Analysis: Building better
Developers across UAE are bringing forward more sustainable schemes
The United Arab Emirates has the third-largest ecological footprint in the world, with its 9mn citizens each requiring 8.4 global hectares.
Combine this with carbon emissions totalling 20 metric tonnes (five times the global average), 2,214 air traffic movements per day, and 70mn taxi journeys, and it’s not hard to see why the Gulf state is criticised for its global resource consumption.
“Families are fond of the luxury lifestyle on offer in cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al-Khaimah, but they are also becoming increasingly conscientious about the environmental impact of their lifestyles,” said Benoy Kurien, general manager of the $545mn (AED2bn) Al Hamra Village gated community in Ras Al-Khaimah.
It was developed by Al Hamra Real Estate, which also recently launched Falcon Island, a $272mn gated project on an artificial island designed by sustainable architecture specialists A++. It is trialling a number of new techniques at the scheme, including homes made by precast sandwich walls containing inbuilt utilities and insulation as well as widespread use of solar panels on the roofs.
The aim for the island is for it to be a project where the homes eventually have zero energy emissions, and Al Hamra is planning for it to be the first major residential scheme in the GCC to achieve a LEED Platinum rating.
“When people think of the UAE, they think of big cities and, from the comfort of their air conditioned surroundings, quite rightly question the ecological impact of these cities,” he added.
With buildings using about a quarter of the energy consumed domestically in the Arab region – and accounting for 40% of carbon emissions – governments are unsurprisingly targeting the construction industry as part of their drive towards zero-energy living.
Other developers looking to generate environmentally-appealing projects include Diamond Developers. Its Dubai Sustainable City is set to complete in 2016.
It is planning to plant 10,000 trees on the 5mn ft2 site, which will also have facilities for recycling 100% of water used and generate 10MW through rooftop solar installations.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s government is continuing to pour money and efforts into Masdar, the renewable energy initiative that includes research and university institutes, funding arms and the Masdar City complex continuing to be built near to the city’s airport. Masdar’s own headquarters building, currently being built by Woods Bagot, is set to complete within the city this year.
The Abu Dhabi government has also spent a huge amount of time and resources developing the Estidama rating systems for sustainability, which are being widely followed on all major projects around the Emirate.
Dubai, too, has its own Green Building Codes which became mandatory for new developments earlier this year. And in Qatar, the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS/QSAS) has been developed, although currently it only applies to public sector and high-profile private sector projects.
Jane Boyle, WSP’s Middle East head of sustainability and energy, said: “Sustainable buildings are a relatively recent phenomena in the Middle East. The introduction of Estidama, GSAS and the Dubai Green Building regulations have all helped bring sustainability to the forefront of the design and construction agenda.
“Rating systems and especially building regulations play an invaluable role in improving the baseline quality of the building stock.
Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) has rolled out an agenda to improve energy efficiency in the construction sector, and its own headquarters is a great example, having been awarded the much-coveted LEED Platinum certification and a Five-Star rating for a third consecutive year by the US Green Building Council and British Safety Council respectively.
This impressive architectural feat, together with developments like Al Hamra Village and around 850 other projects, has asserted the United Arab Emirates’ position as one of the top 10 countries for LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) outside of the US.
However, it is vital that sustainable practices are implemented as soon into the construction process as possible.
Thom Bohlen, chief technical officer at the Middle East Centre for Sustainable Development, which has LEED-certified 48 facilities over the last six years, said: “In general, all buildings have a degree of sustainability, but it is the extent of this sustainability ingrained within the facility from the earliest stages of programming and concept design that really makes the difference between a ‘standard’ building and a ‘truly sustainable’ one.
“Our projects that have attained the highest levels of sustainability (LEED Platinum-rated) are those that set significant energy and water consumption reduction targets very early in the programming and concept design stages.
According to Tom Freyberg, director of WaterWorld Middle East, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are looking to invest over $130bn over the next decade to meet future water and energy demands.
He said: “To meet growing demand, there’s more focus on sustainable practices, wastewater reuse and asset management.
The significant demand has seen an increase in high efficiency HVAC and plumbing technologies, while green materials and green construction technologies achieve high sustainable standards for indoor air quality and a significant reduction in construction waste.
However, with heavily subsidised energy costs, high capital investment and no regulatory mandate, there is little economic incentive for developers to invest in the infrastructure to monitor and manage energy consumption.
That said, the cost of implementing sustainable practices to developments needn’t be overly prohibitive.
Bohlen revealed buildings certified to a LEED Silver level and to Estidama One Pearl, cost from zero to 1.5% more than a comparable conventional building. A Two Pearl or LEED Gold can add from between 1.5% to 4% in construction costs. Higher Pearl ratings, from Three to Five, and LEED Platinum, can cost from 4% to 10% more in construction costs.
“One must keep in mind, however, that these are first costs,” said Bohlen. ‘The length of the return on sustainable investment (or payback period) during operations of sustainable buildings can be extremely short, typically three-to-five years – and even shorter for higher initial investments.
“A good example is the use of LED lighting for the building, which usually has a payback period of one year of operation or less. Thus, it really makes no sense these days to use conventional lighting on any new construction.
With preparations for Expo 2020 in full swing there is a greater interest in LEED EBOM (Existing Buildings and Operations) and the development of ESCO programs for improving existing buildings and making them more energy and water efficient.
But Boyle conceded more needs to be done before any serious dent is made in the region’s carbon footprint.
She said: “In other regions of the world, a ‘carrot and stick’ approach is used to encourage clients and developers to meet sustainability goals and targets.
“Cash-rich nations investing in construction activity in the Middle East could link any capital spending commitments to achieving specific sustainability standards for the development.
Regardless, Kurien stressed that the measures being implemented are certainly a step in the right direction.
“We do not have all the answers to climate change, if only it was that simple. But Rome wasn’t built in a day either; it was built by aspiring men who encouraged others to follow in their footsteps,” he said.