Green Roof Potential in Arab Cities

Urban green roofs have long been promoted as an easy and effective strategy for beautifying the built environment and increasing investment opportunity. The building roof is very important because it has a direct impact on thermal comfort and energy conservation in and around buildings. Urban green roofs can help to address the lack of green space in many urban areas. Urban green roofs provides the city with open spaces that helps reduce urban heat island effect and provides the human population on the site with a connection to the outdoors. However, we must differentiate between two types of urban green roofs and assess their adaptability to Arab cities. This article provides an insight on green roofs and roof farming in Arab cities.

What are Green Roofs

Green roofs are essentially sustainable and passive design features of vegetation surfaces applied to a waterproofing layer of a suitable conventional roof build-up in rainy climates. In rainy countries such as Austria, Germany and Belgium green roofs are recognized as a significant source-control feature,contributing mainly to storm water management and drainage control. Green roofs not only store water at roof level, but also reduce the run-off rate from the roof, which in turn reduces the underground drainage network requirements. It is also possible to use or harvest rainfall from a green roof, although the amount of rainwater that can be used may be reduced depending on the type of green roof implemented.

Generally speaking, there are no green roofs in hot arid climates. In Arabia it is hardly to find any examples of successful green roofs. According to European norms the minimum annual precipitation rate for a green roof should be more than 450-650mm. Therefore, it is impossible to grow a green roof in Cairo (26mm), Amman (276mm), Riyadh (20mm) or Dubai (10mm). Even coastal cities like Alexandria (190mm), Tunis (450mm) or Casablanca (425mm) witness extreme summers and drought periods that almost eliminates the sedum plants from recovery during the winter season. Facing these facts, there are many voices in Arabia that surprisingly continue pushing the idea of green roofs claiming to sustain it through artificial irrigation. An idea that make us lose the whole point of sustainability in an already water scarce region.

Unfortunately, across the Middle East there are large numbers of students, architects, clients and even researchers who have a wrong perception and a defective understanding of semantic of green roofs,which are essentially associated with the presence of renewable rain water. This is due to the unfamiliarity with word Green Roof in our region and the huge influence of the Northern imaged media. Moreover, there are many researchers who talk about the positive side effect of green roofsthat significantly save energy, enhance the thermal performance and comfort of buildings, particularly in terms of summer cooling, based on readings and studies made in countries with latitude higher than 40o with temperate or cold climates. What is missing here is local evidence based experimentation and practices that address green roof in the warm and hot climate not from a theoretical copy-paste approach.

The Real Problem

Arab cities suffer from serious problems that are similar to most other large cities in the developing countries. Among the most visible manifestations of the challenges posed by rapid urbanization are many environmental problems, such as pollution, dense urbanization, urban heat island effect and inversed greenhouse effect during winters. In fact, the dense concentration of automobiles and polluting buildings created a negative impact on the environment. In fact, the rapid urbanization not only created environmental problems but also economic problems. For example, air conditioners are running, over the whole summer period, trying to deliver an endless demand for cooling. This leads to increasing prices of electricity bills. This is due to the lack of energy codes, which means that roofs are without or with very poor insulation. Additionally, cities suffer from constant desert sand depositing together with disappearance of green spaces which lead to deprivation of open space.

During the last decade many Arab cities witnessed several times inefficient food production and distribution, inaccessibly high food prices and above all locally grown food, loaded with toxic contaminants. The fast-growing population and the failing government approaches to housing and spatial planning policies contributed to the growth off informal settlements within and around the center. For example, 8 million Egyptian live in informal settlements in Cairo with problems of unemployment, pollution, transportation, inadequate drainage and sewerage, and lack of usable urban open spaces. In Cairo, the amount of green space per inhabitant is roughly equivalent to 0.33 square meters per person (3.5 square feet), one of the lowest proportions in the world. Among the above listed problems stands out a common denominator. It is the building roof.

Roof Farming as an Alternative

Under the influence of the all those issues emerges the idea of roof farming. Urban roof farming has long been promoted as an easy and effective strategy for beautifying the built environment and increasing investment opportunity. Roof farming can help to address the lack of green space in many urban areas. Urban roof farms provides the city with open spaces that helps reduce urban heat island effect and provides the human population on the site with a connection to the outdoors. Challenged by environmental and pollution, Cities suffer from locally grown food, loaded with toxic contaminants that threat the health.

In the last couple of years, Cairo suffered from an inefficient production and food distribution and inaccessibly high food prices. The population explosion and the tendency to build on agricultural land have acted to limit the resources of city families and their access to healthy edible products. With a little effort and money, roof farming can contribute in improving the families quality of life and provide them with healthy food and raise their income, this is besides the environmental and aesthetical role it plays. For example, Cairo citizens and some governmental authorities acknowledged the problem of food contamination & distribution and are mapping measures and methods that can guarantee safe food.While it is not new, the notion of planting rooftops in Egypt has only recently been implemented. In the early 1990s at Ain Shams University, a group of agriculture professors developed an initiative of growing organic vegetables to suit densely populated cities of Egypt. The initiative was applied on a small scale; until it was officially adopted in 2001, by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

There are several case studies that represent successful projects implemented by different non-governmental organizations (NGO), public institutions and private civil initiatives. For example Ibn Kassir foundation, in Al-Zawya Al-Hamra, Cairo, created a roof farm from wooden containers (barrels) with plastic sheets filled with peat moss or perlite used as substrates. The drainage is driven through small plastic hoses to buckets. This system is producing leafy crops such as parsley, radish, and carrots. A square meter using this method would cost around 400 Egyptian pounds (LE).

Finally, in many Arab cities, where many environmental social and economic problems exist, a beam of light emerges to contribute in solving many of these interrelated problems. Planting our roof with different kinds of vegetables and fruits or even any kind of green plants will change lots of things. It is certain that roof gardening and farming have measurable qualitative and quantitative benefits. The techniques for implementation are simple and doable and above all cost efficient. However, no roof gardens can be created without the knowledge of the factors affecting the creation and design. The most important factors are the climate, the constructional and economic factors.

