Developing Sustainable Communities in Nigeria: The Prospects and Challenges

By Noah Ibrahim, CEO of Novarick Homes

In Nigeria, like in many other developing countries, accommodation forms one of the biggest challenges, particularly in growing urban centers.

According to the UN Population Fund data, more people in the world live in urban than in rural settings since 2010. In 2020, 56.2 per cent of the world population was urban. However, they also account for about 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and over 60 per cent of resource use.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved with this number without significantly transforming how we build and manage our urban spaces. In Nigeria, citizens want the same thing regarding where they reside, including access to clean air and water, a safe and healthy environment, and the ability to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

The bedrock of community development is sustainability. In Nigeria, there should be a notable level of development; but these efforts can be rendered futile or short-lived without a sustainability plan. Achieving sustainable community development lies heavily on various projects carried out in the community.

The world today is heavily dependent on fossil energy, which can harm the environment. These impacts are a result of global warming and have demanded that researchers seek a solution. One of these solutions proffered is the usage of Low Carbon in the Economy. This concept aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere while combining better and cleaner energy sources with the proficient use of already existing energy sources.

According to the environmental and energy study institute, paying particular attention to the real estate, residential, commercial, and industrial buildings in the USA are responsible for 40 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These buildings are sources of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions due to the vast amount of natural resources they consume and their waste. Real estate consumes over 40 per cent of global energy annually, 30 per cent of raw materials, and 12 per cent of drinking water.

According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, emissions caused by buildings and new construction are expected to grow. By 2030, the projected global population growth is expected to generate demand for 260 million new residential properties and 540 million square meters of office space in the world’s largest cities. The Oxford Economics’ Global Cities 2030 report also shows that Lagos will become Africa’s largest city by GDP and 114 in terms of the global ranking.

However, there is a need to make our cities sustainable by creating career and business opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and building resilient societies and economies. It involves investment in creating green public spaces and improving urban planning and management in participatory and inclusive ways. This depends heavily on the real estate industry.

In Nigeria, adopting sustainable, eco-friendly substitutes in terms of raw materials for real estate development requires significant motivation and an organized platform to foster discussions on the subject matter.

Achieving the development needs and improving the standard of living of communities is also dependent on the real estate industry. Simultaneously, the quality of community development has since moved from the size, shape, and edification of the buildings. It is now based on the degree of sustainability of structures related to the social, economic, and environmental contexts in which they are built.

Prospects 

Embracing sustainability in the real estate sector will, to a large extent, reduce the carbon footprint in urban communities. Therefore, it should be treated as a necessity rather than a luxury. Among other things, sustainability in the real estate sector involves concerted efforts towards limiting waste generation from the design stage down to the development of the buildings. Adequate consideration must be given to the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts in providing products and services within the real estate space.

Developing sustainable communities heralds many benefits not just to the real estate developers alone but also to society.

A sustainable environment is free of pollution, safe, and has a reduced level of emission. Renewable energy is a significant component of a sustainable environment, and incorporating it into housing will likely result in the hike of prices of properties. However, the benefits outweigh the disadvantage as the community would record the inhabitant’s higher life-expectancy rate. For instance, if a building has a solar panel installed, there would be times when the solar panels would function in the home, reducing the carbon footprint.

The primary impact is on the environment and the effect on the lives of the people around them. If you have something that impacts the lives of the people in the community, it would positively impact the housing sector.

The construction arm of the real estate sector has a significant part to play as construction waste affects the sustainability goal. As the name implies, construction waste refers to waste generated from the construction, clearing, renovation, and demolition of buildings.

The role of the construction industry in developing sustainable communities cannot be overemphasized as there is a need for the implementation of a 3R approach to waste management. The adoption of the 3R strategy involves reducing, reusing, and recycling waste materials used in construction. The bamboo used for scaffolds, cement bags, broken blocks, wooden formworks, unused concrete, binding wires, broken tiles, roofing sheet, and nails is some of the waste materials gotten from construction sites. These can be reduced by introducing 3D printing, reused and recycled by breaking them into bits and using them as raw materials for other items. The 3R approach is critical to developing sustainable communities as it is an effective measure of waste management.

Adding a sustainability touch to facility management will significantly impact the quest to develop sustainable and viable communities. When green building practices are introduced to facility management, there is a multiplier effect on the quality of life of people. Fresh air, less waste at the landfill, green energy consumption, water efficiency, and proper waste management sound like benefits anybody will jump at. It is imperative to note that the economic benefits of green strategies do not show immediately, but the long-term view of implementing those strategies as alternatives to traditional methods.

Challenges 

In Nigeria, successive governments have commenced numerous development commissions, agencies, and departments to foster development at local, regional, and national levels. But regularly, these strategies have failed due to poor integration of essential variables such as culture and or poorly coordinated community development activities. Again, lip service on the part of the government has proven to be one of the challenges in developing sustainable communities.

On the other hand, property developers are more profit oriented. Therefore, they are not fully invested in contributing a high quota to the development needs of all communities in Nigeria. This is due to the fear of not getting profit returns. Similarly, developing sustainability compliant buildings is a relatively new concept in Nigeria, and the risk associated with testing new waters might be responsible for the reluctance.

Endgame

There is sufficient proof to show that sustainable building projects do not have to be cost-prohibitive. Many cost-effective steps can be taken to make a community a better place to live and work. All aspects of real estate development must be evaluated to enhance the development of a society in an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable manner.

The government should develop long-term sustainability plans that identify demographic trends, anticipate their cities’ needs, and set long-term environmental goals. The planning process should include a range of input from city residents and other stakeholders, such as civic institutions and the private sector. The plans should be updated regularly, and progress tracked publicly.

As much as the private sector is instrumental in implementing green strategies, the government needs to rise to the occasion and do its part of the work. Developing sustainable communities should be at the top of the agenda of any government, and the government should champion relevant policies. When the government shows readiness to incorporate sustainable strategies in its projects, it becomes easier to earn the trust of the private sector in terms of partnerships.

However, sustainable community development will remain a fantasy if a sustainable practice in real estate development is not implemented. The government also needs to take a holistic approach to tackle these challenges by developing an innovative, long-term vision for their cities to thrive.

Professionals in the industry must educate themselves and their clients about the benefits of incorporating sustainability as an upfront investment in construction projects. This will significantly reduce operating costs over the lifetime of a building while contributing positively to the environment and, most importantly, to the people who use the facility.