By Hisham Youssef
Sustainability is about adopting a common sense approach to design
Sustainability has become the buzzword of choice in our industry, with many technical terms and metrics that makes it almost beyond the understanding of many clients and professionals alike. But this need not be the case. Sustainability is about going back to the basics of interacting with the environment and adopting a common sense approach to design.
We have all heard that buildings contribute a significant amount of CO2 emissions to the environment and GCC countries with new developments underway are among the top offenders. There are, of course, a number of showcase projects that deserve recognition, but speed has trumped sustainability in the vast majority of developments so far.
That said, the sustainability mindset should not be limited to developments and reside within the walls of our offices. Sustainability is about how we go about our daily routines. In order to secure a more sustainable future for the next generation, two key agents of change are necessary: education and government legislation.
Education is paramount, and schools must start educating the next generation about sustainability. Sustainability education is about instilling the right values, sensitivity and sense of responsibility towards our planet’s limited resources and can only start at a young age. Changing our value system at a later age is never easy and always resisted. But this does not mean that education should stop at early school years. Sustainability values and skills are fundamental at all stages of our educational system.
At the same time, governments must develop creative programs to encourage sustainable developments. This is especially important in states where there are no taxes. Typically, where taxes are levied, a reduction of taxes would incentivize owners and developers to adopt sustainable approaches.
The voluntary building rating systems LEED, BREAAM and others have long been leading global benchmark systems. But they never quite addressed the climate of the region.
In developing Estidama, the government of UAE has done well to tackle that problem. The Pearl rating system has been developed specifically for harsh Middle Eastern climates, and addresses the full life cycle of developments. A perusal of their website shows a well developed program. That said, the UAE is not alone in the region, other rating systems are also being developed in MENA countries including Egypt (Green Pyramid Rating System), and Qatar (Qatari Sustainability Assessment System).
So, where do we go from here? As professionals we must adopt sustainable approaches to design. This is only the first step, and it is our responsibility. Other more sophisticated techniques that can be implemented may come at a price to owners, for now. With time, as the general thinking and industry inevitably moves in the direction of sustainable developments, costs will come down. But we must start now.
Hisham Youssef is an architect at Gensler, responsible for the firm’s projects in Egypt and North Africa.