Rebuilding a Sustainable Haiti: Best Green Building Practices in Developing Countries

This is the first part of a three part series on green building in developing countries. With the plight of Haiti arises an opportunity of rebirth too. The Series appears on Matte R Network.

Part 1 of 3

The January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti destroyed or severely damaged an estimated 200,000 homes, 30,000 commercial buildings, and 180 government buildings.Since the earthquake, building practices and guidelines in Haiti have been a topic of global discussion with many organizations inside and outside the country hoping to rebuild a more sustainable Haiti.

But the topic of sustainability in Haiti raises some challenging questions. What does sustainability mean in Haiti? What frameworks, green building practices, and measures of sustainability are appropriate? And is it possible to use the opportunity created by the disaster to help Haiti leapfrog in its development? How might the lessons learned in Haiti be models for sustainable building in other developing countries?

A critical element to rapid and permanent adoption of green building practices in Haiti is the creation of a framework based on an understanding of what sustainability means nationally, regionally, and especially locally. Green building frameworks such as the USGBC’s LEED and BREEAM in the United Kingdom are comprehensive frameworks that include detailed guidelines and economic, social, and environmental goals for sustainable buildings, but do they work in Haiti?

The USGBC’s LEED framework focuses on reducing environmental, social, and economic impacts through a point system that evaluates the elements of: Sustainable Site; Water Efficiency; Energy & Atmosphere; Materials and Resources; Indoor Environmental Quality; Locations and Linkages; Awareness and Education; Innovation in Design; and Regional Priorities. LEED is useful as a reference in creating a framework for Haiti and other developing countries in that it introduces most sustainability topics that should be considered in green building and provides a common language that green builders in the developed world understand. In the United States, LEED buildings use 26 percent less energy, cost 13 percent less to operate, and use less water – attributes which provide economic incentive for investors and builders.

However, reducing operating costs, and using less energy and water to create economic incentives are not the primary motivators to build green in Haiti. The way the sustainability concepts and metrics are interpreted in Haiti (and likely in other developing countries) leads to a different set of goals, standards, and measures.

In a recent discussion on rebuilding a more sustainable Haiti, Martin Hammer, a Berkeley, California based architect focusing on sustainable building systems and the lead for Builders Without Borders in Haiti, said “the primary meaning of ‘sustainability’ for most Haitians is survivability and affordability.” (August 2010 interview). Therefore building low-cost structures that also resist earthquakes and hurricanes are the highest priority.

Further, using less energy and water are not high priorities in Haiti. The challenge is to provide more energy, water, and sanitation to people who currently live without these basic services while reducing environmental, social and economic impacts of deforestation, pollution and disease related to current building and building use practices.

Look for Part 2 of this series next Thursday.

Photo by Martin Hammer

Thank you to Micah Press ( for his thoughtful research and support in developing this article.

Thera N. Kalmijn is CEO at SureGround and Co-Founder of the NGO, Helping Hands for a Sustainable Haiti. Join her at “The Haiti Huddle” ( Contact Thera at (

This entry was published on October 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm. It’s filed under Sustainable Building, Urban Design and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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