How green is real estate development in the Gulf?

Aaref Hejres, CEO of Diyar Al Muharraq, says that projects which begin with early environmental project management will lead to a positive long-term outcome.
How green is real estate development in the Gulf?
By Aaref Hejres
Sat 06 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

Aaref Hejres, CEO of Diyar Al Muharraq, says that projects which begin with early environmental project management will lead to a positive long-term outcome.

A question increasingly asked of real estate developers - at trade and business forums, by the government and the public - is "How green is your development?"

Already at the forefront of debate in the West, environmental responsibility is increasingly coming to prominence in the GCC, as the region continues to see major real estate and infrastructure projects coming to life.

It is an issue that is now quite rightly being addressed by GCC developers - especially by companies operating in a region with one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, and one that has one of the lowest rates of public awareness and compliance with environmental best practice. By aspiring to the highest standards of international environmental best practice, Gulf developers will clearly shorten the environmental gap between regional developments and the rest of the world.

The phenomenal rate of infrastructure development in the GCC requires equally phenomenal change, much of which has unavoidable short-term environmental consequences. Real estate developers are increasingly taking stock of environmental issues and building ever more effective mitigation measures into their plans, which will lead to a positive long-term outcome.

It is essential that developers consider environmental measures even before the first grain of sand is disturbed.

In our case, Diyar Al Muharraq commissioned international experts to carry out the initial environmental impact assessment (EIA) and prepare an environmental management plan (EMP), and they continue to work with us on the ongoing monitoring and assessment.

Overall, we have invested over US $8 million (AED30 million) to managing the environmental aspects of our development. In fact, our EMP exceeds Bahrain's governmental requirements by more than 200%.

It is our philosophy that environmental sustainability must be built in to every aspect of a development, from the initial masterplan, to the construction and eventual future use. All decisions which may have environmental consequences should be taken only after in-depth consultation with international experts and/or the appropriate environmental authorities.

Only by taking the environment extremely seriously, can we hope to minimise the short-term consequences that all developments, inevitably, have on the environment.

As developers, we can also step outside the immediate realm of the development itself, and take a holistic approach to our environmental strategy. For example, being determined to go the extra mile and contribute to significant research and education in the environmental arena is a highly effective method.

A sign of the region's environmental awakening is the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) increasing involvement in the GCC. We are delighted that UNEP has expressed an interest in our work at Diyar Al Muharraq, which has led us to actively explore a two-year initiative, designed to improve regional EIA practices.

As developers, we need to communicate goals and achievements; we need to go out into the wider community - and here I am talking about all stakeholders, i.e. investors, developers, buyers, governments and the public - and talk about our environmental programmes. This is how we can play our part in encouraging a more environmentally-focused mindset among our industry and the wider public.

Many of the environmental initiatives that Diyar Al Muharraq is undertaking are being implemented for the first time not only in Bahrain, but across the GCC. Many are already underway, such as an intensive regime of water quality measurement. For the first time in Bahrain, this includes sedimentation studies, ecological monitoring, landscape and coastline monitoring, and periodic environmental audits of the contractor.

Interestingly, the valuable and previously unknown data that we are generating indicates that it is the way that reclamation is carried out, rather than the choice of any particular method of reclamation, that is important, supporting our use of international best practice in this area.

There is also enormous scope to work with the government in order to make a long-term contribution to help them better manage the environment and environmental resources. We are undertaking a seismic study on behalf of the government covering an area of 1000kms2, and we have also taken a particular interest in the marine environment and fisheries, for example.

As world citizens, it is up to all of us to protect our precious environment for generations to come, so they too can enjoy the legacy of our labours. At Diyar Al Muharraq, we firmly believe that sound environmental project management is a key prerequisite for long-term success.

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email rob.wagner@itp.com

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