By Rupert Cornford
Environmental standards in the construction industry have become more prevalent over recent years, as awareness grows over the need to think ‘green’ during the design process. Rupert Cornford gets straight to the point with Dr Sadek Owainati, deputy general manager, Al Naboodah Contracting (Building Division) and founder member of the Emirates Green Building Council.
How environmentally aware is the UAE construction industry?
I think there has been a good public awareness exercise in place across the Emirates over the past decade, and now we are seeing a shift towards making sure that the professionals are implementing public expectations.
Whose responsibility is it to consider the environment during the procurement process?
It is important to get all stakeholders working together.
There is a triangle: The client, the contractor and the consultant.
All of them have a responsibility, but perhaps more of the onus is on the consultant, who specifies the work, as the contractor only has to implement the project.
It is the consultant who has to convince the client of the benefits of any design and that the future financial return is always much better than the initial capital investment.
So, it continues to be the consultant’s role to convey this important message and the government’s role to implement the right regulations.
So, is there anything that contractors can do to behave in a more environmentally friendly way?
There are ways that contractors can implement their own environmental measures.
For example, if you look at water consumption in a labour camp, around 180 litres per head is consumed per day, which is very high.
Control devices and water-saving measures could reduce this by 20 to 30 litres.
Contractors save money and therefore the developers save money.
And although we are normally following the lead of the consultant, there are some situations where a contractor can have more of an influence over the design.
For example, there is a growing trend towards design-build projects.
In this situation the contractor has more of a say because he hires the consultant, and both parties can have more of an equal understanding of the environmental considerations of a project, which is, of course, more beneficial for the project in the long run.
But the client still needs to be convinced, of course.
Where is the pressure going to come from to improve environmental standards in the construction industry?
I think that the government itself is fully aware.
Dubai Municipality is already actively involved.
I think we have seen some evidence of this, in terms of insulation of buildings and indoor air quality.
And the Emirates Green Building Council is an excellent platform for the concerned professionals to be working together.
We have contractors, developers and specialists in other fields, and we are pushing to increase membership to include members of academia and government laboratories.
We are working together, using all sides of the triangle to pressurise the whole contracting environment to become environmentally friendly.
Does the formation of the Emirates Green Building Council mean that international environmental standards will be brought to the country?
We are hoping to introduce a UAE set of parameters that will define the green building rating system.
Each country has its own valid and more relevant points.
Energy and water, for example, are more of an issue in the Middle East, so we have got to have good emphasis on how the building will cater for these specific elements; whether it is through the glazing specification, water specifications, air-conditioning specifications, or cutting down heat generation.
All of these elements will contribute in their own right to the eventual saving of energy and water and the formation of a system of regulations.
We are working with influential bodies to draw up a set of parameters.
What do you think are the challenges in pushing environmental design?
I think the conviction is there but turning that into reality is not as easy.
The commitment has to be so deep rooted in the minds and hearts of those developing the projects.
Only then will they direct the consultant to look at a project in that way.
And the government, of course, is a major element.
It always helps if firms have incentives that encourage them to improve their designs.
Is the government currently providing incentives to build in more of a ‘green’ way?
Not that I am aware, but it would definitely not approve a building that is not satisfying certain factors with regards to glazing and insulation, for example.
I think the intent is not to stipulate and control; it has to be on a voluntary basis from the developers.
With any sellable idea, if you can get the other side of the table in agreement with you then you are taking a step in the right direction.
I’m not saying it will happen today, but it will happen in stages.
Who else needs to be involved in the process?
I think we need to get bodies like Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) on board to understand these issues.
For example, if we look at the electricity that is provided for construction sites; if all these sites were connected for temporary purposes through the system, rather than generators, can you imagine how many thousands of tonnes of fuel and costs can be saved?
But it is so difficult for a contractor to obtain power from DEWA during construction; it is not available.
And there is definitely a need to enlighten people by way of university research.
I have a list of about 50 projects that could be studied.
It would be nice to know, for example, what the average amount of electricity being consumed by the industry is each year but we don’t know what it is.
Collating, reading and looking at this information is the backbone of important decisions, but there is a lack of it in the UAE.
I wish that universities would be more proactive in coming on board.
What is the overall aim of the Emirates Green Building Council?
We are aiming for a more environmentally sustainable built environment.
If we can really make people aware of the benefits of environmental design and how much money can be saved then we are communicating the right message.
Awareness is only the first step but in the future we hope to see buildings that are designed to maximise efficiency of the structure in every sense.
Eventually it comes down to dollars and cents, and I am happy to say that because that should, at least, convince the developer and authorities that it is good for the environment and future generations, and will save some money as well.
This is for the long term.
If we are not looking long term then we are not caring about the environment.