Green Building Rating Systems in MENA

Green buildings not only contribute towards a sustainable construction and environment but also bring lots of benefits and advantages to building owners and users. Lower development costs, lower operating costs, increased comforts, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of a typical green building.

A wide range of green building rating and assessment systems are used around the world, including LEED and BREEAM. Sustainability is now a top priority in MENA region and countries like Qatar and UAE have come up with their own green building rating system to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture.

Global Sustainability Assessment System (Qatar)

The Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), formerly known as the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), was developed in 2010 by Gulf Organization for Research and Development (GORD) in collaboration with T.C. Chan Center at the University of Pennsylvania. GSAS aims at creating a sustainable urban environment to reduce environmental impacts of buildings while satisfying local community needs. 

GSAS is billed as the world’s most comprehensive green building assessment system developed after rigorous analysis of 40 green building codes from all over the world. The most important feature of GSAS is that it takes into account the region’s social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects, which are different from other parts of the world. Several countries in the MENA region, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Sudan, have shown keen interest in the adoption of GSAS as unified green building code for the region.

Qatar has incorporated QSAS into Qatar Construction Standards 2010 and it is now mandatory for all private and public sector projects to get GSAS certification. GSAS combines 140 building sustainability assessment mechanisms and is divided into eight categories including urban connectivity, site, energy, water, materials, indoor environment, cultural and economic value and management and operations. Each category of the system will measure a different aspect of a project’s environmental impact. Each category is broken down into specific criteria that measure and define individual issues. A score is then awarded for each category on the basis of the degree of compliance.

Pearl Rating System (Abu Dhabi)

The Pearl Rating System (PRS) is the green building rating system for the emirate of Abu Dhabi designed to support sustainable development from design to construction to operational accountability of communities, buildings and villas. It provides guidance and requirements to rate potential performance of a project with respect to Estidama (or sustainability).

The Pearl Rating System is an initiative of the part of the government to improve the life of people living in Abu Dhabi, by focusing on cultural traditions and social values. The rating system is specifically tailored to the hot and arid climate of Abu Dhabi which is characterized by high energy requirements for air-conditioning, high evaporation rates, infrequent rainfall and potable water scarcity.

The Pearl Rating System has various levels of certification. ranging from one to five pearls. A minimum certification of one pearl is required for all new development projects within Abu Dhabi. The Pearl Rating System is organized into seven categories where there are both mandatory and optional credits. To achieve a 1 Pearl rating, all the mandatory credit requirements must be met. 

ARZ Building Rating System (Lebanon)

The relatively unknown ARZ Building Rating System is the first Lebanese green building initiative of international standard with its certification process being administered by the Lebanon Green Building Council (LGBC).  It has been established to support the growth and adoption of sustainable building practices in Lebanon, with a specific focus on the environmental assessment and rating system for commercial buildings.

The ARZ Green Building Rating System was developed by Lebanese expertise of LGBC in partnership with the International Finance Corp. Its aim is to maximize the operational efficiency and minimize environmental impacts. The ARZ rating system is evidence-based approach to assessing how green a building is. The system includes a list of technologies, techniques, procedures and energy consumption levels that LGBC expects to see in green buildings.

An assessor accredited by LGBC will take an inventory of the energy and water consumption, technologies, techniques and procedures that are used in the building and then LGBC will score the building according to how well the inventory matches the list of technologies, techniques and procedures that make up the ARZ rating system requirements. 

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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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Green Building Rating System in Jordan

Building consume 21% of the primary energy and 43% of the electricity generated in Jordan, according to a recent report by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. Efforts started in 2009 to develop a rating system for buildings that will reduce the energy and water demand and provide an efficient and healthier environment.

Jordan has several LEED registered buildings since 2009. One of them is LEED Silver and two are LEED Gold, and around 20 more building are registered online and are in the process of applying for LEED. The energy crisis started in Jordan in 2008 after the sharp increase in energy prices. Subsequently the attention to the energy consumption in building increased, and the building officials started implementing the local building codes related to energy. About twenty seven National Building Codes in Jordan are directly related to building envelop, natural ventilation, natural lighting, mechanical and electrical systems.

The Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MoPWH) has the Jordan National Building Council (JNBC) division which is responsible for the development of the Building Codes in Jordan. The Jordan Green Building Guide (JGBG) technical committee was established in 2009 to develop the Green Building Rating System in Jordan with the help of specialist in the public and private sectors under the leadership of the technical arm at the Construction and Sustainable Building Center (CSBC) at the Royal Scientific Society. International references from leading sustainability rating systems were used as references such as LEED and BREEAM, with emphasis on the local conditions in Jordan pertaining to energy and water scarcity.

The JGBG was issued in 2013, and it became available to everyone to use. An incentive program for the adoption of green building in Jordan based on the JGBG rating system was approved in 2015 and it was launched on the 3rd of September 2015.  And the first building under the JGBG requirements is under development.

