By Claire Ferris-Lay
How and why the major UAE real estate developers are using green design for their latest projects.
Sustainable development is what we are all about," Ronald Barrott, chief executive officer of Aldar Properties tells Arabian Business. With the World Wildlife Fund placing Dubai second in the world for highest per capita carbon emissions it's not difficult to see the reasons for the rise in corporate responsibility and why priority is being given to green design and sustainability as much as design.
International design practices and initiatives are leading the way in the green field, and not just in the US - considered by many as the leader in sustainable design - but also across this region. Last year The Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) was established. The non-profit organisation focuses on advancing green building principles to protect the environment and ensure sustainability across the UAE. In a further move which demonstrates its commitment to the environment the UAE also signed up to the Kyoto Protocol last year.
Sustainable City would reduce energy consumption by up to 50% through the use of technologies pioneered in Japan.
Nakheel, the property developer responsible for projects such as The Palm and The World, has committed itself to the EGBC following a thorough sustainability analysis by international consultancy firm, the Sustainable Advisory Group. Chris O'Donnell, CEO of Nakheel says, "Six months ago we carried out an international sustainability group analysis which identified what was good and bad about the company. We now have an improvement programme in place, which covers the social, economic and environmental aspects of our business."
"[We found that] Nakheel is well advanced in sustainability planning but not good at collecting all that information together. The journey ahead has many steps and will be a major challenge, but it is one which we know we must embark on," he continues.
Nakheel's strategic step programme, which was announced at Cityscape, includes a continued membership of the EGBC, the establishment of a Nakheel Sustainability Champions Forum to reward best design practice, the formation of a Nakheel foundation to implement philanthropic, community and humanitarian actions and the setting of a minimum standards on a number of key issues such as business integrity environment, health and safety and human rights.
Other eco-friendly initiatives backed by major developers included Nikken Sekkei's commitment to the Sustainable Urban Development Consortium for Japan and Gulf States Partnership (SDCJ), a consortium which will join government advisors to present "Sustainable City" next month in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The Japanese planners, architects and engineers - the first Japanese company to exhibit at Cityscape last year and considered one of the global leaders in sustainable technologies - will present the concept of Sustainable City, which if realised, would reduce energy consumption by up to 50% through the use of technologies pioneered in Japan and already successfully used. "Due to the lack of natural resources, Japan is widely considered the leader in environmentally-friendly engineering. At Nikken our technology employs the most advanced techniques aimed at maintaining optimum performance levels in energy consumption and water conservation, with a minimal carbon footprint," says Hamada Akihiko, senior executive officer and head of international design team at Nikken Sekkei.
It is not only initiatives that are promoting green design, developers are now leading the way as well as encouraging others to follow suit. Nakheel's O'Donnell adds: "Some people pay lip service to this but a few want to change things and change the region's culture on sustainability.
"The good thing is that everything we do is new therefore we can influence the way things are designed to create the most sustainable environment anywhere in the world.
"Some developers are at a superficial level in terms of their promises of sustainability. The tipping point, however, will be when everyone else starts doing it properly and they will either have to upgrade their product offerings or perish. Remember when seatbelts first started appearing in cars or airbags, not every car had them, now all of them do. It is marketing edge but also a must for any quality developer," he continues.
For a region which is still developing much of its infrastructure, implementing sustainable design practices is far easier to do than in more established countries. "It is easy for us as a country to make huge advances given our climatic circumstances, says Shaun Lenehan, head of environment, The Design Group, Nakheel. "The great thing about doing a project from the very beginning is that you have opportunities to do things such as avoid exposure to the western sun and make the most of shading and prevailing winds. We can also control water and energy demands for each building," he adds.
And control water and energy inputs and outputs they do. While Nikken Sekkei will use tried and tested Japanese materials for its developments, including its aeroduct system that uses mirrors and sunlight for internal light, local developers are focusing on energy and water efficiency as well as transportation.
Efficient transportation systems are at the top of many developers' green design wish-list. While Nikken Sekkei tells Arabian Business it will promote the use of a monorail for Sustainable City, Abu Dhabi-based developer Aldar Properties is working closely on the capital's massive infrastructure programme.
"Reducing traffic movement is also a sustainable design concept. Aldar is committed to putting in an integrated transportation system in Abu Dhabi, in conjunction with the government, which will use the very latest technology," says Aldar Properties' Barrott.
"In our Raha Beach development we are separating the traffic from pedestrians and adding a lot of water and landscaping, which also comes under sustainable design umbrella," he continues.
For many of its developments Aldar Properties is creating a community which contains schools as well as retail areas which cuts down on the reliance for traffic. "We understand that people don't live and work in the same building so we are creating integrated communities. Raha Beach, for example, has the Trade Centre and about three or four million sq ft of offices, together with other business-related space. It also has supporting retail and F&B along with various types of hotel from the three stars to the five stars and beyond," says Barrott.
Reducing the reliance on wasteful air conditioning, a much relied upon resource in this region is also being targeted by many green developers who are introducing district cooling systems rather than more wasteful units.
"Air conditioning is not environmentally friendly but is necessary for quality of life in this part of the world. By far the most eco-friendly system is the district cooling system as it uses less raw power to produce the cold water for people to use. As far as aesthetics are concerned, these systems are not large units are not on the top of buildings," adds Barrott. In this desert environment, conservation of water is equally important. On the Palm Jumeirah, Nakheel has implemented an efficient water recycling system which is used for a variety of purposes. "In the Gulf where we typically experience less than four inches of rainfall a year, water conservation is extremely important. Once the water that has been generated through desalination and has been consumed by the household on The Palm, it goes to a sewage treatment plant where we treat the water to a very high level," says Lenahan.
"From there it is used in our district cooling systems," he adds. The recycled water is also used for landscaping and irrigation around the development.
The UAE is not only proving that bigger is better, it is also paving the way for the rest of the world in eco-friendly designs.
This type of system is being adopted by many of the developers in the region including Emaar Properties for the Burj Dubai. The world's tallest building will be cooled from melted water from three ice-making plants because chilled water alone would be ineffective by the time it reached the top of the building.
Around 15 million gallons of condensation will be produced per year which will then be drawn off and used to irrigate the local landscape.
On a more complex scale Nikken Sekkei uses sunlight in its Toyota Motor Corporation HQ Building, which used the world's largest mirror duct to bring sunlight into an underground café and floor air conditioning pumped through porous carpets. On a smaller scale but no less effective, having a recycling system in place as the ones that Aldar Properties implement in their developments, is also encouraging feature of green design.
Building a more eco-friendly building does have its downsides in that inevitably more complex materials and structures are more costly, however, many developers are convinced that as the world becomes more conscious of energy saving and eco-friendly initiatives it is now what the public is demanding for its buildings.
"Does the general public want it? Definitely. We are recognised as being at the top of the development game so it is part and parcel of the game. It's like keeping up with the Joneses," says Lenahan.
"We have large investors who are making substantial investment and people like that are more and more aware of social responsibility - they have to be able to tick that box before they go ahead and make an investment decision," he continues.
And it is not just new buildings that are undergoing the "green" treatment, Lenahan also points out that older, less-energy efficient buildings are also being targeted. "There are consultancy firms that can improve the efficiency of a building, measure it and are then paid based on the percentage of the money they save. We don't pay them if it doesn't work so it is in their interest to make it work. I think it is a very good business model that shows their faith in their product."
It would seem that the UAE is not only proving that bigger is better, it is also paving the way for the rest of the world in designing eco-friendly buildings, which will soon be the envy of developing cities.