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Sat 1 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Chemical solutions

The construction chemicals industry has its role to play towards a sustainable built environment, even more so as new green regulations are codified.

The construction chemicals industry has its role to play towards a sustainable built environment, even more so as new green regulations are codified.

It's not often you hear the words "green," "construction" and "chemicals" in the same sentence. But with the push towards sustainable construction taking place on a global scale, the industry will, over the coming years, grow much more familiar with such a combination.

Dubai's forthcoming sustainability regulations, to be announced at the Big 5 exhibition on November 24 and coming into force effective January 1 represent a big step towards a more complete understanding of the principles of sustainable construction.

The UAE is one of the fastest growing countries in its development of environmentally friendly solutions. -Ashley Katz, USGBC spokesperson

Developers and contractors will have to learn, whether they want to or not. This is the difference in behaviour inspired by regulations as opposed to mere guidelines, which the industry has been, well, guided by until now.

Construction chemicals represent one important area in which developers will be able to improve the sustainability ratings of their buildings, so assisting them to achieve the required degree of sustainability.

Put simply, green chemistry is about the design and application of processes and products that reduce, and if possible eliminate, the use of hazardous substances.

Prevention

Rather than the consumer beginning the process of protecting the natural environment through their behaviour, green chemistry seeks to reduce the use of pollutants at source, so preventing environmental damage before it has a chance to happen. The best form of waste disposal is not to create waste in the first place.

Brian Davies is president and CEO of X-Calibur International, based in Dubai. The firm supplies specialist construction products to the region and further afield through its international subsidiaries. It recently supplied environmentally friendly sealers to the Burj Dubai.

The company received the finest of endorsements when it was called on to help reduce the environmental impact of the new Washington DC headquarters of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the organisation that administers the globally recognised Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) system.

X-Calibur International will supply the flooring within the 12-storey building, which is being refurbished to Leed Platinum standard - the highest rung on the Leed ladder.

"The USGBC was determined to lead by example," Davies says. "In order to minimise the removal of existing concrete and therefore reduce the amount of material going to landfill, it was decided to install a cement overlay of the entire floor area."

Regulations

Closer to home, Davies agrees that the green building regulations in Dubai will have a substantial effect on the chemicals industry, though not necessarily on the way X-Calibur International conducts its business, which is already in position to supply a more environmental savvy industry.

"We know that over time, the big chemical companies will stop making hazardous stuff and there won't be a choice. And if there's volume for green construction chemicals, which there will be, the costs come down," he says.

The Leed system was designed originally for application in the US. It has been applied by many other nations to fill the void where no green building code exists.

After its introduction in the UAE, USGBC spokesperson Ashley Katz said, "The UAE is one of the fastest growing countries in its development of environmentally friendly solutions, and the use of the Leed rating system will make the country a leader in green building and sustainability."

But over time the need for Dubai's own code arose due to the need for regulations to be sensitive to regional conditions.

Dubai has in fact become so familiar with the Leed name that some unscrupulous operators have began to misinterpret the meaning.

"Many manufacturers run around saying they are Leed compliant, but to my knowledge - and I know Leed very well - they don't have a product certification scheme," says Davies.

"All that we can do as suppliers is align our products so that they contribute the maximum points towards Leed certification."Such behaviour leads to a need for those concerned in the industry to recognise the difference between those who are merely willing to leap aboard the green marketing bandwagon as it gathers momentum, and those who are serious about making a difference.

Another firm involved in the chemicals business that appears to come under the latter definition is Al Gurg Leigh's Paints.

In July the firm became the first paint manufacturer in the UAE to join the USGBC, its most impressive green credential. One of the structures to employ the firm's coatings was the Burj Al Arab, where they were used on the helipad and bridge.

Many manufacturers run around saying they are Leed compliant, but to my knowledge they don’t have a product certification scheme. - Brian Davies, president and CEO, X-Calibur International

Al Gurg Leigh's Paints is among the manufacturers producing water-based paints that are non-toxic, containing no lead or mercury. A process that falls into the "best form of waste disposal" category, by eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals in the first place.

"We are trying to see how many existing solvent or oil-based products and coatings can be made water based," says chief manager Sunil Gudur. "So far we have converted around 15% to 20% of the solvent-based products that existed in our range to water based.

Membership of the USGBC involves stocking a range of products that contribute towards Leed points if applied, and playing an advisory role on the council itself.

Well prepared

When Leed is pushed aside by Dubai's regulations in January however, Gudur is aware of the effect that the regulations will have on his business, and like Brian Davies, believes his firm to be well prepared through its use of green chemistry.

"If organisations have not been paying attention to the regulations then they are going to be in trouble. But firms that have taken some pro-active measures should see that there is going to be a better market for their products."

As licensee of Leigh's, Oasis and ICI Dulux Paints across the Middle East, Al Gurg Leigh's Paints comply with European environmental standards, which Gudur describes as "more stringent."

"Compliance with Europe puts us in line with laws that may be introduced in the UAE in the future," says Gudur.

The green regulations will provide a welcome moment of clarity for the construction chemicals industry which remains confused over where it stands at present.

Directive

The directive issued by UAE vice-president and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum that all new buildings must meet green standards left an industry wondering just what "green standards" actually were.

"There is a fair element of confusion," admits Gudur. "Nobody really knows what amounts to being green. I think it means that the UAE now needs to start taking steps towards becoming more environmentally friendly."

Something that applies to systems and processes, such as green chemistry, as well as to products and materials. And something that many firms will be better positioned for than others.

Gudur remains open about the role that paint manufacturers can play in making the industry more sustainable. "I would not say that we are making the world a better place to live, but at least we are not going to make it any worse," he says.

A refreshing sound bite from a purveyor of green products if ever there was one. But Gudur himself may be wrong, for his firm is currently involved in production of thermal-insulating coatings - a product that will lower the temperature as the heat is transmitted through the coating.

In Dubai, such a product can indeed make the world a better place. An example of just what construction chemicals can do in the right hands.

The green regulations are coming, and the chemicals industry needs to be ready. If you can't stand the heat, get into a thermally- insulated kitchen.

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