Regarding green roofs, we shall only address this issue based on experimental and monitored cases. More importantly, a vision is required to be drawn together with long term strategy, adopting the holistic approach of roof farming and providing support and sustainability. It is this holistic approach that can solve many problems of different background and aspects, and can contribute to improving the quality of life of the dense Arab cities. By exploitation of such roofs, their development and planting; a reasonable ratio of green areas can be reached in the near future. A ratio of 4 square meters per person can be provided once the suitable green framing roofs have been developed and exploited.

Source: Attia, S., Mahmoud, A., (2009) Green Roofs in Cairo: A Holistic Approach for Healthy Productive Cities, Conference Proceeding on Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities, June, Atlanta, USA http://orbi.ulg.ac.be/handle/2268/167604

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#InspireMENA Story 1: Humanizing Architecture – Through the Eyes of Abeer Seikaly

Through the jasmine-scented roads of L’weibdeh (Jordan) I navigated my way to Abeer Seikaly’s studio, an old house that resembles Jordan's genuine and inspiring identity. Abeer Seikaly is a young Jordanian architect who has been featured on several global and local media platforms because of her innovation "Weaving a Home" that was shortlisted for the 2012 Lexus Design Award.

Influence of Education and Local Knowledge

Top architecture schools in the Arab world are heavily influenced by international trends in built environment and sustainability, and unfortunately Arabic reference material is largely ignored in teaching. The emerging thinking around built environment and its relationship with people and nature rely largely on digital and virtual practice leaving students with minimal interaction with communities and building materials. Moreover, the growing disconnect between research and market requirements in most developing countries magnifies the gap between engineering and sustainable development.  Acknowledging the uniqueness of traditional Arab architecture and its historical importance in shaping sustainable building concepts raises concern on the diminishing role of local knowledge in responding to contemporary sustainability challenges.

For Abeer, having the chance to study abroad provided her with new insights not only about architecture but more importantly about her own potential and abilities within a larger context. What her culture-rich home environment gave her, on the other hand, was respect and appreciation for art, creativity and surroundings. With time, exposure and experimentation, Abeer defined her own architecture. Emphasizing that the pure definition of technology is craft, weaving, and making, her definition of innovative architecture combines old and new, traditional and contemporary. It is also thinking about architecture as a social technology.

Re-defining Success

When people are focused on the product, they usually tend to neglect the joy and benefit of the process itself. Focusing on the process boosts self-confidence and self-awareness and yet requires diligence and mindfulness while enjoying experimentation. It enables us to engage more deeply with the present, and thus, allow us to learn faster and experience life to the fullest.

According to Abeer Seikaly, architecture is not about the building itself but more about getting into it and experiencing its metaphysical nature with time. “Ordinary architects nowadays are inclined to use computer software to design buildings while sitting in closed offices. This is only dragging them away from people and from nature. As a real architect, you need to be out there to feel, interact and test your designs”, says Seikaly. “Creating is about the process and not about the outcome.”

Thinking through Making: The Tent

As a firm believer in the process, Abeer Seikaly has been working on her creative structural fabric for years. When the time was right, she used this creative work to bridge a gap in human needs. Participating in the Lexus Design Award was part of engaging her fabric with people and nature.  Disaster shelters have been made from a wide range of materials, but Abeer turned to solar-absorbing fabric as her material of choice in creating woven shelters that are powered by the sun and inspired by nomadic culture. The use of structural fabric references ancient traditions of joining linear fibers to make complex 3-D shapes.

Tackling an important issue like shelter for a humanitarian purpose can't be more relevant to both innovative architecture and sustainable development. With Jordan being host to more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, this is about humanizing architecture and meeting basic human needs.  Abeer has explained everything about her fabric and its use in disaster relief on her blog.

Study model showing movement of the system and its collapsibility

She passionately mentions her ultimate inspiration: thinking through making. “Experimenting, looking at material's behavior, testing, and slowly you are there”, says Seikaly. “It is about thriving and not about surviving. Revelation results from years of hard work and continuous perseverance throughout the process”, she adds.

Recipe to Innovate

There is no recipe for innovation, Abeer Seikaly explains, but Jordanian engineers and architects need to ask themselves the following: What are you about? What is local/sustainable? What is Jordan about?

When asked about role of engineering firms, Seikaly stressed the fact that most corporations nowadays do not provide an enabling environment for youth to learn and grow. Emphasizing the importance of innovation, she says “With no personal attention and coaching, engineers are disconnecting from themselves and from community. Despite all the difficulties we face in our country, innovation goes back to personal drive and motivation: if you need it, you will make it”.

“Define your role as an Architect in a developing country, I have discovered mine and became an aware human being. To serve society and improve well-being is who I am”, concludes Abeer.

Architecture and Sustainable Development

The straightforward link between architecture and sustainable development goals is Global Goal No. 11 i.e. Sustainable Cities and Communities; nevertheless, a deeper look at how architecture influences and gets influenced by other elements brings about a link with almost each of the other Global Goals. The unique relationship between built environment, people and nature makes it an opportunity to demonstrate real sustainable development, as highlighted by Abeer Seikaly’s innovation. Around 60% of the world's population will be living in cities in 2030 which dictates a new and integrated way of thinking about urban design and architecture.

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Making a Switch to Circular Economy

All forms of wealth and security, including climate stability, biodiversity, resource availability, soil fertility, air and water purity and health, are depleted by the systemic error of running a linear economy. Linear economics consumes the basis for future growth so what is now growing fastest is unproductive activity, inactivity and instabilities. The credit crunch marks the withdrawal of faith in growth-as-usual and any reliable revival of growth and prosperity requires a switch of vision.

Circular Economics

The future for growth is circular economics where more economic activity would mean a faster pace of change away from waste-making and towards looking after the world and all its inhabitants. This would preserve and regenerate material value, co-operation and natural capital instead of losing it, so growth would work to build the basis for more growth. Today this may appear idealistic. Yet if circular economics was already practiced, and people were accustomed to prosperity based on resource security, then any proposal to adopt an exploitive self-defeating vision would be laughable.

Promise of Precycling

Economic dependence on waste is perpetuated by managing waste primarily as an addiction to disposal, “how can we get rid of all this junk?” The ‘waste hierarchy’ (reduce, reuse, recycle, then dispose) that has been available since 1975 is commonly quoted but in practice the bulk of effort and funding provides for continuing long-term disposal to ecosystems (by landfill, waste-burning and pollution). The waste hierarchy is being used backwards and no nation has yet attempted to create the incentives for an economy that grows from the work done to end waste dumping and implement circular economics. This is achievable with the concept of ‘precycling’ originally used for public waste education.

