We’re all aware of the fantastic natural beauty of the islands of the BVI, but what is less evident is the sensitivity and fragility of this environment, and the potentially harmful impacts of development, road building and construction.

When it comes to doing our part to reduce our negative impacts on the natural environment, most of us are keen to do what we can, and in the BVI, we’re fortunate that most homeowners want to build and live in harmony with their site. However, it’s not simply a question of “blending in” with the landscape. It takes a particularly determined and forward-thinking owner, a creative and knowledgeable design team, and a considerate and careful builder to ensure that the entire process results in a truly sustainable development.


The construction industry is notoriously slow to evolve; many of the building methods we use today were established centuries ago, and many principles of design and construction have been tried and tested through the ages and still make good sense. But in our globalised and intensely developed 21st-century economy, we’re faced with new challenges, and a close and careful look at the way we construct buildings is needed to help limit environmental degradation and ensure that we develop in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. The recent success of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building certification programme from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) has led to great improvements, and “green building” is now common practice in the US.

On the US mainland, the benefits of LEED are enormous; the programme provides a rigorous route for verifying environmental performance. But the system is geared to commercial development and high-volume home building, and can’t be applied to smaller-scale home construction in the Caribbean. So in tandem with the LEED system, and with the blessing of the USGBC, the Island Green Building Association (IGBA), a group of construction industry professionals and residents based on St John in the US Virgin Islands has developed its own Tropical Green Building Certification Programme for residential buildings. The group has drawn on its wide range of experience to develop a programme which is relevant and easily applicable to our small tropical island conditions.

The IGBA programme is points-based, with three certification levels: 5-star, 4-star and 3-star. The points are separated into nine categories:
    1. Site Planning and Design
Controlling site disturbance and maximizing protection to minimise erosion and storm water runoff and maintain indigenous vegetation.
    2. Building Structure
Designing the buildings to be responsive to tropical architectural design considerations, promoting natural ventilation, daylighting, shading and cooling strategies; promoting locally produced, renewable, non-toxic building materials; designing for hurricane and earthquake protection; designing for lifecycle cost considerations, with low maintenance and durability in mind.
    3. Water Management
Encouraging water collection; maximising water retention on site; minimising water consumption in household use, waste treatment and irrigation.
    4. Energy Conservation and Management
Reducing energy needs, maximising energy efficiency, maximising uses of renewable energy systems.
    5. Waste Minimisation and Recycling
Reducing waste during construction, encouraging use of salvaged and re-used materials, encouraging on-site composting of kitchen and garden waste.
    6. Light Pollution
Designing exterior lighting to minimise the amount of ambient light visible from outside the property.
    7.  Visual Pollution
Ensuring that the visual impact of the building is in harmony with the surrounding community.
    8. Landscaping, Green Belts and Natural/Native Vegetation
Preserving natural vegetation, avoiding importation of invasive plants and animals, mimimising chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
    9. Innovation in Green Building Design
Encouraging new and innovative initiatives in design and technology.

As with LEED, the IGBA programme will be valuable because it will help to focus the environmental aims of the owner, the design team and the builder, to ensure that these objectives are met, and to reward the project for successfully achieving a good level of sustainable construction. The rewards to the owner should be tangible: a more beautiful, harmonious, healthy and comfortable home, improved durability, good payback on reduced lifecycle costs, and improved marketability and resale value.

OBMI is working with IGBA to bring the Tropical Green Building Certification Programme to the BVI. We’re hoping to work with forward-thinking owners to certify as many of our future residential projects as possible. For more information, visit the IGBA website at www.igba-stjohn.org.