Environmental concerns offer lucrative deals for green firms

Pressure on resources is forcing the entire construction industry to search for environmentally sustainable alternatives. Christopher Sell has a dig at the landscaping sector to see how green-fingered firms in the region are rising to the challenge.

Dubai's growth has led to more than just a changing skyline. The consequences of rapid development have brought many opportunities - and not just for construction companies. New products and markets have become more clearly defined and off-shoots of major industrial sectors are becoming more established in the region.

The Dubai Ideal Home Show bears testament to this, with Christopher Hudson, exhibitions director, Messe Frankfurt, organisers of the show, stating that the regional property boom is leading to massive growth in allied sectors. He also says that the emirate is perfectly suited to hosting a show of this type, which brings together experts from the fields of interior design, landscaping and associated sectors.
"Industry statistics indicate that the total value of real estate projects currently under way in the Middle East region has already crossed the US $1 trillion (AED3.6 trillion) mark. With a variety of mixed-use projects in various stages of development and new projects being announced on a frequent basis across the region, the show provides the best opportunities for auxiliary businesses to thrive,"? he says.

If more indication was needed, Grant Donald, the world renowned landscape architect will be visiting the show to unveil new trends in the world of design and architecture. He is currently the chairman of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), Committee for the Development of Landscape Architecture in the African Continent, and is the first western professional to become a member of a Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture.

This view of a landscaping boom was further strengthened by the first IPM Dubai (International Plants Expo Middle East) which featured 1,521 trade visitors from more than 50 nations and took place in March 2006. With confidence in the continued growth in the region, 90% of exhibitors stated their desire to return for the second IPM Dubai in March 2007. With visitors from various sectors of horticulture including landscaping, it was noted that visitors to the show travelled from the entire Gulf region, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and East Africa, while American and European trade visitors used it to gain a valuable overview into the market. It is estimated more than twice as many exhibitors will attend next year and it is hoped that IPM Dubai will establish itself as the premier fair for horticulture and floriculture in the Middle East.

Within the region, those companies securing landscaping contracts are not all exterior-based. Planters, the largest interior landscaping company in the UAE, won four new contracts at the DIFC earlier in the year: Dubai Financial Services Authority; Dubai International Financial Exchange; AIG and Dubai International Capital. Interior landscaping in offices has become extremely popular in recent years, as plants offer not only obvious aesthetic qualities but also are effective in removing organic chemicals and pollutants from the air in commercial settings. Furthermore, they play a role in the control of humidity - a major factor influencing air quality.

More recently the company secured the Dubai Civil Aviation contract to landscape Dubai's new International Airport Phase Two, scheduled to be completed in 2007. The contract involves sourcing nearly 4,000 exotic plants, which include 46 large and uncommon plant specimens ranging from 2-7m tall, to be installed in the new airport terminal building.

The plants have been sourced from Central and South America, China and the US specifically for the project. According to Jonathan Pardoe, general manager, Planters, the concept of the landscape of this project is to create an oasis setting in two areas of the main concourse. "This will provide a restful and contemplative garden for passengers to unwind and relax during their journey. The most unique part of the project is the plant selection. Some of these plants have never been seen in the Middle East before,"? he adds.

But not all impact is positive. In a region already hampered by its lack of natural water, exaggerated developments incorporating landscaping features into their master plans place even greater demand on supply. Thankfully, some companies are becoming aware of this damaging trend and have introduced materials which have the potential to offset environmental damage that might otherwise have occurred.

Zeoplant is registered in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is involved in various major projects in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Egypt. It carries out consulting, design, implementation and supervision for landscaping projects and, according to the firm, its product significantly reduces the quantity of irrigation water by 50% because it ties up a high amount of water, reduces the percolation rate in the soil and reduces the usage of NPK fertilisers by the prevention of 'leaching out'

The product 'Zeoplant' is a very effective water retaining soil amendment, according to the firm, consisting of fully natural mineral material, treated with a special natural organic component. Its unique features are a very big active surface, high porosity, extremely good water retention, high Cationic Exchange Capacity (CEC) and salt binding effect.

"Water is a big issue here and becoming more of an issue,"? says Ralf Stahl, managing partner, Zeoplant. Following extensive field trials carried out within the UAE and Oman in close co-operation with key clients such as Nakheel, Dubai Investments and other main contractors, Nakheel included Zeoplant in the landscaping management guidelines in 2005. And in May 2006 it received approval from Abu Dhabi Municipality as the only water retaining soil amendment and will be an integral part of its landscaping.

"From the moment Nakheel put us in the landscaping management guidelines, which is the bible every contractor has to follow, things gathered momentum; although it still took a year to get the project on the Palm,"? says Stahl.

Stahl explains that although Nakheel explored water retention technology a few years ago, it was not until Zeoplant that other contractors took notice.

"Nakheel was the first developer to impose water saving soil additives into their specifications. At that time they were using polymer found in baby nappies to suck up water but it is a chemical and has other disadvantages,"? adds Stahl.

Zeoplant now has the contract for all landscaping on the Palm Jumeirah. And this week the company is shipping material to Oman for its first project out of the UAE. It is also in final discussions with Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Agriculture for a one million m2 landscaping area and expects news within two months.

With water becoming a more precious source in the region (recent figures from the World Wildlife Fund revealed Dubai had one of the highest per capita water consumption figures in the world - three times that of London), it is clearly essential that products such as Zeoplant make further inroads into the emirate.

As well as being in close co-operation with Dubailand, the company received approval from the USGA (US Golf Association) in September 2005 for the implementation of its product on golf courses. With a number of golf developments under construction such as The Dunes at Dubai Sports City, which are due for completion in June 2007, and the Jumeirah Golf Estates project - a 36-hole development designed by Greg Norman, this is a timely award.

Stahl, thankfully, says he has noticed a change over the last year towards water saving products in the landscaping sector.

"Now we get the impression, when talking to a new generation of local people coming into their positions, they are much more aware and open and say they need to save natural resources. In the last 12 months there has been a change in people's mind,"? he adds.

"But not all impact is positive. In a region already hampered by its lack of natural water, exaggerated developments incorporating landscaping features into their master plans place even greater demand on supply."

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