Ghana Goes Green

Published: Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 by Rebecca Menes

ghana goes green-smallGraffiti always reveals the truth. It symbolizes what is most urgent to a nation, from its deepest angst to its most heartfelt hopes. So when I arrived in Accra and saw #ghanagoesgreen emblazoned across a wall on one of the capital’s busiest streets, I felt a pang of anticipation. Then I saw it again – and again. I wondered: could going green really be at the core of the collective conscience of Ghanaians? Do they secretly roam the streets emboldened by midnight motivations to fight climate change?

I later learned that #ghanagoesgreen is simply the hashtag for a candidate named Ivor Greenstreet who is running in the upcoming presidential election. Despite this disappointment, I came to understand that Ghana does have enormous ambitions to become a leader in the green building space – and the political will to make it happen. The usual arguments about green buildings costing too much or the technology being unavailable never came up during my brief mission to the country with IFC’s EDGE green buildings team, when we met with representatives from the government, bankers, designers, and builders to introduce EDGE to the market.

It turns out that Lambert Faabeluon, the Director of Standards, Compliance and Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency, built his own home using the EDGE green building software as soon as it became available on the market. A zealous enthusiast, he has plans to embed the software into his government’s permitting process, making it mandatory for a new building to achieve at least 20 percent less energy, water, and embodied energy in materials compared to a typical building. “EDGE is the radical change that can be brought to the system,” Lambert declares emphatically.

Lambert joins us for meetings with the country’s top architects, engineers, and the wise sages of the Ghana Green Building Council. Tough questions start to fly right away from this ambitious collective with its stance on keeping the performance of their buildings low-cost and structurally cool. “Will the EDGE software include bio digesters some day? Insulation for piping? What about sky lighting? Solar tubes? You need to include building orientation for homes, not just commercial buildings! We want 15 percent of all energy to come from a renewable source. Can we make this mandatory in EDGE?”

In the steamy heat of a Ghanaian morning, Kojo Addo-Kufuor, the Chief Operating Officer for Ghana Home Loans, gathers his clients in a tiny room to learn about EDGE. He has aspirations to make a commitment for a large percentage of his clients’ construction portfolios to reach the EDGE standard and achieve green building certification. With 30 percent mortgage rates and annual inflation at 19 percent, it’s no wonder that the potential for utility savings is attractive to Ghana’s property developers who are vying to deliver value to their customers in this expanding yet still struggling economy.

Kojo knows that one of the best ways for Ghana to go green could be through green mortgages, and Ghana Home Loans is in the position to sway the market in this direction. Green mortgages pass the developer’s extra costs of building green to the homeowner through a larger loan with the understanding that utility usage will be less than normal. Ghana’s homes tend to have many bedrooms and be large in size with high cooling demand from the sweltering equatorial temperatures, so a homeowner with a well-designed green home poses less risk. Smart meters could be conditional to the loan, enabling self-monitoring and the avoidance of utility shocks.

Someday, long after presidents have come and gone and green mortgages are the norm, I’ll return to Ghana on a late-night flight. If Lambert, Kojo, and the nation’s keepers of the green flame have anything to do with it, I might see a furtive image, spray can in hand, darting down the street. And I’ll smile when I see his powerful message, in wet paint, resonate with new meaning.

Rebecca Menes is Associate Operations Officer for EDGE, a green building certification system and software that is an innovation of IFC, a member of the World Bank Group that focuses on the private sector.