Green Building Trends in the Middle East

Siemens-MasdarThe 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. 

Energy Efficiency in Saudi Cement Industry

Saudi Arabia is the largest construction market in the Middle East, with large development projects under way and many more in the planning stage. The cement industry in the country is evolving rapidly and is expected to reach annual clinker production of 70 million tonnes in 2013 from current figure of 60 million tonnes per year. The cement industry is one of the highest energy-intensive industries in the world, with fuel and energy costs typically representing 30-40% of total production costs. On an average, the specific electrical energy consumption typically ranges between 90 and 130 kWh per tonne of cement. Keeping in view the huge energy demand of the cement industry, the Saudi Arabian government has been making efforts to reduce the energy consumption in the country towards a more sustainable.

Energy Demand in Cement Production

The theoretical fuel energy demand for cement clinker production is determined by the energy required for the chemical/mineralogical reactions (1,700 to 1,800 MJ/tonne clinker) and the thermal energy needed for raw material drying and pre-heating. Modern cement plants which were built within the last decade have low energy consumption compared to older plants.  The actual fuel energy use for different kiln systems is in the following ranges (MJ/tonne clinker):

  • 3,000 – 3,800 for dry process, multi-stage (3 – 6 stages) cyclone preheater and precalcining kilns,
  • 3,100 – 4,200 for dry process rotary kilns equipped with cyclone preheaters,
  • 3,300 – 4,500 for semi-dry/semi-wet processes (e.g. Lepol-kilns),
  • Up to 5,000 for dry process long kilns,
  • 5,000 – 6,000 for wet process long kilns and
  • 3,100–6,500 for shaft kilns.

Energy Efficiency in Cement Industry

With new built, state-of-the-art cement plants, usually all technical measures seem to be implemented towards low energy consumption. So, how to reduce it further?

Energy efficiency is based on the following three pillars

  • Technical optimization
  • Alternative raw materials for cement and clinker production
  • Alternative fuels

In Europe, the new energy efficiency directive from 2011 intends to reduce the energy consumption of the overall industry by 20%, achieving savings of 200billion Euros at the energy bill and with the goal to create 2 million new jobs within Europe. This approach will have a significant influence also on the cement industry. Saving 20% of the energy consumption is a challenging goal, especially for plants with state-of-the-art technology.

In older plants modernizations in the fields of grinding, process control and process prediction can, if properly planned and installed, reduce the electricity consumption – sometimes in a two digit number.

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels, such as waste-derived fuels or RDF, bear further energy saving potential. The substitution of fossil fuel by alternative sources of energy is common practice in the European cement industry.The German cement industry, for example, substitutes approximately 61% of their fossil fuel demand. The European cement industry reaches an overall substitution rate of at least ca. 20%.

Typical “alternative fuels” available in Saudi Arabia are municipal solid wastes, agro-industrial wastes, industrial wastes and some amount of crop residues. To use alternative or waste-derived fuels, such as municipal solid wastes, dried sewage sludges, drilling wastes etc., a regulatory base has to be developed which sets

  • Types of wastes/alternative fuels,
  • Standards for the production of waste-derived fuels,
  • Emission standards and control mechanism while using alternative fuels and
  • Standards for permitting procedures.

Alternative Raw Materials

The reduction of clinker portion in cement affords another route to reduce energy consumption. In particular, granulated blast furnace slags or even limestone have proven themselves as substitutes in cement production, thus reducing the overall energy consumption.

To force the use of alternative raw materials within the cement industry, also – and again –standards have to be set, where

  • Types of wastes, by-products and other secondary raw materials are defined,
  • Standards for the substitution are set,
  • Guidelines for processing are developed,
  • Control mechanisms are defined.


To reduce the energy consumption, an energy efficiency program, focusing on “production-related energy efficiency” has to be developed. Substantial potential for energy efficiency improvement exists in the cement industry and in individual plants. A portion of this potential will be achieved as part of (natural) modernization and expansion of existing facilities, as well as construction of new plants in particular regions. Still, a relatively large potential for improved energy management practices exists and can be exhausted by determined approaches.

