Green buildings are no longer a marginal concept but are becoming the standard for sustainable building construction and modernization in the Middle East. Forward thinking organizations can realize the benefits of being environmentally aware of the impact of each and every action undertaken in the present world of development. It is no longer about the financial bottom line and whether we are eco-friendly, it is a fundamental component of sustainability. Institutes and organizations in the Middle East can embrace green building initiatives as a mandate, while educational institutes can embrace it as a good citizen initiative developing the minds of young people into being caring and concerned citizens of the planet.
Certification of Green Buildings
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed in the USA, offer directives for both new construction and renovation of already existing buildings. In the USA, LEED certification is required for buildings over a specified floor area, namely 5,000 square feet. There are other green building initiatives originating in the UK and Europe, and in the GCC region as well. The basic premises are similar regardless which system one chooses for building certification.
This is not a single sustainable system but are a range of standards that can be incorporated into new construction or existing buildings. The basic premise is to provide standards for the building owner and the building operators to reference and adhere to in order to operate and manage a sustainable building environment.
With the LEED rating system, there are four levels of certification starting at Certified and progressing to Silver, Gold and Platinum ranking. The ranking is awarded based on number of credits achieved when the overall building performance is benchmarked against the standards. The main areas where the building is benchmarked is in terms of energy efficiency, water conservation and indoor air quality.
The challenge is in utilizing the system with existing buildings as the greater majority of buildings already exist compared with the number of proposed new construction sites. Energy consumption is the greatest sector that can be addressed in terms of efficiency. This is critical, especially with the urgency to mitigate climate change and lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), conserve water and manage waste product better.
Identifying the Best Sustainability Strategy
The first step is to identify the best sustainability strategy for an organization based on the present level of sustainability, possible options for achieving greater sustainability, as well as the estimated costs and likely benefits. The main areas of sustainability concerns include energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, environmental quality, construction materials and site sustainability. To undertake sustainable measures for all areas at once is not a good practice because of the cost involved.
Therefore, the preferred area for implementing sustainable best practice measures often first address the energy efficiency areas as these measures can have significant cost savings. The evaluation focuses on electrical and mechanical systems, as well as the potential for renewable energy usage. The identification of possible changes to improve the energy efficiency should reduce energy consumption rates by modifying operational procedures. This may be achieved by installing energy efficient light sources, light sensors, and even retro-commissioning air conditioners and/or heat systems.
Water consumption is of growing concern. Therefore, water usage and water recovery and reuse after treatment are all viable considerations. The best practices include managing the water flow at the faucet and the flush system in toilets. These are the two main consumer areas. Other measures depending on location could include harvesting of rainwater and method of irrigation.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor quality covers several areas such as air quality, thermal comfort and lighting quality. Lighting quality can be improved significantly by using natural light source as mush as possible. Adequate clean, fresh air is critical for the overall well being of the building occupants. This may require the replacement of materials in the building that give of toxic fumes. It could also require changing processes conducted indoors.
Another critical area is to eliminate emission of ozone depleting gases from HVAC systems, fire suppressant materials and refrigerant gases. Many of the latter are already well addressed in developed regions of the globe. But this is not the case in the less developed regions of the globe.
Waste reduction in materials and construction is achieved through waste management processes. This is best achieved through waste management and recycling initiatives. Analysis of cleaning products is another means of improving the overall air quality within buildings. Also, the use of natural building materials is preferable to man-made products.
Sustainable Indoors and Outdoors
The final area to consider is making the overall area – both indoors and outdoors – more sustainable. This can be reflected in exterior lighting system, landscape of the grounds. e.g. using xeriscape techniques in desert regions, selecting native plant species better suited to the outdoor conditions, and so on. Transportation options that are more favourable for “green” focus and sustainability are the ideal where employees are encouraged to carpool, as just one example. One measure that has become very popular in Bahrain is capturing solar energy from car parking shade roofing.
The Way Forward
By conducting energy, water and air quality audits, proposed sustainable measures can then be incorporated into large scale organizational planning strategies that make the organization operational procedures “green” and sustainable. These “green” initiatives can be implemented in operational procedures, maintenance and upgrade, as well as in new construction.
Initial implementation typically focuses on low-cost initiatives that have a short-term payback by reducing energy and other resource consumption rates. Over time, sustainable initiatives will highlight the short-term and long-term benefits in terms of environmental, economic and social factors. Ultimately buildings can ensure maximum operational efficiency while achieving a sustainable built environment.