GREEN BUILDING What is it all about?


The Ghana Green Building Council (GhGBC) was officially launched a year ago with representatives of Government, the private sector, building and construction professionals and a delegation from the World Green Building Council (WGBC) all present to witness the occasion.

What is the relevance and significance of such a Council and why should the average Ghanaian be bothered whether we build green or otherwise? It is worth taking a brief look at both the local and international context that necessitated its establishment and within which the Council will function.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as inhabitants of planet Earth is the creeping phenomenon of climate change and its effect on our existence and wellbeing as a species. It has been argued that we are largely responsible for our own predicament: an ever -increasing population has spawned problems of urbanization, pollution of water resources, deforestation and environmental degradation, depletion of non-renewable energy resources, emissions of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, depletion of the ozone layer etc all of which have affected the seasons, weather and rainfall patterns, and many other things which impact directly on our everyday activities.

The universal response to this has been to promote the concept of “sustainable “development , which was defined by the UN in2007 as “ development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept is particularly applicable to buildings and it is easy to see the reason why. People need housing, schools, commercial and industrial facilities, recreation and leisure areas, civic buildings and a host of other structures to cater for the 21st century lifestyle. It has been calculated that some 1.8 million tones of carbon dioxide representing around 40% of the annual world total is produced by buildings. Energy demand is usually very high and resources are not well-managed.

The WGBC has estimated that green buildings can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35% as compared to traditional buildings, reduce energy use between 35% – 50%, reduce waste output by 70% and water usage by 40%. These are extremely significant figures and any building method that can achieve and even improve on these is of enormous import and should be of interest to concerned individuals, organizations and governments worldwide.

What then is green building?

Wikipedia defines it as “a design and construction process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a buildings life cycle – from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition.”

This complements the usual building concerns of function, aesthetics, comfort, economy and durability. Green building is broadly concerned with efficiently using water, energy and other resources, protecting occupational health, improving employee productivity while reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation.

With all these considerations it can be seen that the construction of a green building must be a decision that is taken at the conceptual stage and requires the combined knowledge and cooperation of the architect and other building professionals, the owner/developer, materials manufacturers and suppliers, city and municipal authorities and many more to achieve the goal of reducing the environmental impact of the structure.

There are certain critical areas that must meet predetermined standards of performance for a structure to qualify for recognition as “ green “and these are:

Site sensitivity and sustainability: Is concerned with the impact of building operations on virgin sites to minimize disturbance of ecosystems and waterways. Also measures to reduce erosion and construction-related pollution.

Water efficiency: Buildings are huge consumers of potable water; sometimes very wastefully. The intention is to encourage the protection and conservation of water both inside and outside the building and a more efficient use. Measures to harvest and /or recycle water are essential.

Energy efficiency: Must include measures to reduce energy consumption during construction and operational phases. The use of renewable and clean sources of energy, energy efficient appliances and other innovative strategies is a core provision

Materials efficiency: Typically green materials would Include bamboo, straw, some lumber, insulated concrete forms, compressed earth blocks and the like. Locally – produced materials close to the site are a plus since it minimizes energy expended in their transportation.

Interior environmental quality: Green buildings seek to improve indoor air quality, thermal quality and the quality of lighting. Selection of materials and finishes coupled with sensitive design reduces the incidence of airborne contaminants while improving natural lighting and ventilation.

Other things that are considered are design innovation, ease of maintenance, amount of emissions etc – depending on the assessment criteria being applied. These are known as RATING TOOLS and are developed by national Green Building Councils worldwide to suit their peculiar circumstances.

One frequently asked question concerns the relative cost of a green building as against the traditional methods of construction and whether it is worth the investment. Solar power, LEDs and other technological innovations do not come cheap and yet many new developments worldwide are opting to go green because of the benefits. One must weigh the initial “ up front” or startup cost against the overall life cycle cost. When this is done the advantages are there for all to see.

Green buildings have significantly lower running and operating costs and provide a more congenial working atmosphere for inhabitants. Monetary savings are achieved by the lower utility bills arising from more efficient usage of utilities and makes funds available for other investments. Employee productivity is higher due to the better internal conditions and green buildings usually attract higher rents with accompanying high occupancy rates.

