The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) prioritises sustainability and is on the road to carbon neutrality with low-carbon initiatives and the use of energy-efficient materials and designs.
AKAH works with communities to make sure that their homes, schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure are safe, sustainable and able to withstand the natural hazards they face. As part of our disaster risk reduction and humanitarian assistance programming, we promote seismically resistant construction and retrofitting solutions as well as building techniques to protect against floods, cyclones and other natural hazards. We train masons in safe construction practices and promote locally adapted designs for rural housing. We also provide safe construction design and management services for schools, hospitals and community buildings as well as large urban housing developments.
Natural disaster risk is increasing due to climate change, growing pressure on natural resources, and energy and water scarcity. AKAH is working to expand green building solutions to enhance resilience in human settlements.
AKAH is committed to becoming carbon neutral across all operations by 2025.
Construction is the single biggest source of greenhouse emissions for AKAH, responsible for 67 percent of emissions for 2020. The Nationally Determined Contributions* for several of AKAH’s countries of operations specifically target reductions in emissions from new and existing buildings as a key priority for climate change mitigation.
AKAH is helping communities combat climate change by rethinking the ways buildings are designed, constructed and operated. We are putting green building principles at the heart of development and promoting low-carbon construction principles. AKAH is developing capabilities in energy and water efficiency, green energy and sustainable materials. To strengthen this agenda, we have developed a set of Green Building Guidelines for new and existing AKDN buildings. As part of this, all new buildings need to meet the equivalent of IFC EDGE Advanced certification, reducing operational energy by 40 percent. Going further, all new large developments will be zero carbon during operation.
AKAH’s approach prioritises avoiding new construction and maximising the value we get from our existing building stock by extending the life of existing structures. When we do build, we focus on efficient use of local, low-carbon materials and technologies to promote water and energy efficiency throughout the life of the building.
AKAH promotes passive design measures which use ambient sources of energy to maintain a comfortable environment indoors. These measures include insulation, shading, window size and orientation, and natural ventilation to regulate temperature and lighting levels in buildings.
Passive design is complemented by energy-efficient lighting and mechanical systems, as well as renewable energy solutions. AKAH is also promoting low-carbon building materials and approaches, such as sustainable timber, rock, compressed earth, recycled steel or lower-carbon alternatives to cement.
The AKDN Green Building Guidelines are supporting governance structures and regulators in some of our core geographies. Pakistan is in the process of developing the country's green building code, which will be substantially based on the AKDN guidelines. AKAH is also working with the Government of Afghanistan to develop the country’s enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution. This is the country’s main climate change document, outlining adaptation and mitigation ambitions over the next five years. Measures on green buildings have a substantial presence.
Repurposing to Avoid New Construction
For our Habitat Resources Centre in Chitrawad, Gujarat, India, AKAH repaired and refurbished an existing office building rather than constructing a new building. This strategy of adaptive reuse avoids the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of constructing a new building by repurposing an existing building for a new use. The layout of the existing office building was adapted to provide training rooms, meeting rooms, workspaces and open spaces to suit the needs of a resource centre. We reused existing doors and windows and reused debris generated on site for further development. This further reduced the carbon footprint by reusing a maximum of materials and limiting the costs and emissions of transporting new materials or disposing of waste.
Our design incorporates additional green and resource-efficient features such as an innovative GreenPro certified cool roof technology, using a highly reflective coating that deflects heat and reduces cooling requirements. The building also uses solar power, natural lighting and ventilation to further reduce emissions from operations and integrates rainwater harvesting and low-flow plumbing fixtures for water conservation.
Approaching Net Zero with Energy-Efficient Design
Following a devastating flood in 2017 in Dasht-e-Dehkhaw village in Afghan Badakhshan, AKAH is working with the local community on a voluntary relocation project. Hazard assessments carried out by AKAH after the floods indicated that the original site of the village is too exposed to natural hazards. AKAH is working with the community on a participatory planning process to relocate to a safer place nearby. Using data from assessments of hazard exposure, soil quality, water sources, meteorological data, socio-economic needs, etc. as well as community consultations and local cultural and vernacular building styles, AKAH has developed locally appropriate, carbon-neutral home designs. Green building principles are central to these designs. They are entirely powered by clean energy through a solar and microhydro hybrid system, and do not have any direct GHG emissions. The home and neighbourhood plans use passive design features to maximise solar energy and minimise the impact of wind in the cold season for better thermal comfort. These are combined with insulation and energy-efficient windows and maximum use of local materials to achieve a carbon neutral design. AKAH is applying similar design principles to the regional headquarters of the First Microfinance Bank in Gilgit, Pakistan. The passive design features and energy-efficient measures used for this building will reduce its GHG emissions by 13 tonnes of CO2 per year. Find out more
Innovative Low-Carbon and Energy-Efficient Building Materials
AKAH is piloting and promoting building materials and solutions that are low in carbon, adapting natural materials such as stone, timber and earth. In Syria, as part of our humanitarian assistance programming, AKAH is working with local communities and universities to revive earth architecture. We are providing training for architects and engineers on the use of compressed stabilised earth blocks to help people rebuild their homes. We tested local soils and different designs to develop the most suitable solutions for the local context and are integrating these blocks in home designs adapted to local needs and climate. Solutions like these save energy and reduce emissions not only in the production and transport of the construction materials but also the running costs of heating and cooling homes. In India we are combining the GreenPro certified cool roof coating with vertical gardening and rooftop or terrace gardening to address urban heat island effects. We have demonstrated the cool roof technology in large urban housing complexes in Gujarat and Telangana to promote awareness and adoption of simple and effective energy-efficient measures.
*Nationally Determined Contributions are national targets and plans set by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.