Precycling is applicable throughout an economy and may be understood as action taken to prepare for current resources to become future resources. The ‘pre’ prefix emphasises that this cannot be arranged after something becomes waste; it must be done beforehand. The scope of action extends far beyond recycling, to creating the economic, social and ecological conditions for all resources to remain of use to people or nature.

Precycling Insurance

A simple economic tool is available to switch from linear to circular economics and from dumping waste to dumping the habit of wasting. This tool internalises diverse externalities efficiently within markets by paying the price of preventing problems instead of the larger or unaffordable price of not preventing them. Precycling insurance is an extension of the EU WEEE Directive’s ‘recycling insurance’ from just recycling to all forms of preventing all products becoming waste in any ecosystem. This allows a single economic instrument to work with the issues at every stage of product life-cycles. Significant producers would be obliged to consider the risk of their products ending up as waste in ecosystems and to retain responsibility for insuring against that risk.

Life Insurance for Products and Planet

Precycling insurance is a form of regulation to be set-up in every nation but not centrally planned. The volume of regulation can be cut but its effectiveness drastically boosted. For example, emissions can be cut rapidly with no need for any further ineffectual negotiations about capping. Unlike taxes, the premiums from precycling insurance would not be handled by governments (whose role would be to legislate, monitor and ensure full public transparency).

Unlike conventional insurance, the premiums would not be collected up and then paid out following (potentially irrecoverable) planet crunch shocks. Premiums would be distributed by insurers and invested preventively throughout society, to cut the risk of resources being lost as wastes. Support would be provided for the dialogue, understanding, participation, capabilities, designs, efficiencies, facilities and ecological productivity needed to return used matter as new resources for people and for nature. Today’s resources would feed tomorrow’s economy.

A Free Market in Harmony with Nature

Precycling insurance would switch the power of markets to reversing the planet crunch. The speed and scale of change would exceed the expectations of all who are accustomed to ineffectual controls designed to make markets less-bad. All market participants (such as buyers, sellers, investors and governments) would adapt their decisions to the new incentives, profiting by addressing actual needs rather than superficial consumerist wants.

Producers would remain free to choose how to meet customers’ needs without waste, and even free to continue making wasteful products, in competition with other producers cutting their costs (including precycling insurance costs) by cutting their product’s waste risk. Economic growth would no longer be a competitive scramble between people rushing to acquire and discard ever more resources from an every-shrinking stock. The economy would prosper in harmony, rather than in conflict, with nature.

Shrinking Material and Energy Demands

The material requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since the new incentives would lead to the most needs being met with the least materials moved the least distance and then regenerated rather than dumped. The energy requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since a smaller material flow with higher quality materials closer to where they are needed requires less energy to process. Shrinking energy dependence is the key to energy security, economic recovery, climate restabilisation and prevention of conflict over diminishing non-renewable resources. The resource and energy efficiency of circular economics makes it realistic to plan the necessary reductions in GHG concentrations (ie net-negative emissions).

 

Note: This article is part 4 of 8 of author's Advanced Research Workshop paper, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security, for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme

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Recycling and Artwork

Art and recycling goes hand-in-hand. Eco-artists are, nowadays, transforming old, recycled and resued object into amazing pieces of contemporary art. The trend started gaining prominence in 1980s when museums and galleries in the Western world opened their doors for such innovation and creativity. In recent years, many artists in the Middle East has started expressing their support for recycling and sustainability through artworks where they merge traditional tone with contemporary themes creating attractive installation art that express local cultural heritage in the larger public interests. Artists are expressing their emotions and ideas through a wide range of recyclables glass, cans, plastics, CDs, PET bottles etc. 

Installation Art and Recycling

This type of art is termed as Installation Art which is 3-dimensional work using common raw and natural materials to create an object with different messages directed to the viewers and the public audiences. Installation art can be expressed at any type of form like objects, videos, sound or even through the Internet. Interestingly, installation art is also considered a part of Renaissance where people can discover classical cultural movements like Surrealism and Futurism. 

Many artists search for inspirations that surround them while others express their feelings in the artwork. Artists use recycled or reused objects to make attractive pieces of contemporary art and literally turn everyday trash into creative treasures. Some create compositions from recycled plastic bags or themed works for art galleries, while others create entire theme parks with trash, and even furniture from recycled materials. For example, if an artist has a penchant for collecting beverage cans, he/she might be interested in creating a replica of a famous building or monument. 

Artists can collect recyclable materials through public donations, collaboration with businesses or direct collection from solid waste stream. This innovative approach not only creates environmental awareness but also help in finding a good use for unwanted materials. For example, giant bottles made of recycled plastic bottles are tipped over on the grass at an art installation in North Evanston, Illinois. Approximately 6,000 small, clear plastic bottles were used to construct the five 16-foot bottles on display. 

Mrs. Salwa Nabhan, a graphic design faculty at Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology, stresses the importance of using art and recycling in our daily life. She says, “Installation Art is good for the environment because it takes everyday objects and transforms it into a valuable artwork. This is because using raw or new materials can be expensive and people are limited with what they can buy”. The Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology Media students have already worked on such background creating 2-D artworks by using recycled items like fabric leftovers, wood and paper to create collage of things.

Conclusion

Around the world, eco-artists are turning recyclables into creative pieces of art and thereby contributing to the Green Movement taking place in different spheres of life. Artists are finding innovative ways to show their concern for the environment and thus encouraging the masses to reuse, reduce and recycle for a better future. With waste disposal posing a serious environmental challenge in the Middle East, it is expected such initiatives will also spur governments to take concrete actions to ease the situation.

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Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution is considered as one of the top environmental risks to public health worldwide due to increasing number of building-related illnesses. Studies have found that concentration of indoor pollutants is significantly higher indoors than they are in outdoor environment, which is two to five times and sometimes hundred times higher than outdoor levels. As most of the people spend 80% to 90% of their lives indoor, indoor air quality has significant implication on sustainability.

Decreased indoor air quality can affect quality of life of the building occupant, increase health risks and increase the liability for building owner, decrease the productivity of occupants and reduce the resale value of the building. Poor indoor air quality can cause “sick building syndrome”, which is a medical condition linked to poor health and absenteeism.

