Building with the future in mind

Large government developers are keeping the UAE ahead in the environmental sustainability stakes.

COMMENT, Business

The UAE provides businesses with a high degree of immunity from gloomy global economic factors. A favourable taxation system, the lure of the free zone, and a high oil price all represent strong draw cards for doing business in this part of the world.

In addition to these attributes is a regulatory system that is rigorous, but also flexible to our climate of rapid growth. Talking about environmental legislation, the merits of our regulatory system in the UAE are a good fit to the rapidly evolving development industry.

Under the UAE's system of a federal presidential monarchy, our leaders are incumbent for life and their agenda is shaped by genuine objectives under an enduring timeframe. 'Vision' is appropriate - the outlook is to the horizon and beyond.

In contrast, your run of the mill western democracies run on three to four year cycles. Decision makers are compelled to work from a platform that leans toward re-election motives rather than long term goals.

Regulatory objectives and environmental standards give way to short term vote winning programs.

The UAE's large state-owned developers have direct accountability to their leaders and as such the projects are integral to the extended vision for the country. As such, the onus is on the developer to deliver a product with built-in environmental durability...and they are delivering.

The belief in the sustainability of the built product rings true in the UAE, where more and more we are seeing the big developer's commitment extending beyond delivery and into the asset and facility management phase, a responsibility that developers in other parts of the world typically hand over to a local authority. This permanent alliance with the UAE's visionaries removes state-owned property developers in the UAE from the stigma often associated with short term 'get in/get out' developers in other parts of the world.

Looking at the machinations of the two systems, the western model of the environmental regulatory system is burdened by unwieldy multi-headed legislation driven by hordes of regulators and authorities. All have conflicting agendas and all must be placated. Once the balancing act has been conjured, the political anvil is dropped from above and the outcome is forged. There's no doubt that western development standards are highly evolved, but the application is confounded by too many cooks and an overbearing head chef.

Furthermore, some aspects of the western development process have been stymied by political correctness stemming from a sometimes overzealous need to exercise democratic rights. For example, in some parts of the world the community consultation process has been so skewed towards the stakeholder that the critical decisions are being directed by people with no practical engineering or environmental management experience. More often that not, thinly veiled short term personal agendas prevail over common sense design and the greater long term good.

Built into the environmental governance framework for the UAE is a well measured process of lifting the bar for industry performance at a realistic rate that the supply chain can accommodate and evolve with. As an example, four years ago recycling proposals were hampered by the absence of end users of segregated waste streams. But with the coordinated momentum of large-scale government directed developers, a whole-of-industry demand was created, a market emerged, and another sustainability milestone has been reached. Unwavering direction from the top, market driven incentives, and a unanimous 'can do' attitude make it happen.

If anything, as our big local developers outstrip each other in the race to prove their green credentials, the lot of the local legislator is almost that of a mechanic recording the scene as it unfolds and taking special note of the tools that worked best. There is no doubt that we're very fortunate that our time, here and now in the UAE, corresponds with a global push for a more sustainable life.

A decade from now, the local portfolio of sustainable development projects will be large. Legislation will continue to exercise its willingness to adapt. At this point in history, the UAE is able to draw on the hard lessons of other regulatory models from around the world and fashion them into an expedient system. But beneath the bustle of legislative evolution, the foundation of the process is the commitment to the future.

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