The case for green buildings in Rwanda

I&M Bank is housed in a green building, albeit still under construction. / Emmanuel Kwizera

Is your office block a green building? Could it be upgraded to one?

The term green buildings has increasingly become synonymous in discussions on the feature of construction projects. For most, however, the components of a green building remain unclear.

Imagine sitting in an overcrowded conference room. You want to stand up, stretch your legs and ‘breathe’ a little, but you can’t because you have a load of work to finish. At the end of the day, you are mentally drained, probably have a headache and need to get home to rest.

This general condition has little to do with the long day and more to do with the rooms in which the meetings are held, experts reveal. It all boils down to the carbon dioxide concentration in the building.

Poor air quality, ventilation, and lighting are common problems in non-green buildings, says Fred Mugisha, the city's Director of Urban Planning and Construction at One-Stop-Centre.

Green Growth experts have said the new Bank Populaire building is likely to be among the few certified green buildings in Kigali once the greening audit is completed. / Emmanuel Kwizera

Green buildings, on the other hand, possess a modern process of healthier and more resource-efficient methods and technologies in design and construction.

A green building is a structure that, in its design, assembly or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on climate and natural environment.

In today’s society, it is the sustainable building model, especially with the recent move by the government to approve the ministerial order that establishes the Green Building Minimum Compliance system — a scheme that will help property owners and developers choose indicators based on the applicability to the building type, usage, and the benefits associated.

The features of a green building

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), buildings accounted for 30 percent of global final energy consumption and 28 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2015, and UN-Habitat estimates that in Africa, energy used in buildings is an estimated 56 percent of the total national electricity consumption.

For example, I&M Bank is housed in a green building, albeit still under construction.

In an interview with Sunday Times, an official from I&M Bank who requested anonymity said the building is environmentally friendly and provides natural comfortable working conditions.

“The bank engaged an architect for the design of a green-conscious building. As such, there are a number of features in the new bank premises that subscribe to the make-up of a green building.”

Asked about the features (green aspects) that make-up such a facility, the bank’s official said that a number of designs, such as the use of Ruliba bricks, have enabled the facility to stand out.

“In using the locally manufactured Ruliba bricks in the design, it reduces the heat generation within the building, as opposed to the normal construction designs in the city that comprise of glass that generates heat, resulting in the need for high use of air conditioning to cool down the premises.”

Furthermore, the window installations on the building are concave, which is said to deflect direct heat from the sun on the building. This way, the brick, and glazing design help to cool down the interior of the building without the need for excessive air conditioning usage.

The roofing design is unique in Kigali, and besides providing an attractive skyline to the city, it also has environmentally-friendly features. The central portion of the roofing is fairly transparent, allowing for natural light to pass into the central portion of the two tower blocks of the building design. The roofing is also being overlaid with solar paneling. This will allow the bank to use solar energy resources.

The drainage has been designed in such a way that the use of a Siphon drainage system will allow rainwater to be drained from the building into a holding tank that will have a treatment plant – allowing the rainwater capture to be converted to full potable water (including drinking water) for use within the building.

When construction commenced on the building, the bank’s management instructed the contractors to, wherever possible, protect the existing flora. Trees and shrubs have been protected as much as possible.

Affordable vs sustainable

The Director-General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Coletha Ruhamya, says the initial investment may be huge but the long term sustainability is worth it.

“I know that people are not willing to embrace this trend because they think it’s costly, but from personal experience, I have noticed that going green is the best solution, not just for that specific person but also for the neighborhood.”

She believes that the idea to install a solar-power heater saved her family from electricity bills that she used to cover monthly.

“I used to pay a huge bill for electricity at my house, up until I also started going green, and today there is a huge budget decrease after investing in a solar heater.”

Ruhamya also points out that it is very possible to construct a building of Rwf70 million but not go green. Yet there are cheap materials that could be used to ensure an eco-friendly facility.

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