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Green Building: A Window of Opportunity

Published 04/16/2012 by Global Communities

Green Building: A Window of Opportunity
In the Palestinian Territories, environmentally friendly construction is taking root.
By Kari Jorgensen Diener, Senior Knowledge Management Specialist/LEED Green Associate, and Anjad Hithnawi, Research and Capacity Building Coordinator, CHF International
This article originally appeared in Monthly Developments.
It is commonly assumed that green building is a high priced construction technique, a luxury affordable only to the wealthy and elite. However, green building techniques are actually comparably priced to conventional methods and also bring a host of other benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions, water pollution, running costs and negative impacts on human health.
Like many developing countries, the Palestinian Territories are experiencing rapid population growth, urbanization and an increasing demand for energy. These demands are coupled with issues such as water scarcity, desertification, deforestation and limited public sector resources.
Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that in the coming decades, the Middle East will be the region most affected by climate change. Although the Middle East as a region contributes a small amount to global greenhouse gas emissions (only around 5 percent) the region’s percentage of total emissions is on the rise. Since 1990, emission rates have increased 150 percent and this amount is expected to double by 2050. Sustainable development is further complicated by the complex political context that is driven, in part, by scarce resources.

PHOTO: The Safeer Children’s Center, a green building built by CHF International, has 50% less power needs than similarly sized buildings nearby due to the use of green building techniques such as a grey water treatment system and low-cost sun-shades.
Buildings contribute to 40 percent of energy consumption and 30 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Due to the major impact of buildings on the environment, the United Nations Environment Program has stated that the building sector has the greatest level of potential for “drastic emission reductions.” This presents a window of opportunity for the development community to positively impact sustainable development through changes in the way we build.
In the Palestinian Territories, typical forms of new construction, operations and maintenance strategies result in negative impacts on the local environment. Moreover, nascent urban planning policies and limited enforcement of environmental laws and regulations have resulted in ad hoc construction. Green spaces are replaced by residential and commercial buildings with poor environmental performance. A rapidly increasing demand for energy, which is growing 8 percent annually, adds to dependence on nonrenewable resources. These issues, coupled with inadequate sanitation, drainage and solid waste management systems, present serious challenges.
The cost debate
One of the major obstacles facing green building initiatives in the Palestinian Territories is the misconception of cost. Many established studies have proven that there is no significant difference in the cost of green buildings compared to traditional buildings. Green buildings can be built with small or no added costs and within the budget range of similar conventional buildings. Building green may also include the use of passive building techniques that do not automatically assume the application of “high tech” solutions alone. Moreover, any added costs are typically recovered in long-term savings in the operations of buildings.
For example, at the Safeer Children’s Center, a recently constructed green building, the center’s Chairman, Isa Hindi stated, “From the morning until just before sunset, there is no need at all for lighting or the use of air conditioning in the summer because of the design and the large size of windows.” In its one year of operation, the center’s expenses for water and electricity have been 50 percent less than similarly sized buildings in the same area. This drastic reduction is due to the green building techniques used, ranging from a grey water treatment system installed at the site to low-cost sun-shades.

Opportunities and challenges
Given the fact that the Palestinian Territories receive one of the highest levels of aid in the world—more than $17 billion since signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, of which a large proportion goes to infrastructure funding—there is great potential for integrating new sustainability approaches. Green building offers a new way for infrastructure planning and implementation, beginning with site selection and extending through to construction, renovation, adaptive reuse of existing structures and the operation and maintenance of buildings.


Most importantly, green building is not a foreign concept to the region and much can be learned from the environmentally responsive elements of traditional Palestinian architecture. Traditional construction strategies enabled buildings to reach required thermal comfort levels in an arid/semi-arid area and promoted compact and dense community development. Historically, local building orientation and the careful design of windows, overhangs and insulation increased solar gain in winter, reduced buildings’ heat in summer and maximized natural ventilation and lighting. Moreover, buildings were designed toward

the inside to shield from bright sunlight and incorporated inner vegetated courtyards. These courtyards generated a cooler microclimate, enhanced fresh air circulation and ventilation, provided outdoor shaded areas and maximized day lighting gains. In bigger buildings, solar chimneys (wind towers) were often used to aid in heating and cooling.
Although methods of traditional Palestinian building promote natural heating and cooling for structures, the application of green building design has been limited. However, with the addition of green building curriculum into university courses in Palestinian engineering faculties, local expertise in both traditional and up-to-date green building approaches is growing. During the 2010-11 school year, courses ranging from Use of Solar Energy to Environmental Systems in Architecture were offered at major Palestinian universities. Contractors exposed to new techniques are adopting new measures in construction efforts.
As local material suppliers see demand growing, their green product range is expanding. In the past five years, the West Bank has seen many new businesses starting up with products ranging from geothermal services to grey water treatment systems. As government officials become more aware of the public sector benefits of green building, a legal framework and key incentives for investors and builders are slowly taking root. In November 2010, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wrote in an opinion piece for The Christian Science Monitor: “In Palestine, we are increasingly recognizing the importance of integrating green construction practices into our vision for building a viable, secure state. We must consider not only human and economic security, but in order to ensure these, we must also consider environmental security. Without ensuring that we proceed to ameliorate the effects of climate change, we cannot be assured that our efforts in construction of towns, homes—and a state—will not be undermined.”

As demonstrated in the Palestinian Territories, climate change is a real and ongoing challenge affecting developing countries. Infrastructure development initiatives should look to green building to reduce the impact of buildings on energy consumption and climate change while also improving human

health, the ability of communities to sustain construction projects and the potential for new job creation in a growing global sector. Green building does not necessarily mean using a more expensive form of building; on the contrary, it is cost-effective in pure economic terms. Green buildings often draw from traditional architecture and construction techniques, which facilitates acceptance. Potential challenges may be overcome with awareness, local skills development and governmental incentives and support.
With its many advantages to human and environmental health and the economic bottom line, green building should become the standard for infrastructure initiatives implemented by the international development community.