There is also the indirect benefit of improved health of those who live and work in them as well as hundreds of jobs created in construction, manufacturing, sanitation, energy and water supply and all the associated disciplines.

But how has Africa in general and Ghana in particular fared in this area? Most African countries have signed up to the United Nations Agenda 21 (the global plan of action regarding sustainable development) and attended the summits on climate change convened by the same body. Agenda 21 is a very broad and generalized programme covering many areas including building and construction; but the incorporation of the World Green Building Council in 2002 established the largest international organization dedicated to influencing the green building marketplace.

National GBCs have the charge to “partner with industry and government in the transformation of their building industries towards sustainability through the adoption of green building practices.” They have the additional responsibility of “influencing government policy,sharing knowledge and information,organizing events and workshops,developing or adapting rating tools to a particular market, and creating green building networks across the building industry with a view to globalize environmentally and socially responsible building practices.”

Of the 80 -odd national GBCs that are full or aspiring members of the World GBC only six can be found in Africa and yet our continent is said to be the one feeling the full effect of climate change in addition to our perennial problems.

Ghana is not exempted from these and continues to grapple with deforestation and desertification, flooding, irregular rainfall, erosion and loss of soil fertility, loss of arable land and biodiversity as well as issues largely confined to the districts and rural areas. Our recent classification as a predominantly urban country has just brought to the fore the uncontrolled sprawl in our urban centres – slums, lack of infrastructure and sanitation, irregular supply of electricity and potable water and inadequate waste management services; all coupled with water, noise and air pollution. This is a situation that cannot remain unchecked.

Isolated efforts have been made over the years mainly by individuals and a few organizations to explore alternative methods of construction using non-traditional materials in pursuit of the green agenda. One recognizes the work of the late architect Alero Olympio using rammed earth and compatriot Joe Osae-Addo in the use of indigenous materials.

A wealth of research has been conducted by the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Department of Housing and Planning Research of KNUST. From them have come the sandcrete TEK block, fired clay bricks, pozzolanna cement, stabilized soil construction and innovations in the use of bamboo. The Ministry of Environment , Science and Technology has been the driving force behind the enactment of a new national policy on the use of local building materials in construction and there will soon be two major projects in Accra that will be predominantly green. These are the new headquarters for the Lands Commission and a commercial development at Airport City called One Airport Square which will be the first building in Ghana to be officially certified by the Ghana Green Building Council. These are all very commendable efforts but they have not had a nationwide impact largely because there has not been a focal point for the sharing of ideas and dissemination of information. It is against this background that the establishment of the Ghana Green Building Council must be viewed. Founded in 2009 the GhGBC has the vision of significantly improving the health and lives of the present and future generations through sustainable buildings and communities.

Over the past three years the Council has had meaningful and fruitful discussions with the key Government Ministries directly involved with the built environment as well as KNUST. Kumasi with a view towards collaboration in various areas. It has also organized a number of lectures and public fora for selected organizations. The Council is a nongovernmental organization with no private ownership and membership is open to all who subscribe to the green building principle in either individual or corporate capacity.

The sharing of ideas, information and research findings will help the Council to fulfil one of its key objectives – the development and promotion of a rating tool system that is recognized and accepted in Ghana. The betterknown rating tools in use are LEED (USA), BREEAM (UK) and GREENSTAR (AUS &SA). It will be important to extract from these the core ideals and then modify them to suit our own local conditions as has been done elsewhere. The Gh GBC with the assistance of the South African GBC has customized the Greenstar rating tool for use nationally as GREENSTAR GH.

The Council will also work assidiuously to influence the formulation and implementation of policy regarding green building in the country and encourage all stakeholders to support the construction of green buildings.

If Ghana is to make any headway in the fight against climate change and global warming then the Ghana Green Building Council will be on the front line and deserves the support and encouragement of everyone who has an interest in ensuring that wise and judicious use is made of our resources and that our buildings contribute to overall environmental conservation, improved quality of life, and the institution of a legacy that can be passed on to future generations.