’s Urban Energy Unit, Dr Vincent Kitio, is worried that the country’s building sector, if left unchecked, will lead to higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions because of the buildings’ inefficient designs, poor building stands, and lack of understanding of how to build green, among the factors.

Speaking at his office at the United Nations Complex in Gigiri, Dr Kitio expressed concern that buildings coming up in Nairobi and other parts of the country are mere replicas of buildings designed in the Western world.


“Many modern buildings have coloured glass exteriors, which are suited only to the climatic conditions of the West. Here in Kenya, the glass exterior often ends up making the buildings hot on the inside, causing them to be heavily reliant on additional energy for cooling, lighting and ventilation,” the expert points out.

It is such cluelessness among developers that inspired UN-Habitat to roll out the programme to promote energy efficiency not just in Kenya, but in East Africa as a whole.

“We realised that, though some players in the construction industry really wished to go green, they were groping in the dark, not sure of the steps to take. So far, we have managed to partner with several industry players and educated them on the practices to follow when it comes to building green,” says Dr Kitio.

“We have been training architects, engineers and other professionals on the aspects of green buildings such as the ability of a building to use natural light, harvest rain water and tap solar energy,” he adds.

One professional body that has signed a contract with UN-Habitat is the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK). The pact between the association and UN-Habitat provides guidelines and technological measures that architects around the country will adopt to promote greater environmental responsibility.

Apart from these professionals, UN-Habitat is also looking to raise awareness among ordinary citizens about simple building practices that will enable them to go green.

“At the design stage of a building before construction begins, we allow members of the public to submit their building plans to UN-Habitat for consultations on how to make those buildings more sustainable. Our professionals provide consultancy and design suggestions to would-be builders free of charge,” says Dr Kitio.

However, he is concerned that many developers do not understand exactly what a green building is. Although he acknowledges that energy efficiency is a major component with regard  to green buildings, he points out that investors sometimes ignore other factors such as water efficiency, waste reduction and indoor air quality.

While he acknowledges that it is currently expensive for developers to set up green residences, Mr Kitio reveals that the United Nations is in talks with state officials in an effort to get the government to provide tax incentives and subsidies to people importing materials used in green buildings.


“Take energy efficient LED lamps for instance. They are currently more expensive than regular bulbs on the market because very few retailers are importing them. If the government were to scrap taxes levied on these bulbs, then more people would import them and they would become common in Kenyan households, thus saving the entire nation a substantial amount of energy,” he says.

Developers complaining about the costs of putting up green buildings might have a reason to smile if a proposal by UN-Habitat to get banks to provide “green mortgages” comes to fruition. Dr Kitio reveals that his office is currently in talks with banks to set aside special mortgages and construction loans for people looking to buy materials and put up energy- efficient buildings. These loans and mortgages, he adds, will be issued at interest rates that are even lower than the current 14.5 per cent enforced by the government.

However, Dr Kitio points out that even though the initial costs for setting up a green building might be high, developers should realise that they will, in most instances, recoup their investment many times over within the first or second decade of the building’s existence.

“As time goes by, the maintenance costs of an energy-efficient building keep going down and you cannot make the same comparison with conventional buildings,” he adds.

Another organisation that is striving to push  Kenya’s green building agenda is the Kenya Green Building Society (KGBS). Registered with the World Green Building Council as its official chapter in the country, KGBS is a non-profit, independent and membership-based society that is leading the green building movement in the local market to ensure that buildings are designed and built in a manner that makes them sustainable.

The secretary of the society’s board, Mr Amrish Shah, points out that KGBS is the only body in Kenya that’s mandated to certify the built environment. In this regard, KGBS assesses buildings and awards ratings with regard to the processes used in the design, construction and maintenance of the building, ensuring that the buildings are environmentally friendly.

“Currently, KGBS uses the comprehensive Green Star rating tool adopted from South Africa. Our rating tool assesses the environmental attributes of new and existing facilities in the building industry in Kenya. It can be applied from the design phase of a project up to two years from practical completion,” explains Mr Shah.


