Accra, Ghana

5 July 2011 – The thought of coming to Ghana petrified me, in a way.

Africa’s “second least most failed state” is a long, long way from Australia – and not just in geography. What use would they have for an Australian ESD consultant with limited international experience?

Enter the Ghana Green Building Council

The Ghana Green Building Council has been in operation since August 2009, aiming:

To transform the built environment in Ghana towards sustainability through the way our communities are planned, designed, constructed, maintained and operated.

The prominent board – featuring the likes of government representatives, developers and top tier architects – knew they wanted to introduce a rating tool into the marketplace. They reviewed the existing tools against their criteria – locally relevant, yet internationally recognised.

And they decided to pursue Green Star, managed by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Whether or not they can actually use Green Star is still to be decided. But like all good entrepreneurs they took a risk. When CEO Foster Osae-Akonnor found out from Michelle Malanca (ex-GBCA) that I was keen to come to Ghana to transfer what I know, he jumped at the opportunity. He invited me to come and assist in the process of understanding what a certification scheme for buildings would look like in Ghana.

So, is their good news for Ghana?
Accra, the capital, is booming.

An economic hub of West Africa, the skyline is dotted with half-built buildings. Google have one of their three Africa offices here. The Australian Government High Commission in Accra serves as a diplomatic post for nine  West African countries. Just last year Brussels Airlines introduced direct flights to Accra from Belgium.

And many of these organisations are looking for high performance environmental buildings. Even funding for these projects can come tied to environmental performance metrics.

As one example, a building in Accra had to prove it would use 30 per cent less energy than a typical Ghanaian building to secure its loan. Another – the Netherlands Embassy – recently became the first Ghanaian building to get certification – using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

This is coupled with the predominance of hydropower – making Ghanaian carbon intensity per kilowatt hour consumed about half that in Australia.

Image of One Airport Square

And the challenges?
There is scarce government regulation and policy around green buildings. And the little environmental regulation they have is not well enforced.

By way of example, the Ghana Building Code was published in 1989. Whilst there is talk of an update, the current version has no performance requirements for glazing, except for shading. The requirements for thermal insulation extend across three lines. And it refers to the use of asbestos.

There are no OH and S regulations for construction sites. There is no contained landfill site for Accra and no local guidelines for the removal of hazardous waste. There are no water efficiency regulations.

Energy efficiency regulations extend as far as minimum performance requirements for in-room air conditioners and CFLs. And to top it off energy and water infrastructure are strained – stand-by generators in Accra buildings are designed to operate at full capacity for a minimum of two weeks out of every year. The office I was working in was without power for almost an entire week during my stay.

I am beginning to understand why despite having a base here, Google do much of their sub-Sahara Africa work out of Switzerland.

On the ground
So what have I actually been doing here, besides learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road and say “white person” in every one of the local languages?

I’ve been interviewing local consultants, meeting with suppliers and reading the local regulations to see how a Ghanian rating system could work.

I spent a great deal of time with Arthro Synergeio– a prominent local architecture firm who share an office and CEO with the GhGBC. They informally applied Green Star to their recent top tier project – Vodafone’s Ghanaian head office. A platinum member of the GhGBC – they gave hours and hours of their time to share how the local industry works.

I also spent time with the One Airport Square project team – a visionary office building project from Laurus Development Partners. Laurus – also a platinum member of the GhGBC – have been designing their building to Green Star South Africa with the hope of being able to certify their project through the Green Star rating scheme.

A rating system for Ghana
The thoughts I hear in the marketplace echo those of the GhGBC board – a tool which is both locally relevant and internationally recognised. In the words of Joe Osae-Addo – prominent architect and founder of the brilliant AiD event series – Ghanaians are looking for a rating system which addresses sustainability “in our own words”.

It is just about the end of schematic design and One Airport Square is looking at rating of around 4 stars. And Arthro Synergeio are convinced a rating system of a similar calibre to that in Australia and South Africa will have a place in the future of Ghanaian development.

In the end, my recommendations for a Ghanaian tool centre around the reference of relevant international guidelines and standards, with very few changes to actual benchmarks.

A final word
The compounding factors of lax infrastructure and geography can make communication difficult. This coupled with excitement over green building meant that the GhGBC were pipped at the post. The Green Building Council of Ghana (note the subtle difference in name!) pulled together a quick expression of interest were the first to register with the World Green Building Council.

The groups are now collaborating under the GhGBC name. And the energy here would suggest that the drive towards local relevance, yet international recognition, will continue unhindered.

Monique Alfris ran the Sydney arm of Built Ecology. She has just finished working in Ghana and Mauritius with their respective Green Building Councils, and is about to take up a sustainability role across South East Asia. You can catch her on twitter (@moniquealfris) or on her blog “Learnings and Lovings” (

See Ms Alris’ Postcard from Mauritius in The Fifth Estate

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