Joseph Crea

The World Bank building in South Sudan had its challenges. The site was located in an area with no electricity supply, access to local building materials were few and far between, not to mention that during the design and entire construction period the client for the building was based in Washington D.C., the architect in Kenya, the sustainability consultant in India, and the water consultant in Ethiopia.

Yet for the World Bank’s new Juba office in South Sudan, a combination of innovations, smarts and leadership—courtesy of the building’s determined project team—pushed through these obstacles and certified the first LEED building in South Sudan, became a winner of USGBC's LEED Earth Campaign, and the first-of-its-kind green building in Central Africa.

The primary goal for the building that covers 470 gross square meters? Create a healthy building for occupants while minimizing the use of natural resources, including energy and water.

The project team of 6 aimed, initially, for LEED Silver certification, considering the projects geographical and material constraints. However, as the team delved deeper into the LEED rating system, they realized they could possibly achieve LEED Gold even in a challenging region like South Sudan, a landlocked, tropical country in eastern Africa with a yearly average temperature of 94.1˚F (34.5˚C).

“The [LEED] rating system served as a yard stick for us,” said Deepa Sathiaram, LEED Fellow and project lead. “In every discussion with the project team we would say, ‘You know what, maybe we can do this, too.’ You start adding a few small things—you advance. You build upon everyone’s ideas. The learning curve for this project was huge and rewarding.”

A reward, indeed. The building incorporates various passive designs in order to reduce heat ingress and minimize energy use within the building. It also harvests maximum daylight during the day to avoid the use of artificial lights. Additionally, a conventional air conditioning system was jettisoned for a more efficient one that supports fresh air intake, even as temperatures can climb to 40˚C during a Juba summer.

Sathiaram, who has worked on over 400 LEED buildings around the world and dedicated 12 years of LEED and sustainability experience, became involved in the project a few years back during a meeting with Paul Witteman, the international real estate development team lead for the World Bank. In this meeting, held in India back in early 2009, Witteman wanted to discuss with Sathiaram various upcoming World Bank country office projects and the possibilities to “go green” in challenging environments. He discussed with her a small office building in South Sudan, wondering out loud if it could “go green." Surely, a building in a resources-scarce location, would have to “go green” in order to use local resources wisely, provide a comfortable and natural working environment, and not drain upkeep and maintenance funds.

“The first time Paul and I talked about this, we said, ‘Let’s see how far we can go,’” said Sathiaram of the mixed-use building. “We took awhile to register the project with USGBC as we wanted to be sure we could meet the [LEED] prerequisites.”

Meeting those prerequisites involved many steps and careful planning, let alone corralling a team scattered across the globe. The project team—the World Bank, Pharos Architects, En3 Sustainability Solutions (Green consultancy), and MS Consultancy (water consultant)—had frequent, pre-design e-charrettes where all the stakeholders discussed sustainability issues and appropriate solutions for the project.

One of the key challenges for the project was the sourcing of local green materials. Some local materials—stone cladding, flooring and roofing materials—were used, especially for the façade of the building, covered with local stone. Nearly all building materials were locally sourced within 500 km of the building site. For example, the building’s ceiling tiles are made from recycled milk cartons from Kenya.

Electricity, too, proved to be another obstacle. The project team passed on the usual split type DX air conditioning systems common in the region for an energy efficient variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems with high coefficient of performance to reduce energy consumption by 15-20% and eliminate the need for central air.

Providing an additional layer of coolants are the many old trees that have been preserved in the building compound, including along the winding walkway to the main gate. Roofing materials and wall coverings have solar reflectance, a design approach focused on passive cooling and energy conservation. The office was built around the flowering inner garden courtyard, which provides systematic use of daylight and ventilation. The landscaped garden area is 1282 sqm – much more than the 20% vegetated area recommended by LEED.

“The central courtyard is the most beautiful part of the building,” says Evans Sokiri Kijore, the World Bank’s resource management specialist in Juba, who was involved in the inception. “Our garden is an oasis of green during the dry summer and when visitors ask, we tell them we are recycling water from our septic tank for irrigation. It also saves us some US$ 5,000-6000 in water charges every month.”

Speaking of water, various measures were implemented including provision of an on-site waste water treatment plant (from a supplier in Dubai) to handle 100% of the waste water onsite and reuse the same for landscaping and other custodial purposes. Similarly, the project implemented a well planned rain water harvesting system to harvest rain water and recharge it into the ground to improve ground water levels. Also the project integrated all low-flow water fixtures including dual flush closets, sensor based urinals and low flow faucets to save 53.3% water compared to LEED baselines.

Water consumption has been reduced by 50% for the large garden by using drip irrigation, drought resistant indigenous plants, water harvesting, and drainage collection systems that obviated the use of potable water for gardening. Water consumption within the building was reduced by 20% with the use of efficient sanitary ware and other conservation practices.

Local staff and visitors are amazed by the variety and abundance of vegetation in the compound. It’s a very challenging place to work, so the vegetation adds a lot of positive character and lifts one’s spirit. 

For the World Bank, the achievement is a remarkable one. 

"The LEED award is symbolic of the high value the Bank places on environmental sustainability in supporting the development needs of the people of South Sudan,” said Nicola Pontara, head of the World Bank office in Juba. “We are always looking for ways to be progressive environmental stewards in how we operate, and we hope to create increased awareness by setting examples through our work.”

The World Bank also continues to endeavor towards LEED certification in other facilities within its global portfolio. All new construction and renovation projects are built to LEED standards. This is not only done from a resource efficiency and staff productivity perspective, but also due to the Bank’s efforts to be a leader in demonstrating sustainability in its host countries. As new offices are constructed, additional challenges will be overcome thanks to the efforts of the Bank and the various partners with which it works.