He says that so far they have assessed the major shopping complexes in the country, including Two Rivers Mall and Garden City. He adds that KGBS has also partnered with developers of residential housing such as real estate firm Dunhill to ensure that even houses are built in such a way that they are sustainable.

“We are looking forward to a future where, before moving into a new apartment, house-seekers will first enquire about the sustainability and energy efficiency of the building,” Mr Shah says.

The KGBS board chair notes that the Energy Regulation Commission requires landlords to regularly carry out energy audits on their buildings.

To this end the Kenya Green Building Society has within its team a number of licensed energy consultants, Mr Shah says,

“Members of the public need to know that after carrying out an energy audit on their buildings, recommendations are usually made which, if implemented, can go a long way in helping them save money.”

The team at KGBS includes architects, contractors and independent consults who guide member associations through the green agenda.

“We host regular training events and so far we have trained more than 700 green building consultants sent by our members,” reveals Mr Shah.

He further notes that in order to spread the green building agenda countrywide, county governments should form partnerships with the Kenya Green Building Society. That way, the society will be in a position to guide the counties during the formulation of their by-laws to ensure that all building regulations adhere to the sustainable building agenda.

“We have invited Kiambu County to sign a memorandum of understanding, making it the first green county in Kenya. We hope to capture all counties by the end of next year,” says Mr Shah, who then appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to consider being the association’s patron, asserting that KGBS’s mandate is in line with Vision 2030.



Why Kenyans are not going green

  • High cost of importing raw materials
  • Lack of government support
  • Lack of local standards
  • Senseless adoption of Western standards
  • Ignorance of how to go about the process


What government can do

  • Formulate standards appropriate to the local situation
  • Reduce or eliminate taxes on green building materials
  • Create awareness of the benefits of going

Unep headquarters a study in green technology

To demonstrate how a green building should be designed, the Chief of the Urban Energy Unit, Dr Vincent Kitio, took DN2 on a tour of the edifice that houses Unep and UN-Habitat offices.

“This is arguably the ‘greenest’ building in Africa, and visitors come here from all over the world to learn how to design energy-efficient buildings,” he said at the start of the tour.

The UN Complex is designed in such a way that it uses the natural flow of air instead of using artificial air conditioning. This is achieved through a simple design that enables the building to operate like a chimney, such that warm air is drawn up from the ground and through the office areas, and then escapes beneath the sides of the vaulted roof, maintaining comfortable temperatures in the offices and air circulation throughout the building. Open-plan offices within the building also help air circulation and temperature control.


“Air conditioning is what accounts for the highest energy consumption in many commercial offices,” Dr Kitio points out.

The UN Complex is also energy neutral, which Dr Kitio defines as “the ability to produce as much energy as it consumes throughout the year”.

Solar panels cover the buildings’ expansive roof and generate even more energy than the building can consume.

“If we had many such buildings around Nairobi, they could even feed the excess energy into the national grid,” Dr Kitio says.

When it comes to lighting, glazed roof lights are set in the building’s flat roof, and toughened glass set at floor level beneath them on each floor, enabling natural light to penetrate right through to the ground floor. The buildings are also fitted with bulbs that detect the amount of light in a room and thus automatically dim and brighten accordingly.

When it rains, the rainwater is harvested via the roof and used to irrigate the landscaped areas around the building. Several fountains spread out around the complex are also fed by rainwater harvested from the roof. Meanwhile, waste water from the lavatories is treated in an on-site state-of-the-art aeration facility and the clean water used to irrigate the landscaped compound.

Areas within the building have been landscaped and a number of indigenous trees and plants planted in them. The building has four interior gardens which represent Kenya’s four climatic zones, namely the coast, desert, savannah and high-altitude forest.

Apart from the structure of the building, the day-to-day habits of its users have been geared in such a way that they promote a green culture. For example, instead of using desktop PCs that are standard in many offices, Notebooks are preferred here because they consume only a third of the electricity used by desktop PCs

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