Poor indoor air quality is due to many factors including but not limited to improper building design, inadequate ventilation, off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from furniture, carpets, paints and coatings, cleaning products, and from human respiration. Airborne particles such as lints, dust, dust mites, mold, bacteria, pollen and animal dander also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Indicators that are used to measure the indoor air quality include total particulate matter, total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), formaldehyde, carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), air temperature, relative humidity (RH). Concentration of CO2 in the indoor environment indicates whether ventilation is sufficient or not.

In the Middle East region, most of the people live in enclosed air-conditioned indoor environments. With rapidly growing population, increase in number of vehicles on the road, high temperature level, ever increasing construction activities, regular sandstorm, concentration of air contaminants in the region is among the highest worldwide. Indoor environment also reflects outdoor air quality and pollution. Transport of outdoor contaminants to the indoor environment can result in occupant exposure to outdoor pollutants that have serious health impacts. In addition, there are many sources of indoor pollutants present in building materials, cleaning products, indoor mold and legionella growth, and emission from interior furnishings, finishing and equipments.

Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is influenced by concentration of outdoor air pollutants as well as indoor source of pollution, characteristic of building and habits of occupants. Appropriate building design and mechanical system and control strategies as well as changing occupant behaviour can improve indoor air quality and health and comfort, performance and productivity of building occupants. There are a host of strategies to improve the indoor air quality.

Appropriate design: Building envelop, orientation, and location of air intake, location of mechanical ventilation systems can contribute to indoor air quality. Hence, these factors should be considered during the design stage of projects to control the main source of pollutants for the whole building.

Whole house mechanical ventilation: Properly designed and sized ventilation system can supply adequate outdoor air to indoor. In most of the green building rating systems, industry standards such as ASHRAE Standard 62 or Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality are commonly followed.

Mixed mode ventilation: Use of combination of mechanical and natural ventilation systems in buildings, such as automated window controlling systems and operable windows, can help in maintaining healthy indoor air quality.

Air quality management during construction: During the construction phase, molds can develop due to exposure of building materials with moisture. Dust and particulates can easily accumulate on building materials if they are not protected. The air quality during the construction period can be protected by protecting the building materials from dust and particles and moistures.

High efficiency air filters: Filters prevent transports of outdoor VOCs, dusts, particulates and ozone indoors. Use of good particle filter such as high MERV rated filters in ventilation equipment are found to be the most effective filters in filtering outdoor dust and particulates out.

Maintenance schedule for HVAC filters: Dirty filter can cause sensory irritation. Hence, appropriate maintenance schedule can prevent this to happen.

Use of low emitting materials: Use of materials that have low VOC content for products such as indoor carpets, rubber flooring, sub-floor materials, ceramics and ties, plasterboards, or other sealants and adhesives.  Also internal construction materials with low formaldehyde content can be helpful.

Conduct building flush out: Flushing out of indoor contaminants thoroughly in buildings before occupancy will help replacing dirty indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

Green cleaning program: Select cleaning materials that are made of low emitting materials and employ a green cleaning program to reduce contaminant exposure.

Carbon dioxide monitors: Install CO2 monitors in ventilation system and integrate them to regulate the supply of fresh air according to the building occupants demand. By doing so, if the CO2 concentration increases beyond a set point, then the airflow automatically increases. 

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Green SMEs in Middle East: Obstacles and Challenges

green-smes-middle-eastWith ‘green’ being the buzzword across all industries, greening of the business sector and development of green skills has assumed greater importance all over the world, and Middle East is no exception. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in eco-design, green architecture, renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability are spearheading the transition to green economy across a wide range of industries. Green SME sector in the Middle East has been growing steadily, albeit at a slower pace than anticipated. 

Regulations

One of the major obstacles in the progress of green SMEs in the Middle East the has been poorly-designed regulation. According to Ruba A. Al-Zu’bi, a renowned sustainable development consultant in MENA, “SMEs should be the drivers of transformation towards green economy in the Middle East. Lack of clear policy direction and enablers are hindering growth and competitiveness of green SMEs”. Product market regulations which stifle competition pose a big hurdle to SMEs operating in renewables, energy, environment and sustainability sectors.  For example, state-owned companies in GCC have almost complete monopoly in network industries which have large environmental impacts (electricity/energy sector) or control strategic environmental services (water and waste management sector).

Restructuring

Restructuring of the SME sector in the Middle East is essential to allow small businesses to grow and prosper, thus catalyzing region’s transition to a green economy. SMEs account for vast majority of production units and employment across the Middle East, for example SMEs are responsible for around 60% of UAE’s GDP. Needless to say, participation of SMEs is essential in the transition to a low-carbon economy, thus paving the way for greening the business sector and development of green skills across all industrial segments.

Green SMEs require strong government support for growth, which is unfortunately lacking in several GCC countries. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “Despite the humongous opportunity for green growth in the Middle East, magnified by climate change, water scarcity, oil dependency and environmental footprint, green SMEs are plagued by severe challenges and competition.”

Pressing Challenges

The Middle East region is facing multiple challenges in the growth of green SME sector. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “The most pressing challenges are (1) increasing disconnect between education and market needs and (2) the disorientation of research and development from industry priorities and trends. Government agencies, business associations and NGOs need to play a bigger role in advocating more streamlined priorities for green growth across all industrial sectors.” Green SMEs in the region are facing significant barriers to entry despite their key role in developing locally appropriate technologies and eco-friendly business models.

Promising Initiatives

Abu Dhabi has taken a great step towards consolidation of green SME sector by creating the Masdar Free Zone. As a business cluster, Masdar Free Zone endeavors to provide SMEs and startups with an environment that inspires innovation, offers business development opportunities and provides a living lab and test bed for new technologies. However office rents has been a hurdle to overcome for green SMEs with limited financial capabilities.  “High office rents in Masdar Free Zone have been a major deterrent for small businesses desirous of setting shop in the business cluster”, says Dubai-based sustainability consultant Sunanda Swain.

In 2007, Qatar also launched a promising initiative to promote green growth in the form of Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) with core areas of focus being energy, environment, health sciences and information and communication technologies. During the initial phase, QSTP has been heavily focused on establishing infrastructure and attracting large companies. During the second phase, QSTP intends to target SMEs and provide them support on legal matters, finance, mentoring and business planning.

