Why there are no shortcuts to a green society

Why there are no shortcuts to a green societyImage Credit: Supplied

The green movement is not just for show, it is transforming lives. A recent poll revealed 72.5 per cent of respondents of a Bayt.com survey considered going green as something very important to their lifestyle. Around 80 per cent of respondents also stated that environmental issues and conservation of natural resources concern them ''to a large extent''.

The high level of awareness about sustainability is not uncommon in the UAE, where people are bombarded with news about green initiatives every day. The green revolution is also being embraced by literally all segments of the society, as evidenced by new green projects that emerge regularly, such as the first-of its-kind green mosque that opened in July in Dubai.

The Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) aims to consolidate Dubai's environmental gains to deliver more tangible results for the society. EmiratesGBC is an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices. It will mark World Green Building Week in the UAE under the theme Get Up Green Up next week, September 21-25.


First organised by the World Green Building Council in 2009, World Green Building Week is the largest platform to reinforce the mission of Green Building Councils — to create sustainably built environments.

Sustainability will also be an important topic at the upcoming Cityscape Global, September 21-23. Developer Emaar, for instance, will be promoting its Community Management programme at the forefront of sustainable development initiatives during the event. Union Properties, meanwhile, will launch an Dh800-million, high-rise residential development in Dubai Motor City that is said to be in line with the strong demand for a greener lifestyle.

Furthermore, Damac Properties recently became the first company to receive Green Building Certification from the Department of Planning and Development, Trakhees, the first local regulatory authority to undertake local certification.

Emaar, Union Properties and Damac will join other top developers such as Meydan Group, Nakheel, Dubai Properties Group and the Tourism Development and Investment Company who are expected to showcase their latest developments and environmentally friendly projects at Cityscape.

Ahmad Khalaf Al Marri, General Manager of Union Properties, believes sustainability is gaining momentum globally and the UAE has an opportunity to be a leader in sustainable development in the region. He says each developer has to take responsibility to go the extra mile and push boundaries towards sustainable development.

Earlier this year, the UAE was ranked by the US-based Green Building Council (GBC) ninth in the world (excluding the US) with the most energy-efficient buildings in terms of cumulative gross space. The GBC released the rankings for buildings certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) based on figures in April. Canada topped the list, followed by China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Brazil and Singapore. The UAE ranked ahead of Finland.

However, the UAE has nearly ten times the number of LEED-registered projects than Singapore.

Dubai adopted LEED standards in 2008. In the early years, the scope of enforcement was restricted to government buildings. From this year it will be mandatory for all buildings in the emirate.

''The UAE has been the clear leader in sustainable building in the region,'' Wouter Molman, Director of Cityscape Group, tells Property Weekly. ''With more than Dh12 billion worth of previously stalled projects restarted over the past 18 months or so, many of which are yet to be certified, there is a good chance the UAE's ranking will go up further in the lead-up to the World Expo 2020.''

The government has taken a leading role in the green sector. Dubai Municipality recently announced investments worth Dh3 billion by 2025 for the expansion and enhancement of Dubai's irrigation network, which will facilitate the emirate's planned sustainable landscaping projects.

Dubai is also targeting a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emission by 2030, as laid out in its Integrated Energy Strategy. The plan aims to harness enough solar energy to supply 1 per cent of Dubai's power requirements by 2020 and 5 per cent by 2030.

The green factors

Markus Oberlin, CEO of facilities management firm Farnek, says there are three factors that make sustainability a topical issue: ''The moral of reducing our carbon footprint, protecting our natural resources, particularly water, and the benefits of cost savings.''

But there is no debating the government is the primary driver of the green movement in the UAE.

''A commitment from the highest levels in the country is an important factor that drives sustainable development,'' Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of EmiratesGBC, tells Property Weekly. ''Collaborations across multiple levels of government and industry have helped drive a focus on sustainability in the UAE.

''EmiratesGBC has been promoting dialogue and tangible action through our networking events and focus day sessions for several years now.''

