The term “Sustainable Development” was first used in the Brundtland Report from the United Nations World Commission on Environment Development (WCED) in 1987. In this report, sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The United Nations is a world leader in working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. These efforts include the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 that committed 37 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that has the goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a certain level, preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The building sector is the single largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, with one third of global energy use taking place in offices and homes. With this in mind, the United Nations designed and constructed their new office facility in Nairobi, Kenya, which houses the headquarters of both the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT). The building has been described as a United Nations showcase for how future buildings can reduce and recycle, be energy- and water-efficient, and maximize sustainability without compromising the quality of the working environment. Thus, the purpose of this building was to represent one of the key, low-cost ways of combating climate change, while reducing electricity bills and dependence on fossil fuels. The building also improves the quality of the working environment to significantly influence productivity, health, and well-being.

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Author notes

1 Ph.D., LEED AP + BD&C, Assistant Professor in the Department of Construction Management at East Carolina University,

The author appreciates Rob de Jong and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for providing case data and images of the UNEP building in Nairobi, Kenya.