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Insights from the Botswana Built Environment Conference

By Boitumelo Pauline Marumo

2 May 2024

The concept of a sustainably built environment is multifaceted, encompassing not just the physical structures we inhabit but also the social, economic, and cultural landscapes they shape. By weaving together discussions from the 2nd Botswana Built Environment Conference, this blog underscores the critical role of collaboration in climate action and the built environment. This conference was organised by 360 Events Affair on 24 - 25 April 2024, at Ba Isago University, Gaborone, Botswana.

Traditional house at Mosetse Village Kgotla

One of the most prominent intersections highlighted at the conference lies between climate change and construction. The construction sector is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for nearly 40% according to the United Nations Environment Programme (1). Construction processes are resource-intensive, and buildings themselves consume a substantial amount of energy for heating, cooling, and lighting. This nexus between construction and climate change underscores the urgent need for sustainable built environment practices that minimize the sector's environmental footprint.

Panelist Peter Moalafi, Town Planner, Urban Designer & MD of Urban Height, described how resilient design and construction practices create structures that can withstand the impacts of climate change. He said that planning is meant to solve future problems, emphasizing the need for a multistakeholder approach. This could involve using heat-resistant materials, incorporating natural ventilation strategies, and investing in green infrastructure like parks and green roofs that can help regulate temperatures and mitigate flooding.

 The built environment plays a crucial role in adapting to the effects of climate change. Weak infrastructure, including roads and buildings, is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves. A 2020 study by the World Bank estimates that climate change could cost sub-Saharan Africa up to $50 billion per year by 2050, largely due to damage to infrastructure (2). In Botswana, a country already grappling with droughts and erratic rainfall patterns, building resilience into the built environment is critical. Michael Mafa, FM Consultant & President of BOFMA, expressed his concerns over facility management, urging stakeholders to consider effective use of space, resources and managing what comes in as well as what goes out of construction.

Day 1 of the 2nd Botswana Built Environment Conference and EXPO panel discussion on "Circular Value Chains: Our Shared Understanding", panelists like Tebogo Modisagape, President of the Botswana Green Building Council, championed the idea of incorporating traditional architectural styles and utilizing local materials, promoting a form of green architecture that is environmentally friendly. This approach aligns with the principles of a circular economy, a system that emphasizes resource efficiency and minimizing waste (3). By adopting such practices, the construction sector can play a vital role in mitigating climate change.

The discussion around "Activating the Ecosystem and Connecting to Regulations and Authority" emphasized the need for robust policies and enforcement mechanisms to ensure green building practices and access to sustainable energy solutions. The absence of such regulations can lead to misleading products and hinder the accessibility of sustainable energy sources, particularly for vulnerable communities. This highlights the crucial role that policymakers play in fostering a sustainable built environment.

 " Lack of these instructions give room for sub standard products and practices, this not only harm public perception on renewable energy products but also negatively affects grassroots communities and their energy access needs." - Tracy Sonny, Botswana Climate Change Network

The conference also delved into the social and cultural considerations of sustainability. Waste segregation practices emerged as a major point of discussion, with concerns raised regarding the collection of segregated waste in single garbage trucks and the establishment of accessible recycling points throughout communities. This exemplifies the social and cultural dimensions of sustainability. Effective waste management necessitates not just infrastructure but also a shift in behavior patterns and community buy-in. Collaboration with traditional leadership and educational programs become vital in this context.

The concept of social equity is another crucial intersection explored in the conference. The success of sustainable built environment initiatives hinges on ensuring that these practices benefit all members of society, not just a select few. Ketsile Mogae - Chief Sustainability Officer & Co-Founder Rewaste Solutions, said that this can be done by integrating waste segregation education into school curriculums, using storytelling to teach children about recycling and appreciating Botswana's beauty. Such measures promote social equity and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in and benefit from a sustainable future.

Close-up of Solar Panels on a Roof of a House. Photo by: Garešnica, Bjelovarsko-bilogorska županija, Hrvatska

The Government of Botswana has taken some initial steps towards addressing climate change in the built environment. The National Climate Change Policy of 2018 acknowledges the need for sustainable construction practices and promotes energy-efficient buildings. Further action is needed, such as development of a comprehensive National Sustainable Built Environment Strategy. This strategy should outline clear goals, targets, and implementation plans for promoting sustainable construction practices, green infrastructure development, and climate-resilient design across all sectors.

The government can develop and enforce stricter building codes that promote energy efficiency, water conservation, and the use of sustainable materials. This aligns with the recommendations of the New Urban Agenda, adopted by UN member states in 2016, which emphasizes the importance of national policies that support sustainable urbanization (4). At the 2nd Botswana Built Environment Conference, Tracy Sonny, National Coordinator of the the Botswana Climate Change Network, emphasised the importance of regulations and standards enforcement mechanisms for green buildings and renewable energy products.

And lastly,  there should be deliberate Investments into green infrastructure projects like parks, green roofs, and bioswales, these can not only enhance aesthetics but also improve stormwater management, reduce the urban heat island effect, and create natural habitats (5). When concluding the dialogue, Outule Bale, CEO of Khumo Property Asset Management, advised that in the property management ecosystem, a building should serve a purpose as well as be sustainable, prompting a discussion which should be carried beyond the conference, "does a building tell a story?".

References and further reading

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Status of Buildings and Construction: Towards a Zero-Emission, Inclusive and Resilient Future

World Bank Climate Change Data: 

Kirchherr, J., Reike, D., & Hekkert, M. (2017). Circular Economy in the Built Environment: Current Practice and Future Potential. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21(3), 644-656.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), The New Urban Agenda (2016) 

Green roofs for urban stormwater management (2008) by L. E.  Gill, J. F. Handley, A. R. Enright, K. R. McEvoy, D. B. Orr

International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2020

Jusic, Suvada & Hadžić, Emina & Milisic, Hata. (2019). Stormwater Management by Green Roof. Acta Scientific Agriculture. 3. 57-62. 10.31080/ASAG.2019.03.0516.

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