Even though the region's road to sustainable development is a long one, Nakheel's latest announcements could put the developer in pole position.
While the region's developers are now waking up to the idea of sustainable development, there is still a long way to go. And although innovative offshore projects like Nakheel's Palm Trilogy and The World are impressive, they are changing Dubai's coastline and having a profound effect on its marine environment.
Such projects moved Nakheel to implement an in-house team of experts to look into environmental planning, research and monitoring and environmental compliance.
"The environment department is about three years old, but prior to that Nakheel worked under a statutory framework. It was already preparing environmental impact assessments," explains Shaun Lenehan, senior manager (environment) of Nakheel's Design Group.
Despite its efforts, the specialist team simply isn't enough for Nakheel. In a bid to steer the company towards a more sustainable future, Nakheel has employed the Sustainability Advisory Group (SAG) to help the company excel in environment, social and economic sustainability.
"SAG interviewed all senior management in Nakheel to get an idea of where the company is with sustainability. They prepared a gap analysis report and developed an action plan that stated all the areas where we could improve," explains Lenehan.
"For something that's on the drawing board, the emphasis could be on ensuring we get ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“green building' locked into the design.
"It might be the way we incorporate utilities into a project, the sizing of the utilities and taking into account savings we've made in water and energy consumption through improvements."
Each of the business units (developments) are currently implementing action plans and Nakheel's sustainability manager is in the process of auditing the units to make sure they are adhering to the plans.
"One of the key performance indicators from our top management is sustainability. Performance appraisals look very closely to monitor a unit's efforts when it comes to rolling out this action plan," adds Lenehan.
SAG has benchmarked Nakheel against international standards, instead of comparing itself to projects in Dubai.
Another area Nakheel is focusing on is green development. With the recently launched regional LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system, Nakheel is aiming to make all future developments green.
"The design group is setting standards and all master plans across Nakheel have to comply. When it comes to the design review, it is looked at from an architectural and building management point of view by LEED accredited professionals. We'll be scoring and helping refine those proposals in light of LEED standards," says Lenehan.
During the interview, Lenehan confirms that any developers building on The World will be offered incentives to go green. "Depending on how well developers score in terms of the smart use of water or energy savings through lighting systems, building design etc, we will offer them incentives such as more floored area ratio, more beach front to develop or another level to the building."
Lenehan says that Nakheel is keen to lead by example and wants its new offices, that are currently under construction, to be a showcase for all its built products.
"We're working with a consultant to get green design through the buildings. From orientation right through to building fit-out, the material selection and building management systems. We want buildings that work efficiently and will give us as few headaches as possible," he explains.
"The price of energy is only going to go up, as it is around the world. So it may be a little bit of trouble for people to invest in smarter technologies now to save energy and water, but in 10 years time the return on investment is going to pay."
The Design Group has also had an input into Nakheel's induction programme for new employees. "When new employees start, they will find out about sustainability and what they can do to help," says Lenehan.
Although many companies are now using consultancy firms and employing in-house experts to help drive sustainability and green building to the forefront of design, Lenehan thinks the future could see the education process starting well before people are employed.
"In five or 10 years time, it will be fundamental to everyone's way of work. For engineers, it will be part of the package when they come out with a civil engineering degree.
"There will be no such thing as an environment department because it'll be part of everyone's way of doing the work. You won't need to roll out a programme and educate people," he claims.