Building resilience
to climate change
Moving towards
low carbon societies
Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation
and forest Degradation
New finance models
for the green economy

UN Secretary-General opens new energy-neutral offices in Nairobi
31/ 03/ 2011

UN Secretary-General opens new energy-neutral offices in NairobiNairobi, 31 March 2011 - The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has officially opened the new offices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Ban was joined by His Excellency Mr. Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya, to unveil the energy-neutral offices on the Gigiri compound, which have set a new benchmark for sustainable buildings in sub-Saharan Africa.

"This building is beautiful, comfortable and efficient. But more than any of that, this building is a living model of our sustainable future," said Mr. Ban at the opening ceremony.

"If our growing population is going to survive on this planet, we need smart designs that maximize resources, minimize waste and serve people and communities. This facility embodies the new, Green Economy that can usher in a cleaner future, create jobs and spur economic growth," he added.

The building sector is the single largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions with one third of energy use taking place in offices and homes. Moreover, building-related CO₂ emissions are set to rise from 8.6 billion tones in 2004 to 11.1 billion tones in 2020.

It was with these challenges in mind that the United Nations set out in 2009 to design a new headquarters for UNEP and UN-HABITAT that would maximize sustainability without compromising the quality of the working environment of the 1,200 employees.

From the 6,000 square metres of shimmering solar panels to the environmentally-friendly paint on the walls, the new UN offices boast myriad environmental features, while capitalising on the natural benefits of Nairobi's climate.

The facility shows how sustainable buildings can make a vital contribution towards tackling climate change as well as the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.

The new offices are "energy neutral", which means the building generates as much power (via renewable sources) as it consumes over the year. Energy consumption is estimated at 42.5 kWh per square metre each year, which ranks highly among green buildings worldwide. This is achieved through the following environmental features:

Solar Panels

The energy generated by the building comes from the 6,000 square metres of solar panels that line the roof, basking in the almost year-round sunshine of Kenya's capital city.

The photovoltaic panels convert the sun's rays into power that runs the computers, lights, cafeterias and other features of the building. Excess power produced can be used by other buildings on the UN compound. The United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) estimates that the money invested in the solar panels will be repaid through lower energy bills in around seven to ten years.

Heating and ventilation

Nairobi is often described as having a near-perfect climate, with daytime temperatures typically in the mid-20s Celsius and cooler evenings. With good design, buildings in this climate can do without heating or cooling apparatus ? typically the biggest source of energy use. The simple design of the new UN offices means the building acts as a chimney, where warm air is drawn up from ground level and through office areas, before escaping beneath the sides of the vaulted roof. This natural ventilation system ensures comfortable internal temperatures while cutting energy consumption.


Nairobi, like many cities in the developing world, is experiencing a growing water crisis due to a fast-growing urban population. Water-saving taps and lavatories in the new offices will reduce water consumption, while rainwater collected on the roof is used to irrigate landscaped areas. No freshwater will be required to irrigate plants and grass areas.


A central atrium running through the three-storey building makes maximum use of natural light. Additionally, each office area features a translucent roof panel made of toughened glass, which enables natural light to penetrate right down to the ground floor.

The new building also uses low-energy bulbs and presence detection controllers, which can yield savings of up to 70 percent on lighting costs.

Other features

By using notebook computers instead of desktop PCs, electricity use can be reduced by around a third. The building's 1,200 staff members walk on 100 percent recyclable carpet and environmentally-friendly paint coats the office walls. The landscaped areas surrounding the building have been planted with indigenous trees.

Greener buildings: A key component of the Green Economy

Buildings are one of ten sectors covered in UNEP's Green Economy Report, which was launched in February 2011. The report shows how redirecting 2 percent of global GDP into a green transformation of agriculture, energy, buildings and other areas can trigger growth and create more jobs than a 'business as usual scenario', while kick-starting a transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient global economy.

Cities will see a rapid expansion and increasing investment over the next decades, particularly in emerging economies. In India alone, an estimated 700-900 million square metres of residential and commercial space will have to be constructed each year until 2030 to accommodate this growth.

As part of efforts to make cities and other communities more sustainable, the impact of buildings is vital. The Green Economy Report shows how greening the building sector can also contribute to increased efficiency in the use of materials, land and water, and a reduction of waste and risks associated with hazardous substances. Particularly for developing countries, the sector holds a huge potential to reduce indoor air pollution associated with 11% of human deaths globally each year. For developed economies, a major retrofit programme could boost employment significantly

Greener buildings can also achieve significant savings. Modelling undertaken for the Green Economy Report indicates that investments ranging from US$ 300 billion-US$1 trllion per year up to 2050 can achieve energy savings of about one-third in the building sector worldwide compared to projections under "business as usual".

UNEP's Climate Neutral Strategy

UNEP, which has been climate neutral since 2008, became the first UN organization to publish an Emission Reduction Strategy last year, as part of the overall United Nations Climate Neutral Strategy. UNEP's key aims are as follows:

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible through adoption of sustainable management practices, and by procuring offsets to compensate for the remaining emissions.
Reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year during 2010, 2011 and 2012, compared to 2009 levels
Aim for continuous improvement in sustainability performance and develop an environmental management system to support this.
Monitor, manage and report on its climate and sustainability performance on an annual basis.

Implementing the efficiency measures outlined in UNEP's Emissions Reduction Strategy could save the organisation an estimated US$800,000 per year.

For more information, please contact:
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media on Tel. +254 733 632 755 or E-mail:

Bryan Coll, UNEP Newsdesk/Nairobi on Tel. +254 731 666 214 or Email:

Further Resources
Brochure on the New Office Facility
UNEP Green Economy Report
Greening the Blue
Philips Sustainability Initiative
UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative
Microsoft Datacenter Technology Supports First UN Green Office in Africa