Challenges and benefits of “going green” in Nigeria

“Environmental sustainability”, “global warming” and “green” have become common terms in discussions on the subject matter about the effects of our economic and social activities on the environment. Emerging economies are also starting to appreciate environmental issues, albeit to varying degrees. According to a recent report on the green agenda of African countries, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana top the table in terms of promoting projects with an environmental sustainability focus.i

“Going green” is the phrase referring to corporate and individual action consciously taken to curb the harmful effects on the environment through consumer habits and lifestyles.

Recently, attention has been focused on the built environment. “We recognise that the building sector is one of the largest contributors to (green house gas) emissions, with commercial buildings contributing between 30%-40% of these emissions annually” said the GE Real Estate CEO at a forum where the company committed to improving the environmental performance of its substantial commercial real estate portfolio.ii

Developing a green agenda for Nigeria – how feasible?

Nigeria is confronted with several peculiar challenges which make a green agenda appear unattainable. Top of these include the solutions that have been adopted because of the inefficiencies in the energy and transportation systems, as well as waste management. The building industry also has its peculiar handicaps.

Energy supply

It is reported that Nigerians burn an average of 40 million litres of petrol/diesel per day for the private generation of electricity.iii Keeping the efficient supply of energy in the hands of licenced providers appears to be a long way away, so is seeking alternative clean power (such as from wind, solar and waste). The Nigeria Energy Commission – whose mandate includes to “guarantee adequate, sustainable and optimal supply of energy at appropriate cost and in an environmentally responsible manner to the various sectors of the economy, by utilising all viable energy resources in an optimal mix – appears incapable of championing initiatives in alternative clean energy.iv

Industry operators can play a significant role in the development and use of clean energy – “simple” solutions such as the use of modular solar-powered generating plants (particularly for domestic use) will make a big difference, in a country which is reported to have 60 million petrol/diesel powered generating sets.v What appears to be lacking is a concise government agenda, translating into strategies, top of which are the policies and incentives required to encourage private sector participation.

Several years ago, the Government of Rwanda entered into a 25 year partnership with a German state for the provision of alternative clean power. The Kigali project is one of several initiatives being undertaken under this arrangement. The solar plant will upon completion generate 325 kilowatt of electricity.

The government-led initiative has generated sufficient interest within the private sector, which is expected to play a prominent role in future projects under the


The poor state of infrastructure and the lack of impactful investments mean most Nigerian cities lack efficient transportation systems. Other more recent problems such as petrol pricing and carbon dioxide emissions should be forcing governments to consider implementing better public transportation initiatives. Unfortunately, a country whose primary mode of transport (in its major cities) is the motorcycle with capacity for two persons (although known to carry four or five) may not be in a position to discuss environmentally efficient ways to achieving mass transportation.

Still, incentives from government can generate private participation, first in basic research and development seeking existing adaptable solutions. Vehicles using clean energy technologies are relatively expensive, a hydrogen powered bus developed in 2009, and whose only emission is water, is priced at US$1.5million.vii However, varieties of cost efficient hybrids have been developed over the past decade and are in use in many developing countries.

A growing range of global environment funds, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), are available specifically for the funding of sustainable public transport and less polluting energy supplies. It is reported that in Africa, only Tanzania has taken advantage of the GEF.viii

Waste management

There have been very little done by successive governments or relevant agencies with regards to environmentally sustainable waste disposal. Indiscriminate dumping of waste by individuals and government agencies is rife. Only in the past couple of years has the Lagos State Government developed (and is implementing) a waste management strategy.

Design and building innovation

Building better communities through environmental innovation should top the agenda of any government and influencing the way this happens, a priority.

The government needs to lead by example in this regard, rather than passing laws determining what the private sector can do. Government agencies must incorporate sustainable strategies into their own projects. Policies on greening construction/buildings should be introduced with the government championing implementation. Such policies could include energy and water efficiency, environmental quality of building materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. A certification process such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings could be introduced, with attractive incentives for compliance by the private sector.ix

Professionals in the industry must educate themselves and their clients about the benefits of incorporating green initiatives as an upfront investment in construction projects. This is with a view to significantly reduce operating cost over the lifetime of a building, while contributing positively to the environment and the people who use the building.

There is sufficient proof to show that “green” sustainable building projects do not have to be cost-prohibitive. There are many
cost effective steps that can be taken to make a community a better place to live and work.


Nigeria is said to be endowed with an abundance of renewable energy resources. According to the Nigeria Energy Commission, there are a lack of technologies, a dearth of professionals and an absence of appropriate policies and regulations to stimulate demand and attract investors.x

Under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, developed countries can offset some of their emissions through renewable energy projects in the developing countries via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). It is estimated that projects under the CDM could (over the long-term) generate up to $100 billion worth of funds for developing countries. Unfortunately, Africa’s share of such projects remains low. Of the over 300 projects currently approved, only six are in Africa, none of these is in Nigeria.xi

What would be a practical way forward? The short answer is “take small steps”. Government agencies must lead by example, professionals in the industry need to educate themselves and their clients and commit to introducing environmental sustainability in design and building. Just like rebranding Nigeria, the government needs to embark on environmental initiatives to develop a green consciousness amongst Nigerians.


i Greening Africa Report 2009
ii GE Real Estate Launches Green Initiative. 2008
iii The Vanguard Newspaper. Jan 28, 2008
iv Nigeria Energy Commission website
v The Vanguard Newspaper. Jan 26, 2009
vii Sustainable Public Transport Systems – Alternative Energy News. April 2010
viii Sustainable Public Transport Systems – Alternative Energy News. April 2010
ix LEED – Rating system developed by the US Green Building Council
x Matching Electricity Supply with Demand in Nigeria. A.S. Sambo DG Energy Commission Q4, 2008
xi UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner. 2009

This article was first published by Alitheia Capital Real Estate Insight. Alitheia Capital is an investment manager and advisor. The company’s mission is to broaden the ownership of businesses and real estate. To this end, the company is committed to doing well, while doing good. Alitheia enables socially sustainable investing and provides the opportunity for investors across the economic pyramid to invest in key sectors of the economy via structured investment vehicles. From its base in Lagos, Nigeria, the company is focused on channelling private equity investments into businesses and real estate assets.