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. Those who have been around for some time may remember a sign on the Mombasa Road that referred to Karen as ‘the green city in the sun’. Over the last few years, however, the leafy suburb has been the focal point of increased commercial and residential development, which has had the potential to cause considerable environmental damage. There is one developer, though, that has recognised this risk, and is determined to sustain Karen’s natural charm.
The development in question is also currently one of Karen’s biggest. It’s The Hub – an ambitious 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. Managing the environmental impact of a project of this scale is no easy feat, so The Hub’s developers have hired an expert consultant – Greenkey Environmental Solutions – to help reduce its impact on the environment and the surrounding infrastructure. Amrish Shah, one of Greenkey’s Directors, explained how their involvement is unique for a development of this kind:
‘Greenkey has been involved with The Hub to monitor 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… 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.’
These green values, and the influence of the Greenkey consultants, shine through in The Hub’s design – which includes a waste water treatment plant, a system for harvesting rainwater and the use of energy efficient lighting. The water used for irrigation, the air-conditioning towers and for cleaning the floor, is all recycled. At least 50 percent 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, or ‘Mama Ken’, one of the cooks, the jikos are a vast 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.’
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. It’s the little things like this that really underline The Hub’s eco-friendly values – which have formed an integral part of the project from the outset. Without its greenery Karen would lose its appeal, and its reputation as Nairobi’s ‘green suburb’. It’s reassuring to see, then, that a development that promises to become Karen’s focal point in the future, is doing all it can to keep Karen green. It also shows that being eco-friendly and sustainable shouldn’t just be a marketable concept – it should reflect the values of a project with genuine concern for the environment.