Future Perspectives

Policy interventions for supporting green SMEs in the Middle East are urgently required to overcome major barriers, including knowledge-sharing, raising environmental awareness, enhancing financial support, supporting skill development and skill formation, improving market access and implementing green taxation. In recent decades, entrepreneurship in the Middle East has been increasing at a rapid pace which should be channeled towards addressing water, energy, environment and waste management challenges, thereby converting environmental constraints into business opportunities.

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Sustainability Perspectives for Amman

amman-sustainabilityIs Amman a sustainable city? No, it is not. That isn't a very surprising statement if you've ever lived in or visited Amman. By all means, it's a beautiful city, with plenty to offer visitors and residents alike. It is a diverse city with a wide range of experiences to offer between East and West Amman or Downtown to Abdoun.

The fact remains however that it is not a very sustainable city. We as residents are not being kind to the city we call home. When I look at Amman I happen to see all the things I like, but also all the potential our city has to improve.

Below I examine only a few factors that contribute to the unsustainability of Amman. These are not the only issues we are facing as Ammanis but they are some of the factors affected by high level policy making in Greater Amman Municipality.

Transportation in Amman
"Amman is a city that is built for the convenience of cars and drivers". This is a statement I heard from a TEDxAmman speaker just weeks after I moved back to Jordan from abroad, and it was a shock to hear it phrased in that way. Although I was aware of the obvious lack of public transport and alternative means of getting around the city, I had never realized the extent of how true that statement is.

Any investment in the city’s transport infrastructure goes to build and improve the quality of our roads, bridges and tunnels with no consideration of public transport investment. The one time that Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) attempted to invest in a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, it turned into a very controversial topic, with accusations of corruption and mismanagement of resources all around with the project still not close to being completed.

Amman is also not a very pedestrian friendly city, with virtually no sidewalks found on the streets. Or even worse, the sidewalks we do have are in fact pots to plant trees which makes it very difficult for pedestrians to use it for what it's meant for; to walk. Additionally, there are barely any pedestrian crossings.

Amman is indeed a city built for the convenience of cars and their owners, with almost a 10% increase in car ownership annually in the city, even in low income families. 

Historically speaking, our current transportation system worked well up until the mid-1900s when the population of the city grew from a few hundred thousand people to 2 million. Recently the city has reached a little under 3 million inhabitants with the same road infrastructure minus a few improvements here and there. 

This is obviously a challenge that our 3 million Jordanians have to endure on a daily basis, whether it is by fighting traffic every day or by long waits on the very little number of buses that we have. 

Even less obvious is the environmental impact of such transport habits, with one estimate being that for each passenger in the city we need to plant 17 trees every year to cover our annual CO2 emissions of 1,464.4kgs. 51 million trees need to be planted every year in Amman to cover our transport emissions!

Waste Management in Amman

"Out of sight, out of mind" is probably best applied to our waste in Amman, or indeed in all of Jordan. We all know that we have garbage trucks passing around the neighborhoods collecting garbage once or twice a week. And we all remember the garbage collecting "crisis" Amman went through in 2012 when garbage was piling up and the out of maintenance trucks couldn't collect it all. 

However what we forget is what happens to all our waste once it's collected. If we had a developed recycling system, we could slightly reduce the amount of waste produced by residents of Amman. Since recycling is not an option we cannot ignore the 1,400 tons of waste produced every year by Ammanis. This translates to more than half of the waste produced in the country – the remaining cities across Jordan only produce 1.1 tons of waste.

This means that 1,400 tons of waste is transported to landfills outside of Amman, but very close to residents of other cities. Once the garbage in those landfills becomes too much to handle, they burn it to empty up space for even more trash. If you've ever been to Zarqa, you are very well aware of the smell from the burning garbage in the landfill along the way.

Urban Sprawl
In my opinion, urban sprawl in Amman is the most important issue Amman is facing. It is also an issue largely ignored by our officials and citizens alike. It has reached a very critical condition because large areas of previously agriculture land is now all converted to residential areas and the very little agricultural land we have left is under immediate threat to be converted to residential neighborhoods. 

I was actually very surprised to find out that areas such as Sweileh, Wadi Alseer, and Al Jubayha were separate towns in the early 1900s and not a part of Amman. Now however they're so urbanized that they're considered another district in the city.

There were actually some recommendations in the 1950s by a group of international experts to separate Amman from these towns by designating green belts around them to limit construction in those areas. All their recommendations were of course ignored. Now other areas are under the same threat of urbanization and loss of agricultural land especially on the road between 7th circle and the Airport.

Of course, till now GAM is licensing agricultural land around Amman for construction of residential areas with no consideration to its importance to our agriculture which is already suffering greatly. 

Ingredient of a Sustainable City

There are quite a few factors combined that affect the sustainability of a city, or lack thereof.  Based on the broad definition of Sustainability (meeting present needs while ensuring that resources are available to meet future needs), the definition of sustainable cities broadly would be cities that ensure that the current needs of its residents are meet without compromising on the needs of its future inhabitants.

Some of the criteria that help create sustainable cities are the following:

  • Resource recovery and waste management – collection and disposal of non-recyclable materials, frequent and adequate collection of bins as well as creating a broader waste management strategy
  • Litter prevention  – well placed litter bins in public areas and city centers, litter education and awareness programs and integration of litter management with a broader waste management strategy
  • Environmental innovation and protection – establishing partnerships between community, government and industry to protect environmental resources, establishing local conservation groups, develop and implement public/open space plans for local community, among many others.
  • Water Conservation – innovative water conservation and re-use initiatives. 
  • Energy Innovation – innovative energy efficiency measures, renewable energy, and addressing climate change issues.

How Can Amman Actually Become Sustainable?
Obviously there is quite a journey ahead of Amman, and Jordan as a whole in fact, in becoming sustainable. While GAM is the main entity able to create the needed environmental regulations, channel investments into sustainable public transport, allow innovations in renewable energy,  and guide the many other initiatives we cannot ignore the role of individual citizens. 

In a micro level, each individuals behavior, regardless of how insignificant it may seem to them does indeed influence the overall sustainability of the city. Enumerating the various water conservation, energy efficiency, or waste management methods would probably be repetitive however one request I make of myself and other Ammanis is to be constantly thoughtful of our impact and try to reduce it as much as possible.

