Joined-Up Agency Action: The 'Green One UN House' in Vietnam

Wed, 31/03/10

Plans for a Green One UN House in Hanoi say a lot about the aspirations of the United Nations. The energy-saving and wider environmental credentials of the building itself, the future home for all 16 branches of the UN family working in Vietnam, should make it a beacon of best practice for the whole region. Better inter-agency coordination, shared facilities and more efficient working relationships should help enhance the effectiveness and raise the profile of the UN country team. Instead of being scattered across 10 existing locations, up to 469 staff will have the opportunity to work smarter and more sustainably in their shared new headquarters. There'll be much less time wasted going back and forth around the city, and big savings on travel-related greenhouse gas emissions. 

Substantial reductions in running costs are forecast, too. These savings will naturally be very welcome, but the desire to make savings is not the driving force behind the project. Its great virtue is that it implements the reform programme for UN organizations, in a way that emphasizes the commitment to environmental sustainability and combating climate change. 

Illustrating how important this is to Vietnam, scientific estimates have suggested that nearly 22 million people there could be displaced by 2010 if sea levels rise by one metre, with financial losses amounting to around 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). The country's rapid urbanization makes the green building agenda particularly relevant. The UN project will help raise standards in this sector by piloting the use of a building rating tool specifically tailored to the local climate and market, which is being developed by the Vietnam Green Building Council.

On a site landscaped to create external green space, the Green One UN House will be a substantial building of approximately 7,347 square metres. Its atrium-based design will bring plenty of natural light into the interior. Energy consumption should be 36% below what is typically achieved in a standard specification for office buildings in Hanoi, thanks to more efficient ventilation, better thermal insulation (minimizing the need for air conditioning and the attendant problems of use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs) and energy efficient lighting. The water management system, featuring the harvesting and filtering of rainwater, should deliver a 30% saving in water use.

Throughout the building the choice of materials will emphasize sustainable sourcing and low environmental impact. Reclaimed building materials from existing UN facilities in the city will be recycled and reused as much as possible. Wood products will come from sustainably managed forests, the paint will be lead-free and the carpets and other fittings will be low in volatile organic compounds.

Strong political and financial support have been key to the prospects of turning this vision into reality. The success of the concerted campaign to secure the funding is a great example of agencies pulling together, responding to the UN Secretary-General's call to “deliver as one” and “deliver green”. Achieving this result meant not only winning over the donors, but also synchronizing the commitments from all the different agency budgets, most of which have fixed timeframes for utilisation. This was a crucial requirement, since design and construction could not proceed without commitments in place for the full estimated costs, and any delays could impose additional costs, with the danger of passing the time limits for using particular funds.


Costs and benefits


The budget for the building project is estimated at around USD 8.5 million. 

The Vietnamese government has contributed a valuable site, with a 10 year rent free period – a substantial saving for those UN bodies who don't already have rent free agreements. The building budget, now fully funded, has been met partly by commitments from donor governments, including Norway, the UK, Ireland, Australia, Finland, New Zealand and Spain, and from the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) project and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Taken together , these donor commitments amount to over 50% of the costs, with the balance committed by the 16 UN organisations who will be using the building. 

The resulting annual operational savings are projected at around USD 500,000. They'll stem chiefly from  lower energy bills, helped by savings on existing leases, ending the duplication of facilities and cutting expenditure on travelling around the city. 

Besides the cost savings, the many other benefits can be summarized as:

  • Reduced energy and water consumption and waste
  • Less need for travel between UN offices across Hanoi
  • Better inter-agency coordination and enhanced synergies
  • Improved effectiveness
  • Strengthened relationships with local partners
  • Creating a positive exemplar for rapidly urbanizing Vietnam
  • Contributing to building local knowledge and capacity on eco-design and green technology
  • Piloting the use of a locally adapted green rating tool for buildings 

Categories: Buildings, Energy, Finance