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Sat 12 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Green thinking

Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) chairman Jeff Willis talks to CW about his views on the progress made so far in terms of green building and his hopes for the future.

Green thinking

Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) chairman Jeff Willis talks to CW about his views on the progress made so far in terms of green building and his hopes for the future.

What progress has been made in the Middle East so far in terms of green building?

Some progress has been made, and more will be made, as new regulations and Estidama come into use. Some developers have done more than others. Tecom, for example, has made a significant effort. But we had around 300 buildings that have been submitted to the US Green Building Council (USGBC) for certification and only about three or four of them got through to the end.

The reasons for this was probably because of programme cost and because these projects have been approached in the wrong way. You can't produce a glass-fronted building and then expect it to be Leed certified. There have been lots of good intentions at the start but not enough to carry companies through to the future.

Why do you think some contractors and developers are discouraged from implementing green initiatives into their projects?

It is commonly and wrongly accepted that greener is more expensive. It is difficult to change mind sets and habits, and here, as in any part of the world, it is difficult to get people to take steps to improve the conditions of operation of a building when the plan is to sell the building on. People have the idea that they wish to build something very quickly and very cheaply in order to sell it at a profit as soon as they can.

The Emirates Green Building Council wishes to increase its members by around 30% per year. How will you achieve this?

We want to make people see the number of benefits of belonging to the EGBC organisation by raising our profile, making people more aware of our aims and encouraging them to take part in achieving them. We have increased our members by 30% per year in the past and I suspect, if we manage ourselves very well in the next six months, then we will achieve more than that. Also, we want to increase the variety of our members. We have a lot of contractors, consultants and FM managers on board, but not a lot from other occupations in the construction industry and we want to improve on this.

There were reports that a regional ratings system for green buildings was going to be implemented in the UAE. Is this still true?

At the moment we are not producing our own rating system. We never were really. We were going to work with the USGBC to produce one that was our own but this also meant that we would have to have entirely our own infrastructure to operate it. The USGBC has changed its process in order to make the system more flexible to use here, which means that one of the main reasons for having our own ratings system has disappeared. So, we didn't scrap the idea, things changed, which meant it was no longer the right way to go.

Will there ever be a certifying body that will serve all of the UAE?

I would like to think there will be and Emirate-wide certified body, but I would not like to guess a timescale. It would also make sense for all building regulations to be consistent across the UAE.

Do you think that green building will be a top priority once the downturn is over?

The new regulations and Estidama will require that green buildings be a top priority. I think that the international concern with climate change will also bring a focus on green building issues. With the Irena HQ being located in Abu Dhabi, more of an emphasis is likely be put on appropriate technologies and buildings.

What are your main aims for 2010?

We would like to establish regular functions, both educational and informative. Furthermore, we want to establish working relationships with government bodies related to green building issues.


Jeff Willis is an engineer with nearly 40 years experience in the construction industry. He is the Arup representative and a founder member of the Emirates Green Building Council. He currently holds the position of chairman.

Willis has been working for Arup for 30 years, located in offices in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. During that time he has worked on a variety of projects from individual building design to master planning, and in commercial, industrial and transportation and infrastructure design.

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