One way to remain thoughtful is to remain informed. We should all be aware what the impact of our actions is. Whether it pertain to CO2 emissions of our cars, or the lack of actual waste management. 

We should be informed to be able to influence decision making as well. There will come a day when we have proper communication channels with GAM and other government officials and we will be able to shape the decisions that will make our city more sustainable.

Till that day comes, don't ignore your responsibility as an aware, thoughtful citizen of our beautiful city.

References

  1. The Road Not Taken, Jordan Business, Hazem Zureiqat 
  2. Traffic in Amman, Jordan, Numbeo.com
  3. Municipal Solid Waste Landfills in Jordan – Current Conditions and Perspective Future, Mohammad Al Jaradin & Kenneth Persson
  4. Urban Sprawl, Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE), Mohammad Al Asad
  5. Sustainable City Criteria, 2012

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Environment as a Peace-Building Tool

The world is changing demographically, economically, politically and environmentally. The acquisition of natural resources, such as water, can be viewed as a threat to the international security. Severe environmental degradation can deepen regional divisions and trigger social conflicts for communities that depend on these resources for their livelihoods and fulfillment of basic needs. Moreover, the environment itself can be dramatically affected by such conflicts.

The unprecedented demand for natural resources is fuelling ethnic conflicts, causing large-scale displacement and is a severe threat to the lands, livelihoods and the way of life of indigenous people. Infact, many of the bloodiest conflicts in Africa and Asia in recent years have been fuelled by profits from the exploitation of natural resources, including diamonds, timber and minerals. Indigenous communities ranging from the Batwa of Central Africa to hill tribes in northern Thailand, Bedouin in the Middle East and Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province face a grave risk of being forced from their land and resources by activities taking place in the name of industrial development.

Locally, tensions over non-extractive natural resources that have an impact on livelihoods can also drive conflicts. Tension can result from the decline of limited sources and inequitable distribution and utilization within a given context; this may spill over into wider instability and violence. In the case of Darfur, one of the reasons that led to violence is competition between herders and farmers over land; historical ethnic divisions compounded this conflict.

A New Approach to Stability

Recognizing the linkages between the environment and insecurity, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for integrating environmental initiatives to solve conflict and instability into the U.N.’s conflict prevention policy. So, if environmental degradation can trigger conflict and violence, then environmental cooperation initiatives can be used as stability-sustaining tools. This can create a dialogue between parties in conflict. Environmental challenges, such as industrial pollution, are global issues that ignore political boundaries. These challenges require a long-term perspective to achieve sustainable management, encourage local and nongovernmental participation, and extend community building beyond the polarization of economic linkages. Furthermore, environment cooperation can build bridges across boundaries and between people, and enhance building a more sustainable peace and stability.

Environmental cooperation can be initial building blocks for increasing confidence and enhancing trust between communities, hence, reducing uncertainties and mitigating tensions. Cooperative sharing of resources encourages common goals, and establishes recognized rights and expectations. Moreover, initiatives of cooperation to manage environmental resources will promote peace between disputing parties and may establish sustained interaction and long-term relationships, encouraging stability. The more environmental initiatives exist, the more conflicts will be resolved in a non-violent manner. Environmental initiatives can be used to initiate dialogue between disputing parties even for non-ecological conflicts.

Shared water supply is an important domain for environmental conflict resolution. Sharing of water resources represents an opportunity to keep the dialogue alive between disputing parties such as in the Nile river case. Management of biodiversity conservation in disputed areas is a major aspect of environmental peace-building strategies. This may help to achieve win-win solutions between local communities. It is worthy to mention that NGOs can enhance the chances of sustainable peace by promoting awareness and motivation of local community participation. Therefore, their influence must be strengthened in policy decisions that are related to environmental security.

Environment and the Arab Spring

In the wake of historic Arab Spring, a new approach to sustainability is required in the Middle East. The Arab world offers a fertile ground and ample opportunities to prepare a sustainable mechanism for peace and regional security using environment as a tool. Traditional tools of conservation, such as Hima and Haram, produce a promising opportunity for environmental synergies in the region.

In order to protect land, forests and wildlife, Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) created inviolable zones in which resources were to be left untouched. Haram areas were drawn up around wells and water sources to protect the groundwater from overpumping. Hima applied to wildlife and forestry and designated an area of land where grazing and woodcutting was restricted, or where certain animal species (such as camels) were protected.

Adopting natural environmental initiatives, such as Hima and Haram, has multiple direct and indirect benefits for development in West Asia. It can enhance trust, build confidence, and reduce uncertainties in the Arab world, which may help in finding an amicable solution to multiple problems faced by this strategic region.

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Water Resource Management in GCC – Issues and Challenges

GCC countries are suffering from a huge deficit in their water resources reaching more than 20 billion cubic meter, being met mainly by an intensive over-drafting of renewable and non-renewable groundwater resources for the agricultural sector, and by the extensive installation of highly expensive desalination plants for the municipal sector, and by reusing a small percentage of treated wastewater in the agricultural and municipal sector. Furthermore, conflict between the agricultural and domestic sectors on the limited water resources in the region are rising, and as a result, groundwater over-exploitation and mining is expected to continue in order to meet growing demand in these two sectors.

If current population growth rates, water management approach, water use practices and patterns continue, annual water demand may reach more than 50 billion cubic meter (Bcm) by the year 2030.  With the anticipated future limited desalination capacity and wastewater reuse, this demand will have to be met mainly by further mining of groundwater reserves, with its negative impacts of fast depletion and loss of aquifer reserves and the deterioration of water quality and salinization of agricultural lands, of which these resources usefulness is questionable with the expected deterioration of their quality. Under these circumstances, water will become an increasingly scarce commodity, and would become a limiting factor for further social, agricultural and industrial development, unless major review and shifts in the current policies of population and adopted food self-sufficiency are made, and an appropriate and drastic measures in water conservation are implemented.

