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Sat 5 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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Facilitating sustainability

Sustainable construction: what's holding the UAE back? CW looks at why involving facilities management companies at the start of a project is the best way to ensure sustainable systems are implemented effectively.

Facilitating sustainability
Facilitating sustainability
FM firms recommend LED lighting at the start of a project to save energy costs in the long run.
Facilitating sustainability
The new range of Otis elevators can massively reduce energy consumption, according to the company.

Sustainable construction: what's holding the UAE back? CW looks at why involving facilities management companies at the start of a project is the best way to ensure sustainable systems are implemented effectively.

Everybody is talking about sustainability. Sustainable power, sustainable water, sustainable infrastructure. The problem with sustainability in GCC construction is that there is no set way of implementing solutions, and under renewed pressure to go green, developers, property owners  and contractors are frantically ‘retrofitting' their buildings and structures  rather than taking a chance on sustainable systems at the beginning. Aside from being a somewhat costly procedure, retrofitting has the added disadvantage of causing a great deal of inconvenience to the end users of a building.

A possible solution to the problem being put forward by sustainability specialists currently, is to involve facilities management consultants at the start of a project - a practice relatively unheard of in the region until now. Managing the maintenance and operation of a building, FM companies argue that they are in a good position to advise designers and project managers on technology, equipment and systems which will reduce energy consumption and operational costs while increasing the sustainability of their buildings.

Simple though it seems, the idea of involving FM companies at the start of a project inevitably brings with it a degree of controversy, with concerns over costs and confusion over services, at the centre. But like most other developing industry-trends in the region, it seems it is just a lack of awareness as to the benefits and possibilities of FM consultancy during construction that is keeping the region behind Europe.

A backwards system

Famous for launching some of the largest, tallest, first and best projects in world, it may come as a surprise that the Middle East construction market could neglect to involve FM firms at the beginning of its projects with a view to improving energy efficiency. Unfortunately, both sustainability and FM processes have taken a backseat in recent years, creating widespread fears among energy experts of potential blackouts, high building operational costs and additional pollution.

As an example, Honeywell's Business Development Director for the Middle East, Kyle Bashy, explains how 70% of properties in Dubai have not had motion sensors installed, even though this one piece of technology could save 80% on a building's energy consumption. "You walk into any building in Dubai and most of them don't have motion sensors to control the lights and air conditioning. This is essential in a place where 22% of all energy consumed is lighting and another 60% is air conditioning."

Part of the problem with designing such systems into a project comes from inaccurate assumptions about the price and benefits of the sustainable systems themselves, as is the case with solar-powered heating systems.

But the main issue, and a more worrying one, relates to inaccurate assumptions about the value of FM services during the construction process, and inevitably, as regards their ability to advise project managers on how to build in a sustainable manner."In terms of facilities management, we are a long way behind the likes of Europe and the USA," says Roger Swainson, the Senior Facility Manager at FM consultants Focus International Life Cycle Management. "There is an ongoing struggle to convince developers and project managers of the advantages of facilities management, which we believe is due to a poor perception of FM in relation to money. Unlike a contractor who usually has something to show for his work, the values of FM are not so obvious, even though it is equally necessary."

Separately, Swainson explains how there tends to be a short supply of new technologies, which can deter developers and contractors from implementing sustainable systems at the outset. "LED lighting for example, which is more energy efficient than normal lighting, is new to the Middle East, which means that if one were to visit lighting outlets here, one would have difficulty finding attractive LED fittings, if any at all."

Of course, there is also the issue of regulation. Damac's Vice President Niall McLoughlin believes FM involvement is essential in sustainability, but that currently, there may not be enough regulations in place to encourage collaborative working. "As a progressive developer, we believe that FM firms play an important role if they are involved from the design stage of a project. A sure way of increasing collaboration will be to upgrade various building codes and regulations to force parties to work together."

