Concept of sustainability

As the sustainable building regulations come into force in the UAE this month, Mohammed Azad Hossain, deputy head of contracts for Gulf Construct in Kuwait, assesses how other GCC states can learn from this.

United Gulf Construction Co., COMMENT, Business

Sustainable development is the concept of a relationship between economic growth and the environment. The term was first used in 1987, through the report of the World Commission of Environment and Development (WCED).

Here we find the formulation of 'sustainable development' that is now most widely used: "Paths of human progress which meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Though there is some ambiguity about this term, the basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimise waste and create healthy, productive environments.

Greenhouse effect: a human activity

When we talk about the greenhouse effect, we mean the enhanced effect, which is caused by the increase of greenhouse gases from human sources. Global warming and climate change result from the greenhouse effect.

All human activity brings about environmental change, but the expansion of industrial economic activity has brought the scale of actual and potential harmful impacts to unprecedented levels.

One of the major greenhouse gases from human sources is CO2 and its concentration in the atmosphere is rapidly increasing. The industrialised countries have the lion's share of responsibility for creating the problem and for finding the solution. They have developed their industrial base, and consequently, their higher standards of living, through the use of vast amounts of fossil fuels. This has resulted in high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, which will most likely hit hardest upon the poorer, underdeveloped parts of the world. The first major victim of climate change is likely to be Bangladesh, with its intrinsically connected catastrophes like cyclone, drought, tidal wave, flooding of low-lying areas due to sea-level rises as well as destruction of the world's largest mangrove forest.

The bottom line is that the emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced. We must develop our industrial and green building practices in the form of sustainable development, which are less dependent on fossil fuels and are designed to meet certain objectives such as protecting occupant health, using energy, water and other resources more efficiently, and reducing the overall impact on the environment.

Recognising that the design and construction of buildings has a significant impact on many of these issues, the green building movement has evolved to address these concerns.

Green building movement in the Middle East

The past 20 years have seen a growing realisation that the current model of development is unsustainable. In other words, we are living beyond our means. Our way of life is placing an increasing burden on the planet and this can not be sustained.

As alarm over the environment intensifies, a timely decision by UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to include international green building principles to the Emirates, ushered a new era in the green building movement in this region. The Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) has also been formed to promote the principles of green building in the UAE. The Council has been created to simulate the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system in order to transform the built environment into a sustainable one by providing the building industry with consistent, credible standards for what constitutes a green building.

Though it has been observed that a lot of investors in property development in the Middle East aren't reasonably concerned about sustainability, but there is also substantial evidence of a growing environmental awareness, which has been seen at this year's Cityscape in Dubai. Many mega-developers, such as Nakheel, Masdar, Dubai Aviation and others, have made a committment to adopt ‘green targets' in their high-profile projects.

It may presumably be argued by the developers that if they opt for green building regulation using carbon-neutral materials in building projects, their buildings will be more costly, with procrastinated planning, design and statutory affairs. But they should realise that the satisfaction of doing the right thing for the environment (when their buildings will be recognized for using natural light, energy-efficient mechanical systems, recycled materials, storm water-runoff controls and other resource-saving devices), and the prestige of obtaining EGBC or LEED certification, can be a great marketing tool.

Recently, Kuwait stepped up a campaign to conserve electricity and water through newspapers, broadcast media, plaques and setting up a call centre to advise consumers to use power and water wisely. This campaign gained a widespread awareness, but now the time has come to move to the sustainability drive and adopt the ‘green target'.

To ramp up the green building movement, stricter measures and mandatory regulations are needed for the construction industry; Kuwait and other Gulf countries can take a lesson from the measures taken in the UAE, if they have any hope of meeting its green target. All GCC countries can jointly tackle this global issue by building rapport, exchanging expertise and information.

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email angela.giuffrida@itp.com

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