A diagnosis of the water sector in Gulf Cooperation Council countries indicated that the main problems and critical issues in these countries are:

  1. Limitation of water resources and increasing water scarcity with time due to prevailing aridity, fast population growth, and agricultural policies;
  2. Inefficient water use in the agriculture (traditional irrigation practices), and municipal/domestic sectors (high per capita water use, high rates of unaccounted-for-water);
  3. Rising internal water allocation conflicts between the agricultural and municipal sector;
  4. Rapid depletion and groundwater quality deterioration due to their over-exploitation, with multiple impacts on agricultural productivity and ecosystems;
  5. Inferior quality of water services in large cities due to fast pace of urbanization; and
  6. Weak water institutions due to fragmentation of water authorities and lack of coordination and inadequate capacity development.

Currently, there are two main challenges of water resources management in the GCC countries. These are the unsustainable use of groundwater resources with its ramification on these countries socio-economic development, and the escalating urban water demands and its heavy burden on their national budget and negative impacts on the environment.

As the quality of groundwater deteriorates, either by over-exploitation or direct pollution, its uses diminishes, thereby reducing groundwater supplies, increasing water shortages, and intensifying the problem of water scarcity in these countries. It is expected that the loss of groundwater resources will have dire consequences on the countries’ socio-economic development, increases health risks, and damages their environment and fragile ecosystem regimes.  Moreover, the development of many GCC countries is relying heavily on non-renewable fossil groundwater, and the issue of “sustainability” of non-renewable resources is problematic, and requires clear definition.

Sustainability of these resources need to be interpreted in a socio-economic rather than a physical context, implying that full considerations must be given not only to the immediate benefits and gains, but also to the “negative impacts” of development and to the question of “what comes after?” An “exit strategies” need to be identified, developed, and implemented by the time that the aquifer is seriously depleted. An exit strategy scenario must include balanced socio-economic choices on the use of aquifer storage reserves and on the transition to a subsequent less water-dependent economy, and the replacement water resource.

Despite their relatively enormous cost and heavy burden on the national budged, limited operational life (15-25 years), their dependence on depleting fossil fuel, and their negative environmental impacts on the surrounding air and marine environment, the GCC countries are going ahead with desalination plant construction and expansion in order to meet the spiralling domestic water demands – a function of population and urbanization growth.  The rapid increase in urban water demands in the GCC can be explained by two factors, rapid population growth and the rise in per capita consumption; per capita average daily consumption in the domestic sector ranges between 300-750 liters, which ranks the highest in the world. This is due mainly to the reliance on the supply side of management with little attention given to the demand management and the non-existence of price-signaling mechanism to consumers.

The other strategic issue is that, despite the current and anticipated future dependence of the GCC countries on desalination to meet its domestic/drinking water supply, desalination remains an imported technology for the GCC countries with limited directed R&D towards these technologies. Furthermore, desalination industry have limited added value to the GCC countries economies (e.g., localizing O&M, plant refurbishment, fabrication, manufacturing of Key Spare Parts, qualifying local labor to work in desalination industry, etc..).

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Need of Sustainability Communication in the Middle East

sustainability-communicationEnvironmental and sustainability awareness has been around in the society for quite some time now; and buzzwords like ‘ecofriendly’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ seem to be omnipresent. In spite of the proliferation of these eco-buzzwords, the state of sustainability communications remains poor and lacking in authenticity. This poor state of sustainable communication, aided by insufficient focus on authenticity, further allows unscrupulous organizations to ‘green wash’ their business or products. The ‘greenwashing’, coupled with a lack of environmental knowledge on the consumer side engenders confused consumers who either despise any of the green eco-buzzwords or blindly accept green-washing as true sustainability.

Currently, sustainability initiatives, be it local government or international, do not reach the common man. People are still under impression that a few cursory steps towards ecofriendly lifestyle are enough. All in all sustainability is not yet properly understood in society. Most people wish to be more environmentally friendly but don’t know how. This is where sustainable communication can help.

Sustainability Communication for Businesses

There are two key elements to business sustainability communications:

  • Real Sustainability Efforts
  • Plentiful Sustainability Communication (external as well as internal).

Both of these elements are necessary. Without the former it’s a misleading greenwash, while without the latter, it’s a pocket of concentrated sustainability effort which will wither and die if the department handling this effort is disassembled.  

For sustainability communications to work for businesses in the Middle East, there has to be real sustainability commitment and efforts from the business to make their product and services more sustainable. In this day and age of the internet, transparency and traceability about products and services are indispensable features which can prove the authenticity of the commitment of a business to sustainability goals.

There has to be external as well as internal sustainability communication for any organization which is taking efforts towards sustainability. The employees should get to know better about practicing sustainability policies or actions planned and implemented by that business. The employees can also act as sustainability advocates of that organizations. In addition to having budget for CSR, organizations need to keep some time or fund aside for internal sustainability communication. In the long run these efforts can help organizations to stand out in the market.

Sustainable Communication in Media

If you open any newspaper or publication you are able to find some articles or information on the topic but most show a lack of clarity, and many appear to be written just as a formality. As an industry insider I can even reveal that most of the related news are mostly copy paste of original press releases sent by respective organizations. But if you look at other topics like lifestyle, fashion, those are well talked about, researched by in almost every publication.

Unfortunately we still don’t have enough qualified and expert sustainability journalists and writers in the region who actually understand what they are writing about. If you take example of Europe or Americas, they have many expert sustainability writers who write for main stream media and make sure the right information is reaching the society.

In general media in Middle East, though it’s newspaper or radio/TV channels need to give more attention to invest in qualified sustainability writers to acquire integrity and quality of sustainable communication.

Another issue of sustainable communication is it can take the form of an apocalyptic discussion, if you talk about environmental impact. People lose interest in such discussions quickly. Actually the statistic shows people in Middle East spend more time on internet than people from most other parts of world. But we need to accept that they prefer to have some light reading. We also need to create sustainability dialogue relevant to life of our readers and provide useful information for daily routine.

Instead of just talking about what is good and what is not, we need to show examples of doing good for environment, choosing sustainable options. So this takes me to my last point of sustainable communication, do what you preach. If we want our readers not just read but make changes in their lives; first we need to show how sustainable we practitioners are living. This will not only make sustainability relatable but also doable.

Demographics of Sustainability Communications

One important observation I have made, and many people in the field will agree, is that sustainability topic is well received by younger generation or millennials. These young people are pushing their parents and families to opt for more sustainable choices.