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Trends in Sustainable Housing

There has been large-scale proliferation in construction of buildings worldwide due to population growth, economic development, urbanization and migration. According to UN Habitat, there has been a migration of the world's population from rural areas to cities or smaller urban areas. In fact, this trend is expected to continue and cities within the developed as well as developing nations are expected to grow in terms of population. As a result all forms of construction activities are expected to become more intense than ever in the years to come.

Usually the development of urban areas suffers from weak process of planning and control which lead to bad housing conditions, poor sanitation system, limited electricity and water supply, and often poverty.  These issues coupled with high population growth rate, environmental degradation, global warming and limited non-renewable resources highlights the importance of sustainable housing for the survival of humankind.

Sustainability in Buildings

Building construction and operation have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. Buildings use resources such as energy, water and raw materials, generate a variety of wastes and emit potentially harmful gases. Basically the environmental impacts of buildings take place within six stages of building lifecycle:

  • Design process
  • Material or product manufacture
  • Distribution
  • Construction phase
  • Operation
  • Refurbishment or demolition

In terms of energy consumption, 60 percent of the world’s electricity is consumed by residential and commercial building. Space heating accounts for 60 percent of residential energy consumption and water heating for 18 percent in developed countries. Therefore radical changes must be made in design and performance of the buildings to reduce energy consumption and its corresponding environmental impact.

In many countries, sustainable construction methods are being adopted to lead the building industry towards sustainable development and provide better quality living environment. Basically sustainable building design and construction intend to diminish environmental impacts of building over its entire lifetime by paying attention to environmental, socio-economic and cultural issues.

Trends Around the World

The developed and developing world is facing sustainable housing and urbanization challenge in different ways.  Currently industrialized countries are the highest contributor in CO2 emissions. However it is expected that developing countries will take the lead in global warming in the near future. Developing countries are experiencing fast-paced urbanization and at the same time slums and informal settlements are also expanding rapidly which makes development of sustainable housing a difficult proposition.

Countries around the world are taking steps towards implementing sustainable design in the building sector. However most of them are still far from reaching the intended targets.  The major barriers in implementing energy efficiency in the building sector include:

  • Economic and financial issues;
  • Structural characteristics of political, economic and energy system; and
  • Lack of awareness and information

However different countries adopt different approaches for sustainable construction and set different priorities, depending on their economic condition. Nations with high economic growth are developing sustainable buildings making use of latest technologies and innovations. In case of developing countries, social equality and economic sustainability are foremost considerations. In fact, developing countries are moving slowly or even negative towards adopting sustainable housing strategies.

As far as Middle East is concerned, economic considerations dominate for oil and gas-rich GCC countries as they protect their oil and gas export reserves by investing in new ways to boost energy efficiency and lower energy consumption. However for less-affluent countries, such as Jordan, lack of indigenous energy resources and high energy costs are the primary reasons for implementation of sustainable design strategies in buildings.

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Construction Wastes Management in the UAE

Out of total solid wastes generated in the UAE, the construction and demolition (C&D) wastes account for 70% of the total weight of solid wastes. Dubai alone produces nearly 5,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste every day, which is about 70% of the total solid waste generated every day. In Abu Dhabi, C & D wastes account for 71% of total wastes generated in the year 2011. It is expected that construction and development activities and associated C&D waste production will continue to rise in this region. Hence, if not managed appropriately, it is expected that dumping of C & D will become uncontrolled. This will not only cause negative environmental impact on soil, water and air and the surrounding ecosystem but also result in depletion of finite resources. This also creates social and financial burden to the society and to the country.  Hence, the management of construction waste is an essential aspect of sustainable building development.