Indeed, in some European countries, these kinds of regulations are key to ensuring sustainable building. "In Greece every building is designed with solar systems in mind, as it is mandatory to utilise solar technology for all projects," explains John Owen of SOLE UAE Solar Systems. "A villa has to have piping on the roof ready for solar system installation. The truth is that solar systems are easy to install if the project is designed to take solar.

The price of non-cooperation

Evidently, the problems associated with project managers and FM companies not working together to implement sustainable systems are extensive, though the primary concern among industry experts is the cost. From the expense of general building maintenance after construction and the obvious costs of high levels of energy consumption, to that of damage to the developer and contractors' reputations and the charges to the property owner for the retrofitting itself, not working with FM firms comes at a price to clients, developers and construction firms alike.

"If you don't work with FM firms to address sustainability at the design level," Bashy explains, "it becomes extremely expensive for developers, and sometimes impossible for contractors, to implement green technology further down the line. At Meydan for example, we implemented an IP converged solution which reduces energy consumption by running several operations through one network. We started work one year before the project commenced and insisted on involving FM firms, as this solution required very complex cabling works which would've been impossible to install after construction."

According to Swainson, developers and project managers who neglect facilities management also risk acquiring a negative business reputation. "Poor or non-existent facilities management [at the start of a project] will inevitably lead to disgruntlement among tenants, which can harm business reputations. It all depends on how much value is placed on assets and reputation, as to whether facilities management is considered important or not. Badly designed and maintained buildings can be a death sentence waiting to happen." How FM companies can help

As a key facilities management consultancy in the Middle East, Focus International has been emphasising the advantages of FM involvement during construction for some time.

The company claims it is in a prime position to assist in implementing sustainable and energy-efficient systems, by improving the effective commissioning of equipment and introducing alternative products that can minimise demands on electrical and water systems. "Many consultants in this part of the world fail to design their systems in such a manner that they can be effectively commissioned, which in turn, will have a negative effect on energy consumption and monthly energy bills," says Swainson. "For instance, open cooling towers have a tendency to waste vast quantities of water. Consideration should be given as to how they can be eliminated in favour of air cooled chillers or closed circuit cooling towers."

Likewise, McLoughlin believes that FM firms can offer advice to project managers which his company as developers might otherwise not consider. "The feedback and suggestions received through FM is critical for sustainability," he explains. "FMs have actual hands on experience with equipment, allowing them to recommend products to project managers that are cost effective, easy to maintain, energy efficient and have the right credentials for estimated usage."

An example is LED lighting. As a natural choice from a post-construction, ‘maintenance' perspective, it is unlikely to be recommended by any other than a facilities management firm, but with somewhat specific space and cabling requirements, it is critical that the system is accommodated during the design and construction stages. As well as having a lifespan 50 times that of a normal light fitting, an LED lamp consumes 10-15% less electrical energy, and produces little or no heat. Similarly, energy efficient lifts, often only recommended by an FM firm, can reduce energy consumption in the long run by 50% compared with conventional lift systems, but will need to accommodated during construction.

Aside from recommending alternative, energy-efficient equipment, FM firms can also advise project managers on energy-saving technology, which again, according to Bashy, they may not already be aware of. "A lot people in the Middle East are not aware of advances in technology which are available to them, or else they assume it's expensive."

Perhaps less obvious, FM firms have been recognised for their ability to recommend technology and products that enhance the efficiency of systems that are themselves not known for being energy efficient. From insulating paint, to finishes that reduce cleaning (and so use less chemicals and cleaning equipment) to technology that enhances the life cycle of equipment, and envelope and façade-related products that can minimise HVAC and lighting. Slashing a building's carbon footprint, these products are frequently recommended by facilities managers, and are just waiting to be implemented by Dubai's most forward-thinking project managers. The question is: who is responsible for ensuring this happens?

"Everyone needs to take responsibility," says Scott Petersen, Marketing Director for Energy Solutions at Honeywell. "Contractors need to take more responsibility for the operation of a building and involve sustainability specialists and FM firms so they can build buildings in the most sustainable way. Architects and designers need to ensure they design structures which can be operated efficiently in the long run."

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