Also, there's no doubt the present drive for sustainability in the emirate needs to be viewed in alignment with two other major themes: the World Expo 2020 and Smart City Plan. The World Expo is based on three pillars: sustainability of water and energy resources, mobility of smart systems for logistics and transportation and devising new opportunities for economic development. Similarly, the Smart City Plan has many environment-focused aims, including solving traffic congestion problems, reducing paper usage, adopting alternative energy such as solar and devising innovative and eco-friendly technology solutions, which can improve the use of existing resources.


Kevin Gadsby, Director and Head of Building Consultancy at CBRE Middle East, says meeting consumption and emission reduction targets will take more than building differently in the future.

''Addressing outdated building systems, ensuring that services operate as intended and encouraging more sustainable occupier behaviour are important issues for the UAE real estate industry that require more attention,'' Gadsby tells Property Weekly.

Based on recent statistics the UAE's environmental credentials are not ideal. For the past five years, it has consistently ranked in the top five countries globally for energy consumption and carbon emission per capita. In addition, energy consumption increased in Dubai by 200 per cent from 2000 to 2012, with 75 per cent of this consumption from residential and commercial buildings. Municipal waste disposal increased tenfold during the same period.

''The need to redress this situation is a key strategic planning consideration for both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. As a result, both emirates are building sustainability strategies into planning programmes,'' says Gadsby. ''Alongside this, there is a need to address energy, water and waste challenges posed by population growth in an urban desert as part of their respective 2020 and 2030 plans.''

Molman adds: ''There has been a lot of talk about sustainability, but concrete action has been quite limited until recently, especially compared to other parts of the world. This has been mainly down to the lack of legislation enforcing the introduction of sustainable building practices, the lack of significant financial gains, as well as the limited environmental awareness across the region.''

In recent years, business opportunities and expected benefits from green buildings are matching up. ''Going green often yields lower operating costs,'' says Molman. ''However, by how much varies widely, based on the technology involved, the way in which it is implemented and how tenants use the space.''

EmiratesGBC estimates that building owners and occupiers can save up to 20 per cent on their energy bills with the implementation of some fairly straightforward measures, with a payback period of less than two years.

Globally, green buildings have been introduced to control operating costs and they have been shown to save money through reduced energy and water consumption and lower long-term operation and maintenance costs.


''The energy savings alone typically exceed any cost premiums associated with the initial design and construction within a reasonable payback period,'' says Oberlin. ''Conducting detailed energy audits of facilities has shown that buildings can save approximately 20 per cent of their energy bills through low-to-no-cost measures alone, which typically pay back within 12-18 months, with an internal rate of return upwards of 40 per cent.''

However, Simon Gray, Managing Director of Chesterton Middle East and North Africa, cautions there is an upfront premium attached to green properties.

''The premium is recovered by savings in the form of lower utility consumption and bills,'' Gray tells Property Weekly. ''At the moment, the industry is in the nascent stage and most of the buyers are not aware of the potential savings and benefits of green buildings. Therefore, they are mostly indifferent towards it when making a purchase decision.''


When talking about green initiatives in the UAE, Abu Dhabi's Masdar City, being developed as a zero-carbon, zero-waste community, remains a prime example. However, Dubai is catching up with a surge in new green building projects in recent years, including Dubai Sustainable City in Dubailand and Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, a main pillar of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030.

''Sustainability is a key element in the long-term planning of the Federal Government and has been specifically laid out in the 2030 plan,'' says Gray. ''Various projects have been initiated in the UAE to meet these objectives. The Dubai Smart Sustainable City has also been launched by Dubai Municipality, which will be first of its kind in the world.

''Masdar city is also a large-scale project that will rely solely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources, while phase one of Dubai's $3.3-billion [Dh12.12 billion] Mohammad Bin Rashid Solar Park has been operational since last year.''

Click on Green Buildings and read on why it makes economic sense

Source: Sanaya Pavri, Features Writer, Property Weekly


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