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During the past one and-a-half decade, the UAE has seen significant change in the attitudes and demands related to the sustainable built environment. The vanguard of this change has been the Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), an independent forum based in Dubai, supporting the nation to achieve new benchmarks through nine years of path breaking initiatives.
In July this year, Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of EmiratesGBC, was appointed to the Board of World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), a global network body of national green building councils in more than 90 countries.
In a Q&A with Property Weekly, Khaled Bushnaq, Vice Chairman of Emirates GBC, spoke about the organisation's role in advancing green building principles and ensuring sustainability in the UAE.
- How is membership in the WGBC helping EmiratesGBC in your mission of spreading the message of sustainability in building design and construction in the region?
EmiratesGBC is one of the eight founding members of the WGBC and the first in the Middle East GBC in the region. Since our inception in 2006, EmiratesGBC has evolved as a key facilitator of the sustainability movement in the UAE, offering dynamic platforms for all stakeholders in the construction industry supply chain as well as the public to interact, build capacity and implement green building practices.
EmiratesGBC's membership in WGBC is a strong testament to the effectiveness of the work that we undertake as an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices. It shows that the global green building practitioners are taking note of the work we do and has extended a strong and credible platform for us to share our experiences and exchange best practices.
It will help us in highlighting our work to the global community — our contributions and learning can be put to good use in other parts of the world. It will also enable us to learn from an international network of experts their advances in the field of sustainability and potentially implement them here.
- In your opinion, how closely are we in the UAE aligned to global practices when it comes to green buildings?
The UAE adopts and integrates global guidelines and best practices in implementing green buildings. In fact, today, sustainable built environments are integrated as an essential part of the development policy framework and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have taken concerted steps — in line with international practices — to promote green buildings. For example, Estidama Pearl, a regulation and a green rating system that applies in Abu Dhabi is a useful reference for development in other emirates, as well as the wider region. This local rating system addresses three types of developments (buildings, villas and communities) and guides developers through seven rating categories in order to earn 1 to 5 Pearls.
Dubai's Green Building Regulations and Specifications aim at improving the performance of new buildings by reducing their consumption of energy, water and building materials. These regulations highlight the need for sustainable planning, design, construction and operations as core requirements for enhancing public health, safety and general welfare.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has also been commonly used in the UAE, particularly in Dubai. It takes advantage of its global, regional and local applicability to create structures that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, create healthier indoor environments for workers, students and community members and lower utility bills for building owners through reduced energy and water use.
- What have been the regional programmes and approaches in advancing Green Building practices?
Apart from the building rating systems mentioned above that have been implemented in the UAE, there is great enthusiasm in promoting green buildings regionally. The industry, particularly in the UAE, has been stepping forward with great initiatives in developing green building technologies and products.
We are delighted to say that EmiratesGBC, through our annual EGBC Awards, has been honouring these path-breaking accomplishments. Today, we see best practices being implemented by the industry such as the use of green concrete and sustainable construction materials.
- How do you see the potential of greening existing building in Dubai?
There is tremendous potential for retrofitting the existing buildings in Dubai. Sustainable retrofitting in the emirates is now a growing movement catalysed by the support of authorities such as the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and supported by EmiratesGBC programmes and projects.
Today, we see strides being taken by the UAE in promoting energy-efficiency in the built environment, with both Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments taking initiatives to reach out to building owners to adopt measures that improve the rational use of energy and water.
By instituting an accreditation scheme through Etihad ESCO, the Dubai Regulatory & Supervisory Bureau has also strengthened rapport with the private sector, and continues to build confidence among all stakeholders. In Dubai alone, there are 120,000 buildings of which 30,000 have been identified as having high energy saving potential.
The recently launched EmiratesGBC Technical Guidelines for Retrofitting Existing Buildings serves as a tool across all building sectors to help owners and operators make informed decisions on how they can retrofit their building, so that it operates more efficiently. Retrofit projects are also provided financing opportunities, which will also encourage building owners to adopt energy efficient measures.
It complements the EmiratesGBC Energy Efficiency Programme (EEP) launched late last year, which consists of a database that serves as a catalyst for all interested players, including energy efficiency equipment manufacturers & vendors, contractors, facility managers, banks & financiers, insurance companies and energy service companies (ESCOs) to assist in facilitating their industry requirements related to energy efficiency, by directing their needs to other players.
- Are there enough financing facilities and awareness in the market regarding the advantages of retrofitting and the resulting cost benefits from energy savings?
While the energy efficiency market continues to be fragmented, there is growing interest from financial institutions to support the green building movement. In fact, green financing has been one of the key topics that we discuss at our networking events and the Annual Congress.
Today, we can see that the accredited ESCO market is progressively moving from its formative stages into becoming an organized entity. This is also due to supporting regulations and initiatives such as the Energy Efficiency Programme (EEP) administered by the EmiratesGBC.
Yes, we have to make more progress in terms of sufficient financing facilities but we are delighted that concerted efforts by various stakeholders are now contributing to positive results.
- Do you think a common set of standards is necessary across all Emirates, especially since the industry itself the world over is realising that Green practices have become a 'business imperative'?
I believe that we are moving towards greater uniformity in sustainability standards. While individual emirates — such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai — have their own green building regulations, the vision is the same complementing the 'green economy for sustainable development' initiative announced by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Setting standards and creating uniform protocols is one aspect of promoting green practices. The key is the resolve to implement them. And we can see that in the UAE already.
The certification regulations by Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both based on international standards. They share the same vision and goals, and they can be easily emulated in other Emirates too. Today, the UAE is indeed united in its vision for a greener nation.
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Source: NP Krishna Kumar, Special to Property Weekly