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Top sustainability trends in 2013

by CW Guest Columnist on Jan 24, 2013

Saeed Alabbar
Saeed Alabbar

Developers across the region now giving serious thought to the impact of sustainability

After steady growth through 2012, the Middle East construction market looks set to once again regain the momentum of the pre-recession era. Experts predict $4.3tn worth of construction projects across the MENA region over the next decade, with growth of 20% through 2020.

Now taking centre stage is the issue of sustainable construction. As far as new projects are concerned, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in translating good sustainable designs into sustainable buildings.

For a number of projects, lack of quality control in construction or poor commissioning have resulted in great intentions on paper not transpiring into reality.

With regard to the existing building stock, while an increasing number of facility and building owners are looking to manage their energy and water consumption more effectively, this only accounts for a fraction of the existing building stock in the region.

While sustainability has been a buzz word in the industry for a number of years, we are now definitely witnessing a genuine drive of new development projects in pursuing increasingly higher levels of sustainability.

This is driven partly by regulation, but also due to developers realising that sustainability offers a genuine opportunity to increase the value of their assets and also ensure that their assets are future-proofed.

Commercial as well as private buildings will begin to incorporate green design elements in their construction in order to limit the amount of damage they do to the environment, as well as to be as energy-efficient as possible.

Throughout the region, there is a commitment from governments to invest in social and commercial infrastructure.

In order to increase the financial efficiency of these projects both during construction and operation, government agencies are increasingly turning to sustainability and energy efficiency as a means of reducing lifecycle costs.

The results of these efforts have led to reductions in government spending on utility bills and infrastructure, which ultimately translates to freed-up revenue for more ‘constructive’ purposes.

As massive infrastructure projects are due to get underway during 2013, developers will be keen to look at innovative means to reduce the energy impact both during construction and operational phases.

Traditionally in the Middle East, commissioning of buildings has not been carried out effectively, which has resulted in many buildings performing poorly during operation and therefore requiring frequent maintenance.

We are likely to see commissioning agents increasingly called upon to identify potential savings for clients by better optimising designs and streamlining testing and commissioning, such that owners receive a better-functioning building at the outset.

Due to recent increases in utility tariffs, the economic downturn and a greater focus on energy and sustainability issues, facility owners and operators are paying greater attention to their utility bills.

Conducting detailed energy audits of facilities has shown that buildings can save about 20% of their energy bill through low- to no-cost measures alone, that all pay back within 12 to 18 months, with an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) upwards of 40%.

As far as investment decisions go, this is a no-brainer. During 2013, building owners are likely to realise this.

While these trends only scratch the surface of green building, they are indicative of the positive direction in which the industry is heading.

2013 looks poised to be a year for massive growth of the green building market, and the onus is now upon facility owners and managers and architects and design teams to ‘think green’ or be in the red.

Saeed Alabbar is director of the Alabbar Energy & Sustainability Group.