To reduce the environmental impacts and improve the socio cultural, economic performance of buildings, various sustainability rating systems and green building regulations are created in the UAE apart from the sustainability rating systems available globally.  These rating systems and regulation have a credit category generally called “materials and resources” credit category, which includes the requirements for construction and demolition waste management. The main intent of having these requirements is to facilitate the waste reduction during construction and to prevent the depletion of material resources and associated environmental impacts.

The common sustainability rating systems used in the UAE are LEED, Pearl Rating System for Estidama and EHS Trakhees in-house certification. Various local Green Building regulations are made to regulate the building design and construction activities in each administrative location or jurisdiction. The local green building regulations are mostly aligned to USGBC LEED v3 but are more specific to the region. As a general requirement, for the purpose of credit compliance, excavated materials such as soil, sand, land clearing debris and hazardous wastes are exempted for calculation of the percentage of wastes diverted from disposal at landfill facilities. However, it is required to divert these substances to places designated by the concerned department of the local regulatory authorities. Let us have a close look at various green building regulations and guidelines for minimizing C&D wastes generation.


The LEED rating system makes it mandatory for the project owner to develop and implement C&D waste management plan. Like other rating systems the main intent is to reduce the volume of C&D waste that is sent to landfills and incineration facilities by employing strategies such as reduce reuse, recovery and recycle of materials from the C&D waste stream. Apart from mandatory requirements, up to 4 credit points can be earned for building and construction projects in building and material reuse optional credit category and awards up to 2 points in the C&D waste management category which uses reuse and recycle methods.

Dubai Municipality 

Dubai Municipality doesn’t provide in-house certification for green buildings but enforces green building regulations by issuing building permits for projects within its jurisdiction. As per Dubai Municipality regulations, it is a mandatory requirement for all new buildings except the buildings in the CBD area to divert at least 50% of wastes materials by volume (cubic meter) or by weight (kg/ tonne) from the total waste materials generated during construction and/ or demolition of buildings by using reuse and recycle strategies. Excavated soil, land clearing debris and hazardous waste materials are not taken into consideration for this requirement.

EHS Trakhees

EHS Trakees green building department is the regulatory wing of Port, customs, Free zone Corporation (PCFC) jurisdiction. It enforces its green building regulations on all new construction projects of the jurisdiction. Projects seeking in-house certification can earn 1 point for diverting 50% of C&D waste materials from landfill disposal and 2 points for 75% of C&D waste diversion. These requirements can be achieved by using various strategies mentioned earlier. In the building reuse credit category, EHS Trakhees awards up to 3 points for maintaining the existing building structure (including structural floor and roof decking) and envelop (the exterior skin and framing, excluding window assemblies and non-structural roof materials). In the material reuse credit category, 1 to 2 points can be earned by reusing salvaged building materials and products directly or after refurbishing those. These materials can be beams and posts, flooring, doors and frames, cabinetry and furniture, brick, and decorative items. The project can earn 1 point for having 5% of salvaged, refurbished and reused materials based on the total cost of materials for the project. Similarly, 2 points can be earned for using 10% of those materials in the project.

Pearl Rating System for Estidama

This rating system is the sustainability initiative of Urban Planning Council (UPC) Abu Dhabi. It is a mandatory requirement under this rating system to divert a minimum of 30% of C&D wastes through recycling/ salvaging. There is no credit awarded for this but it encourages the reuse of existing building stock, reduce waste and associated environmental impacts by providing credit earning options for retaining percentage of building structural system. 1 credit point can be earned for reusing 25% of building structural system by surface area and 2 credit points for reusing 50% of the total materials. In the material reuse category, 1 credit can be earned by demonstrating that the total materials cost of reused and salvaged materials represent 3% of the total material cost.


If appropriate sustainability rating system is used and the green building regulations are followed aptly and adhered, not only the volume of C&D wastes sent to landfills or incineration will be reduced significantly but also the demand for virgin resources construction materials will be reduced. 

