Karen has long been recognised as one of Nairobi’s greener areas, with its abundance of indigenous trees and proximity to both the Ngong Road Forest and the Nairobi National Park.
Over the last few years, however, the leafy suburb has become a hotspot for developers seeking high returns from commercial and residential buildings, a construction boom that is threatening to damage the environment.
There is one developer, though, that has recognised this risk, and is determined to sustain Karen’s natural charm.
The Hub is the new mall which, once completed towards the end of 2015, will feature six separate buildings connected by open-air walkways with retail and office spaces, a medical facility, a fitness centre, restaurants, cafés and even a lake in its grounds.
The second phase will see the addition of a hotel and a conference centre.
The developers have hired an expert consultant — Greenkey Environmental Solutions—to help reduce its impact on the environment and the surrounding infrastructure.
‘‘Greenkey monitors all of the environmental and health and safety aspects of the project. We’ve been on board right from the start—managing the sustainability of the design, the land impact, any potential contamination issues, water usage, the amount of waste generated, replanting vegetation,’’ said Amrish Shah, one of Greenkey’s directors.
‘‘As far as I know, it’s a first in Kenya for a project of this scale to hire an individual consultant to supervise and help mitigate its environmental impact. There is no suggestion of ‘greenwashing’ here at all—the developers are genuinely keen to make The Hub as sustainable as they can,’’ he said.
The Hub’s design includes a waste water treatment plant, a system for harvesting rainwater and the use of energy-efficient lighting.
The water to be used for irrigation, the air-conditioning towers and for cleaning the floor, will be recycled. At least 50 per cent of the development has been dedicated to green spaces which will include the lake and a nature trail.
Both will form part of what used to be the Rusty Nail restaurant’s expansive garden, which once occupied part of the 20 acre plot.
Many of the mature, and indigenous, trees that made the restaurant’s garden so popular, have been preserved, including two big fig trees and a row of jacarandas. And some of those that had to be cleared have been replanted in a nursery on site.
Making a building as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible is one thing, but ensuring the same throughout the construction process is another.
One way that The Hub’s developers have done this is by providing energy-efficient jikos to the cooks who prepare lunch for up to 600 workers on site.
These locally made Cookswell Energy Saving Jikos use charcoal made in a kiln on the site from twigs and wood waste from construction, which reduces any wood trimming from the surrounding trees.
Teddy Kinyanjui, from Cookswell Jikos, explained how to use the jikos in two food production demos on site.
According to Millicent Okeyo, one of the cooks, the jikos are an improvement from the old three-stone method she used to use.
‘‘The jikos are a lot cleaner, and maintain the temperature well. They also cook faster, which is important when you personally have to make lunch for 60 people every day. They’re not expensive either. I liked them so much, I even bought one for my home,’’ she said.
There are currently only six jikos on site, but the developers plan to bring in more to make it easier for the cooks to cater for the growing number of workers.