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Tue 15 Mar 2011 12:00 AM

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Green building

Sultan Al Faden, founder of the Saudi Green Building Council discusses the continuing development of the green building concept in KSA

Green building
Green building

Sultan Al Faden is the founder of the Saudi Green Building Council, the body that promotes and monitors the growth of green buildings in the kingdom. He talks to MEA about the new drive for sustainability in Saudi Arabia, energy and thinking green.

What has the Saudi Green Building Council been up to over the last 12 months?

Recently the Environment Council, which is a part of the Saudi government, contacted us about the prospect of collaborating. They meet two or three times a year and are concerned with all of the government agencies that are related to the environment. This council will act as a good umbrella for our council because it is made up of a multitude of entities in the government.

So why is it so important to get approval from the government?

In a country such as Saudi Arabia, with initiatives such as green building, we believe you have to start from the government agencies, because, obviously, they make the laws, but also they are effective at getting things done.

And what areas are you focusing on?

Over the last eight months we have figured out that we should focus on two main categories of the green building sector, electricity and water. There is huge consumption of both electricity and water in Saudi Arabia. We consumed around two million barrels of oil a day in Saudi Arabia to produce energy and, according to US statistics, this will rise to seven million barrels a day over the next 15 years.

We believe that we need to change our sources of power. It will not and should not be oil after ten or fifteen years.

What does that have to do with green buildings?

Due to subsidisation our electricity bills are so low in Saudi Arabia in comparison to consumption. It’s difficult to us as the Saudi Green Building Council to advise end users to use renewable energy, solar or whatever, because it will never [cost] less than the available electricity sources.

So far, many people ask us about saving energy with solar panels and so on, and we still reply that this technology will not help in their building. Renewable energy needs to be dealt with at the source of energy, not as a way of saving energy.

So, there are a lot of misconceptions about sustainability in the region and how it can have an impact on building?

Yes, we conducted some studies into photo-voltaic panels for example. If used on a building the return of investment was 90 to 100 years, because this technology costs so much and it does not produce energy quickly enough.

New buildings use photo-voltaic panels for decoration. It’s not for saving energy because both economically and scientifically it’s not saving. They are just out to get LEED points. This is the most obvious example, but there are many more.

Do you think there needs to be more regulation, i.e. an Estidama system for Saudi?

We are observing that right now, because the truth is it might not work. You can’t force end users to use green building codes, even developers. We want people to use green building initiatives because they believe in them, not because we force them to do it. We are in the process of greening minds, that’s why we are in the early stages. We’re not ashamed of being at an early stage because we don’t want to force our industry to be green. We want them to go green because they believe it is better, not because they have to do it.

Construction Week and MEP are hosting the Building Sustainability into the Middle East conference, in Jeddah on 26 March.

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