Sustainability, driven by demand

Construction IndustryStuart Matthews

The Big 5 has been a fixture on the Dubai event calendar for decades. It is perceived as an exhibition for the construction industry, which it is. But over the years, its scope has broadened and its reach extended. It influences and, importantly, is influenced by more than just simple supplier-and-contractor relationships.

I’ve been a regular attendee for the past six or seven years, usually grafting hard over a keyboard, while people harass me for news coverage. From a writer’s perspective, the event has always provided a good temperature check of construction industry confidence and also managed to point to emerging trends.

In the time I’ve been going, one recurring theme has grown from being a relative unknown to a leading player.

The role of sustainability has developed into an important one for everyone in the industry: whether it’s suppliers exhibiting their products at the show, buyers looking for the perfect solution to an unsolvable problem or just us end users living and working in the built environment.

Past the greenwash

In the early days, everyone was pretty vague about sustainability. Products were described as green for a variety of often-erroneous reasons. Developers fudged details of exactly how their property was sustainable. And contractors scratched their heads at how much anything with some genuine green credentials cost.

Thankfully, this greenwash era did not last. Things have changed and much for the better.

In a recent interview I conducted with Engi Jaber, a prominent architect, sustainability expert and regular speaker, she pointed out that with all the regulations introduced over the past few years, the people she speaks to and meets at conference events are now a group who have become more aware of the issues.

She has observed a clear change in audience knowledge, acknowledging that even if she pushes into specialist technical content, people have a good understanding of the material and are keen to engage in detailed conversation.

This change has happened in part thanks to the different sustainable building regulations introduced first in Abu Dhabi and more recently in Dubai. While these have added a much-needed element of compulsion to the green building efforts of property developers, they have also created a desire in some portions of the market to do more than just the basics.

This keenness to exceed the given regulatory minimums is occurring, much to people’s surprise, in a number of ways. First and foremost, it can be found among the property developers who plan to hang on to their products and lease them out long term. For them, bringing sustainable practices into every aspect of a property makes perfect sense. Why? Because in the long run, it will reduce operating costs and that makes good business sense.

Elsewhere in the market, thanks to the efforts made by the supply chain, many of whom will populate the halls at The Big 5, the costs of going green have reduced considerably. While estimates still vary, and arguments persist, more and more experts believe that, if designed with sustainability in mind from the outset, building green should not have an impact on cost.

Certainly, there are doubters out there, but the tide of change is turning as awareness rises. With the rising awareness comes a desire for more knowledge and, almost imperceptibly, sustainability has gained momentum as a must-discuss issue.

Look to the structure of an event such as The Big 5 and that change is obvious. In recent years it has gradually added more knowledge-based content, built around its core trade exhibition. This year’s conference agenda is defined by the issue of sustainable design and construction, not only because its important, but because The Big 5’s audience has, presumably, demanded it.

Part of the solution

With speakers from all corners of the industry and topics that touch the entire chain, from design and operations to maintenance, it serves as an illustration that sustainability has earned its place in the limelight.

By providing a platform for the industry to share what it has learned, the event has made itself part of the solution to the knowledge gap that plagued the early talk of sustainability. It has also broadened its appeal as an event where the broader construction and property industries can take a few days and assess their level of confidence.

For those visiting The Big 5, I’ll leave you a couple of tips, earned over years of walking its exhibitions. Always go right to the very back of the halls, because you never know what bright idea is lurking in an unassuming stand. And wear comfortable shoes, because it really is big.

Source: Stuart Matthews
Journalist and Editor who has been writing about the design, construction and property industries in the Middle East for seven years. He has a great personal interest in clever engineering, good design and practical sustainability.

Al Nisr Publishing accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this article, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.

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