Owners and developers that adopt the JGBG rating system will be entitled to an increase in the Floor Area Ration (FAR). The JGBG has four levels;

  • Level A (25% increase in FAR allowed)
  • Level B (20% increase in FAR allowed)
  • Level C (15% increase in FAR allowed)
  • Level D (10% increase in FAR allowed)

The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), Green Building Unit, is in charge of managing the registered buildings under the JGBG. After the Owner or Developer registers the green building with the CSBC for the implementation of the JGBG at certain level, the Issued for Construction drawings are forwarded to the GAM. GAM has developed a one stop shop to process the registered buildings under JGBG and it follows up with the different entities like the Civil Defense Department, Jordan Engineers Association, and others until the building permit is issued. Periodic visits and reviews are done by the CSBC throughout the project until the team achieves the requirements of the JGBG. Subsequently the certificate of compliance is issued for the new green building.

The Jordan Thermal Insulation Code, Jordan Energy Efficient Building Codes and the Jordan Green Building Guide are all working towards improving the energy use in buildings. The table below shows the development of requirements in the thermal transmittance (U-value) for walls in buildings. The Thermal Insulation code and the Energy Saving Building Code calls for the mandatory requirements of U-value = 0.57 W/m2.K for walls and U-value = 1.60 W/m2.K for the overall U-value for walls with all openings. The Jordan Green Building Guide will give one point for the buildings with walls U-value below 0.50 W/m2.K and two points for buildings with walls U-value = 0.40-0.50 W/m2.K

The CSBC started a training program in the JGBG as well, and the first training course will be conducted at the Royal Scientific Society starting November, 2015.

Features of a Green Building

A green building incorporates environmental considerations into every stage of the building construction and focuses on the design, construction, operation and maintenance phases. The key process difference between green and conventional buildings is the concept of integration, whereby a multi-disciplinary team of building professionals work together from the pre-design phase through post-occupancy to optimize the building for environmental sustainability, performance, and cost saving.

Green buildings offer widespread benefits to a number of building industry stakeholders, including building occupants and society as a whole. Green buildings typically incorporate superior air quality, abundant natural light, access to views and noise control which benefits building occupants, making these building better places to work or live. The major considerations taken into account are the lot design and development efficiency, energy and water efficiency, resource efficiency, indoor environmental quality and the building’s overall impact on the environment.

An integral characteristic of a green building is its stress on protecting existing ecologies, and improving ecologies that may have been damaged in the past. Green buildings are usually constructed on environmentally sensitive lands or previously developed property, with measures taken to restore plant life. Green buildings also utilize fewer materials, through efficient design and elimination of unnecessary finish materials. In addition, green building operations promote material as well as water recycling in their operation.

Energy efficiency is one of the most important factors in almost all green building programs. Careful window selection, building envelope air sealing, duct sealing, proper placement of air and vapour barriers, use of clean energy-powered heating/cooling systems contribute towards an energy efficient building. Use of renewable energy, such as solar, wind or biomass energy, to meet energy requirements can significantly reduce carbon footprints of such buildings.

Green homes lay stress on water conservation by implementing more efficient water delivery and recycling system. Minimization of water use is another characteristic feature of a green building which helps in reducing the detrimental effects of water use and its effects on local ecologies, such as aquatic life.

An increase in respiratory ailments and allergies and the use of chemicals that can give off gas from materials have greatly contributed to sensitive awareness of the air we breathe inside our homes. The green building also focuses on reducing respiratory ailments and allergies by improving the quality of in-house air by controlling the contamination source, diluting the source, and capturing the source through filtration.

Green Building Rating Systems

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) and Green Globes are popular green building assessment and rating systems used around the world. Sustainability is now a top priority in MENA region and countries like Qatar, UAE and Lebanon have come up with their own green building rating system to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture. 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 (PRS) has carved a niche of its own in global green buildings sector.

Green Buildings in the Middle East

The Middle East region has been witnessing rapid developments in the green buildings industry, primarily driven by concerns related to environmental degradation, fossil fuel depletion and energy inefficiency. Buildings in the Middle East consume more energy than those in other parts of the world mainly on account of extremely hot weather and rampant use of glass exteriors. Countries in the region are increasingly promoting energy efficiency as a means to ensure energy security which has become a boon for the green buildings industry. The number of LEED-registered buildings has increased rapidly across the region, especially in GCC, in the past few years. Some of the notable examples of green buildings in the Middle East are Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, KAUST in Saudi Arabia and Msheireb Downtown Doha in Qatar.


To sum up, green buildings not only contribute towards a sustainable construction and environment but it also brings lots of benefits and advantages to building owners and users. Lower development costs, lower operating costs, increased comforts, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of a typical green building.