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Primer on Wood Wool Cement Board

Wood Wool Cement Board (WWCB) is a versatile building material made from wood wool and cement where each fiber is coated with a thin film of Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) that, when cured, partly petrifies the wood. In that way the fiber will last indefinitely as long as the cement film is not damaged.

Environmentally speaking, cement has a negative CO2 signature and therefore both the wood and cement, when decomposed, are harmless to nature and as a result all homogeneous WWCB products have green labels in Europe. It combines the advantages of both wood and concrete together: as light as wood, as firm as concrete. Sound absorption, shock resistance, fire proof, moisture proof, mildew proof, all these functions are provided. It can widely be applied to gym, theatre, meeting room, factory, school, library, swimming hall etc.


Versatile and Durable

WWCB has been in use in Europe and other regions for a long time now. The worldwide acceptance of Wood Wool Cement Board proves its versatility and, not least important, its durability in any climatic conditions. The salient features of WWCB are as follows:

  • Fire resistance
  • Wet and dry rot resistance
  • Termite and vermin resistance
  • Thermal insulation
  • Acoustic performance – sound absorption
  • Excellent heat buffering capacity
  • Light weight to handle
  • Easy to process in construction
  • Relative low energy consumption to produce
  • Limited impact on local natural resources
  • No waste product at end-of-life cycle;


Important Considerations

WWCB can be produced in densities ranging from 280 kg/m3 up to 1400 kg/m3. This allows for a wide range of applications depending on the required properties of the product. Low density material is used for insulation of sound and temperature, medium density material is applied more structural as the higher density also gives higher bending strength than the low density material. In situations where one needs the qualities of the low density material for walls, the structural strength of the building has to come from reinforced concrete, steel or wood framing. The medium density boards have specific applications that make it a fire and vermin/termite resistant competitor to conventional boards currently used in stick build construction.

To differentiate between low density WWCB and medium density boards, the medium density boards are promoted as Wood Strand Cement Board WSCB as the 25cm (10") long wood fibers in WSCB give it substantially more structural strength than the cement bonded (short) fiber boards currently in the market. WSCB can also be seen as the lighter and stronger replacement of Cement Bonded Particle Board (CBPB). Due to the relative high OPC content, WSCB is heavier than Oriented Strand Board (OSB), but has none of the disadvantages of OSB type products. Types of wood that are suitable are species of pine, poplar/aspen and eucalyptus. Other wood species are sometimes suitable or can be made suitable by cement mixes that counter wood elements that obstruct curing.

Both WSCB and the Large WWC prefab wall elements are relatively new developments. WSCB being a patented medium density board from a Dutch WWCB machine builder while the large elements are a development of a Swedish customer of the Dutch company. The latter has also developed a pole reinforced low density building board (240x60x10-15cm) that shows high potential for affordable, well insulated social housing anywhere in the world.

Depending on the construction and local conditions it is now possible to build all types of well insulated housing with WWCB from 3.5 cm thick for moderate climates to walls up to 60 cm thick for extreme cold or hot climates. Especially the use of the thicker low density WWCB material results in very substantial reduction of energy cost for air conditioning and/or heating while the indoor living climate is strongly improved because these walls are breathing. They absorb heat and moisture and release it gradually over a 24-hour period


Potential in the Middle East

For construction industrsy in the Middle East, especially residential, wood wool cement board can provide comfortable living conditions in homes that require less cooling equipment than conventional homes. It can be implemented in all kinds of building concepts (new and renovation) without major hassles. In combination with concrete it can form well-insulated walls that can replace ceramic bricks.

A modern WWCB plant can produce over 300 different products in one location reducing commercial risk normally experienced with production of new materials. Considering the potential for all kinds of residential housing in the Middle East, wood wool cement board is an attractive business proposition for cement producers and cement converters in the region, and can also provide ‘green’ low-cost housing solutions. To sum up, WWCB can be a useful tool to provide sustainable housing which may help in rejuvenating the green building industry in the Middle East