Roundtable: Green building practices in the GCC

CW reports from Summertown Interiors’ latest roundtable, which addressed corporate sustainability, and the government initiatives that support it

Summertown Interiors’ headquarters in Jafza, Dubai.
Summertown Interiors’ headquarters in Jafza, Dubai.

Despite the increased interest in building green, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated, according to panellists at a roundtable session organised by Summertown Interiors at its headquarters in Dubai.

Speakers included Marcos Bish, managing director of Summertown Interiors; Mario Seneviratne, managing director of Green Technologies; Tushant Suri, sustainability manager at Multiplex; and Dima Maaytah from the Centre for Responsible Business at the Dubai Chamber. The discussion was moderated by Abdoullah Albizreh, business development manager at Summertown Interiors.

UAE-based fit-out contractor, Summertown Interiors, specialises in implementing commercial office, education, and healthcare projects for global Fortune 500 companies, local businesses, and government authorities. In 2009, the contractor was awarded LEED Gold certification for its own headquarters in Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), Dubai.

Bish, of Summertown Interiors, said: “Promisingly, companies in the UAE are slowly but surely starting to incorporate corporate sustainability practices into their business model; Dubai’s commitment to becoming a world-leading green city provides it with an opportunity to understand and implement strategies that can positively impact its bottom line.

“However, UAE businesses are still considerably behind their Western counterparts and, in order to progress, there must be more awareness of corporate sustainability as an approach that creates long-term customer and employee value. Creating a green strategy that considers every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural, and economic environment should become the modus operandi, both in the UAE and worldwide.”

On the subject of how businesses in the region can be further encouraged to adopt sustainable practices, panellists applauded the progressive measures the UAE government is undertaking to make the country a successful global model for sustainable development. However, they maintained it is the responsibility of company leaders to take ownership and recognise the positive connection between their bottom lines and the implementation of a successful green strategy.

Seneviratne, of Green Technologies, said: “Sustainability needs to be economical; the moment you talk about it, people think that there is a price tag attached. For sustainability to thrive in the region, it has to be linked to economic benefits. To be truly sustainable, we need to reduce our carbon footprint and enhance the quality of human life.

“Businesses need to think long term, not short term, when it comes to corporate sustainability. We witness first-hand how corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in the region are focused primarily on building a company’s reputation with short-term goals that do not have a lasting impact. CSR must be considered an ongoing effort and, by now, we should stop talking about green buildings. All our buildings should be green; it is elementary.”

Suri from global contractor, Multiplex, noted that awareness about sustainability is still lacking in the region, but that business owners are trying their best to adhere to global standards. “"It has gone beyond the economic pillar; now businesses are concentrating on the social and environmental aspects of sustainability as well. As one of the leading main contractors in the region, it is noted that the assets' owners are now willing to absorb the extra cost associated with the implementations of innovative ideas and technologies to enhance the sustainability of projects."

“The region is getting there; the asset managers are aware that there is an economic factor attached to sustainability, but they also understand the intangible benefits that come with it.”

According to the panellists, sustainability should be considered a fundamental element for businesses’ corporate strategies. Employees will be more engaged and work better together, costs will be managed more efficiently, and the companies will gain credibility in the market.

At the same time, the speakers agreed that these efforts must continue to be led and supported by the UAE government’s implementation of sustainable policies.

Panellists also discussed UAE Vision 2021, which aims to build an innovative, inclusive, and resilient economy that raises standards of living and ensures environmental sustainability. Under this vision, the UAE aims to generate 24% of its power from clean energy sources by 2021.

However, further implementation of corporate sustainability strategies will be critical in order to achieve these goals in such an ambitious timeframe.



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