I would like to share one such personal experience. One of my readers contacted me and told her child insists on taking reusable bags with them all the time. Apart from how proud I felt about my reader and of course, her child, I was glad to know that the push of sustainable action is coming from young people.

When you communicate your sustainability efforts, be open for any feedback and criticism

When you communicate your sustainability efforts, be open for any feedback and criticism

During my eco-talks in schools, I always get positively surprised by how much these young kids know about environment and sustainability as compared to their adult counterparts. So we need to focus and include these young people in sustainable communication.

Consumer-Initiated Sustainable Communication

In this big market of consumers, we have almost no sustainable communication at consumer end. No surprise the region is facing larger issues like waste, waste recycling, and one of the highest rates of plastic consumption. We still lack sustainable communication initiated by consumers. What is needed in this region is a responsible consumer feedback.

Take the example of mending and renting services. The general shortage of mending and renting services a big indication of how the region has morphed itself a consumer’s paradise. This makes it critically difficult to create green consumerism as, market price, and availability in the market currently affects consumers much more than what the consumers really want.

However several consumers (more than we can perceive) would like to go back to the good old days when one really owned something, they used it for several years, got it mended over and over, and kept using it. It’s even better if the same brands are providing these mending and repair services of their own products in the region.

So if we could involve consumers in sustainability communication and dialogue, businesses can get feedback on what is truly missing, which will surely help them to make their business more sustainable.

Conclusion

Preaching what good you practice is not necessarily pompous if it is going to help the society be more sustainable. However at the core of any sustainable communication is a real effort in being sustainable, be it sustainability in energy, water, waste, or social. The golden rule is, there is no knowledge without feedback of your actions, so when you communicate your sustainability efforts, be open for any feedback and criticism. This way we can create a positive loop of real sustainability actions, active and transparent communications, feedback and improvement, and better, more effective sustainability actions.

 

About the Author

Amruta Kshemkalyani, is an experienced sustainability professional and top sustainability influencer/advocate in UAE. While working in sustainable development field, she is also spreading environmental and sustainable living awareness in UAE through her blog www.sustainabilitytribe.com since 2009. 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amrutant      

Linkedin: https://ae.linkedin.com/in/amrutakshemkalyanitavkar

 

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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SAFE-Q: Be a Part of Food Waste Research Project in Qatar

SafeQ-Project-QatarDistribution of food is quite different and more challenging than other consumer products since the distribution operation must ensure the food product maintains its quality and safety while it is transported downstream on the food chain until it reaches the consumer. For example, temperature control is a critical aspect of food distribution as failure to maintain it at the prescribed level will result in deterioration of the quality or even risk the safety of the food product.

On the other hand, owing to the globalised distribution networks and the advances in food processing and packaging technologies as well as the improvements in storage and distribution infrastructure, the geographical locations where food is grown, processed, and consumed are becoming increasingly decoupled. As a result, global food supply chains are becoming longer and more complex than non-food supply chains because of the need to assure the quality and the safety of the products throughout their journey from farm to fork. The inefficiencies in food supply chain operations and changing consumer demands around food products have resulted in an increased global concern across academia, industry, and the public about the rise of food waste.

What is Safe-Q Project?

SAFE-Q or Safeguarding Food and Environment in Qatar is a research project funded by the QNRF, aiming to develop perspectives on food waste as well as its impact on food security in Qatar. The objectives of the SAFE-Q project are:

  • to systematically study and develop a typology of the causes of food waste occurring the distribution of food in Qatar
  • to examine the changing trends in consumption of food in relation to their implications on waste occurring in Qatar’s food supply chains
  • to synthesize and develop a holistic understanding of the food waste generated in the supply and the demand perspectives
  • to develop policy recommendations to reduce and eliminate where possible the waste occurring during the distribution and the consumption of food in Qatar

SAFE-Q is run by an international team of researchers from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Cranfield University (UK), Brunel University (UK), University of Bradford (UK), and Western Sydney University (Australia) collaborating on factors driving food waste and how they can be mitigating to reduce and eliminate where possible the food waste. The SAFE-Q project is running from January 2015 to January 2018 and over the course of the project the researchers have collaborated with many organisations in Qatar, including but not limited to EcoMENA, Hamad bin Khalifa University, United Nations Environment Programme.

Why should you care?

Qatar is located in a region that has a limited capacity to be self-sustaining in food as much of the country consists of low, barren plains that are covered with sand and subject to intense heat over dry and humid seasons. Although recent efforts to grow food locally have proven successful, they are yet to reach substantial yields: the self-sufficiency percentage is still in single figures. Importing 90% of the food consumed in the country, Qatar also faces a significant food waste problem originating from many factors: weather conditions, poor demand planning, lack of logistics infrastructure, consumption habits, and so on. Whilst the agricultural capacity in the country is being increased to improve food security, there is something else we can do: identify the factors relevant to food waste and quantify them.

The SAFE-Q research team conducted 64 interviews with food chain actors such as farmers, importers, distributors, retailers, hotels, and catering businesses as well as consumers and employees of governmental and non-governmental organisations over the past two years and identified 61 factors related to food waste. All these factors and their definitions can be found on https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/safeq/factors-relevant-to-food-waste/

What do we expect to achieve?

SAFE-Q contributes to the implementation of the “Qatar National Vision 2030”, focusing on the long-term sustainability of the food supply chains. We expect to better understand the organisational and social influences that can promote food security in Qatar as it is on its path to set an example for the rest of the countries in the region in their efforts to become more sustainable and improve their food security.

food-waste-project-qatar

There are many factors driving food waste and we understand them individually, but we do not know the interactions between them and the system-wide effects. With your help, we will quantify the relationships between factors affecting food waste and develop policy recommendations around them in a systematic way to reduce the food waste. Your participation in our survey will allow us to establish the strength of these relationships and inform policy makers as they prioritise their policies to address the food waste problem as an integral part of the efforts to improve food security.

How can you help?

Click here to complete the survey to help identify the relationships between factors relevant to food waste:

https://cranfielduniversity.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_7U8I9jiC5YgI5RX

We do not record your identity, please answer freely. We appreciate your support!

Do you want to learn more?

SAFE-Q research project has a website that is updated every two weeks and you can learn more about our progress so far and the results in the future here:

https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/safeq/

You can email us at safe-q@cranfield.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @SafeQProject. We will be grateful to your feedback.