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Sat 26 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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The green revolutionaries

The issue of sustainability has grown in prominence in the Middle East. As the word spreads and debates continue, Ben Roberts asks who is leading the way.

The green revolutionaries
A maze of systems, regulations and accreditation greets contractors who want to prove their sustainable credentials.

The issue of sustainability has grown in prominence in the Middle East. As the word spreads and debates continue, Ben Roberts asks who is leading the way.

Sustainability has been the most active topic of discussion during a global economic crisis, after the crisis itself.

The map of the Gulf region is dotted with companies, councils, projects and conferences that are looking at the issue of building in an environmentally beneficial way, using materials and processes that account for their carbon output, seek to shift to reusable energy resources where possible and - ultimately - create a longer lasting hotel, villa or power plant.

The region has varied opinions on the subject, based on the maturity of the concept in the particular market and what initiatives have put theory into practice. While some emirates in the UAE are thinking about region-specific assessments and the evolution of relevant regulation, some of its neighbours may still be getting familiar with the benefits, requirements and the costs.

In between, new developments that claim to put sustainability at the core, such as Dubai Pearl and Qatar's Dohaland, are becoming more plentiful. After the last few years, in which big projects were vulnerable to stalling, these are admirable ambitions. Masdar, the prospective first zero-carbon city, has for many years topped all plans for environmental dynamism, even if the market is yet to see the result.

Sustainability has been shown to be somewhat intuitive as a concept for the construction market, even if the take-up is uneven. A spot poll on the website of the Qatar Green Buildings Council, 89.4% of respondents said they ‘Strongly Agree' with the statement: "Green building is important to sustain our culture and our environment."

Some think the current clamour for discussions about sustainable construction is just an extension of good practice. Peter Cummings, technical director at consultant WSP, says the push towards sustainability is familiar to the standard practices in MEP regarding energy efficiency. Edward Mayer, of FX Fowle, speaking as a panel member at Construction Week's recent Building Sustainability conference in Riyadh, said that sustainable processes, recycling and cutting waste are not just about cutting cost or proving credentials, "it is also just about building a better building".

Uninitiated developers and contractors looking to gain recognition for efforts to be sustainable are faced with a maze of rating systems, acronyms and criteria, which some say has created a barrier to entry. The most prominent benchmark is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a third-party accreditation system devised by the US Green Building Council.

Based on a points system, LEED totals up the individual elements of a building that allow energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality. This system has evolved, and last year, LEED v3 was launched, comprising of LEED 2009, a new LEED Online and a new building certification model. But its relevance to the climate of the Gulf is still debated: insiders tell CW that the World Green Buildings Council has - as yet - failed to deliver a region-specific version of LEED.

Then there is the UK-based BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), the most widely used measure of environmental credentials aimed at property developers, designers and building managers. Though it aims to meet the demands of the Middle East market with the launch of BREEAM Gulf, critics argue that the welter of additional sub-schemes such as BREEAM In Use and BREEAM Communities sees the system dilute its strength.

Abu Dhabi's Estidama system, with its Pearl rating, based on seven environmental criteria at its centre, is the most recent addition. The system is at the core of the emirate's 2030 plan, and the Urban Planning Council has worked with the team developing Estidama to create constant monitoring of sustainability through four pre-defined categories: environmental, economic, social and cultural. James Reed, UPC's development manager for the Capital District, told CW earlier this year that it planned to ‘create a sustainable city that is also culturally sustainable', while pushing for a mandatory adoption of the measure.

A plethora of different systems may have fragmented the collective message and obscured what environmental recognition might mean in reality. Some questions remain as relevant as ever: should the business case for sustainability be made and emphasised? Should an existing system be adapted, or a new one created altogether?

Within the regional debate, certain individuals and companies have stood out for their commitment to sustainability; leaders who have seen the potential of a different approach, as well as the latest technology, to address both the ecological and financial benefits of sustainable building. The achievements of individuals, companies and projects need to be highlighted as milestones in the development of a sustainable approach to construction.

If the idea that sustainability will take hold in the region is too far-fetched for some, look back a few years to what is now seen as the world's leading region for sustainable building, Europe. As one attendee at the Building Sustainability conference told CW: "‘Green' was resisted violently by industry in Europe for many years, until people did their homework and found there were green processes that were cheaper than the old-established ones, and that there was money to be made from waste, rather than paying for someone to truck it away. Now, most businesses are accustomed to looking at all aspects of everything they do, because they have understood that it improves the bottom line."

Karim 9 years ago

The article below explains the differences between all three mentioned rating systems in the feature article, Estidama, LEED and BREEAM. http://www.carboun.com/sustainable-design/comparing-estidama’s-pearls-rating-method-to-leed-and-breeam/