The Middle East region faces a unique set of environmental and socio-economic challenges in the form of water scarcity, harsh climatic conditions, ecological degradation and abundance of fossil fuels. Commercial and residential buildings in the Middle East consume more energy than those in other parts of the world, mainly on account of extremely hot weather, rampant use of glass exteriors and heavy reliance on air-conditioning. The Middle East building industry, in recent years, is actively trying to make widespread use of eco-friendly architecture, traditional building methods and sustainable construction practices.
Some of the other drivers for the progress of green buildings sector in the Middle East are carbon-neutral buildings, self-sustaining urban planning and cultural sensitivity incorporating traditional Islamic architecture. Many countries in the region are increasingly promoting energy efficiency as a means to achieve energy security which has catalyzed the local green buildings industry. As far as social reasons are concerned, improved health and greater productivity are the top reasons for companies going green in their construction.
Trends in the Middle East
In recent years, green building design has emerged as a top priority in the Middle East. The number of LEED-registered buildings has increased rapidly across the region, from 623 in 2010 to more than 1400 in 2015. United Arab Emirates is leading the pack with almost two-third share, followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Some of the prominent green buildings are Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (Masdar City), Climate Change Initiative Building (Dubai), Qatar National Convention Centre (Doha), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Jeddah) and World Trade Center (Bahrain). Siemen’s headquarters in Masdar City has the distinction of being the first LEED Platinum-rated office building in the entire Middle East. Msheireb Downtown Doha is regarded as the world’s first sustainable community, with more than 100 buildings targeting LEED Gold and Platinum rating.
Infact, the UAE has the fourth-largest stock of LEED-certified buildings outside the US at 3.1 million sq. meters. UAE also has the distinction of having the fourth-largest number of LEED-accredited construction professionals worldwide. Sunanda Swain, a leading Dubai-based green buildings expert says that, “Presently, the UAE has total cumulative gross square meters (GSM) of LEED- certified and registered spaces of 53.44 million and the total number of LEED-certified and registered projects are 910 (in comparison to 710 by June 2014)”. She adds, “In Abu Dhabi, over 700,000 square meters of real estate are certified by the Urban Planning Council under Estidama sustainability standards.”
Regional countries, such as Qatar and UAE, have come up with their own building sustainability standards and building laws to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture. Infact, Qatar's Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) is billed as the world's most comprehensive green building rating system while Abu Dhabi's Pearl Rating System (Estidama) and Dubai’s Green Building Regulations has swiftly carved a niche of its own in global green buildings sector. Green Building Councils in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt etc. are proactively working to popularize the concept of green buildings in their respective countries.
Green buildings can not only contribute towards environment protection in the Middle East but also bring lots of advantages to building occupants and users. Lower development costs, reduced operating costs, healthier indoor environment quality and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of major benefits associated with green buildings. To sum up, Green building technologies can serve as catalysts for smart urbanization in the Middle East, besides ensuring energy security, climate change mitigation, and opening new economic and job opportunities.