Green Building Sector in the UAE: Perspectives

The focus on sustainability is one of the biggest trends in the GCC’s building sector. This is underpinned by Dubai being ranked third in the list of global cities with the highest number of green certified buildings in the ‘Sustainability and Wellness in Dubai’ report by Core Savills with over 550 projects under LEED certification and the implementation of the Estidama framework in Abu Dhabi.

Paving the Way

In the UAE, the directives by the Federal and Local Government entities to establish a sustainable economy that advocates demand side-energy management, and water & energy use efficiency has encouraged real estate developers to streamline their services to support these goals. This has translated to commendable contributions in the field of energy efficiency, sustainable construction building materials, renewable energy and indoor air quality.

There are clearly specified targets that support sustainable development including the reduction of energy and water consumption in Dubai by 30 per cent and increase the share of solar in the energy mix to 25 per cent – both by 2030. Dubai has also announced its Clean Energy Strategy to achieve 75 per cent clean energy by 2050. Across the UAE, green targets include 50 per cent clean energy in the total energy mix by 2050, and treatment of 75 per cent waste by 2021.

With such clear guidelines in place, the UAE’s real estate industry has increased its focus on sustainable buildings to comply with the current green building regulations in the UAE such as Abu Dhabi’s Estidama Pearl Rating System and the Dubai Green Building Regulations. The main developers have placed a concerted focus on the energy performance of their buildings through energy benchmarking of their properties, identifying best practices and developing strategies to increase efficiency of the built environment.

For example, Majid Al Futtaim, a corporate member of Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), was awarded the ‘Developer of the year’ at the MENA Green Building Awards for their strong commitment toward sustainable asset management by monitoring of energy, water and waste benchmarks of their existing developments. There is also considerable innovation in green buildings as was highlighted at the 2017 MENA Green Building Awards to recognise innovation, creativity and excellence in promoting sustainability best practices. We saw a remarkable number of submissions from across the region reflecting the keen interest of public and private sectors as well as academia to drive green buildings.

In addition to green building best practices being applied right from design to construction stage, the region is also witnessing significant interest in retrofitting buildings – not just residential but also commercial – with the goal of improving the efficiency of existing buildings and reducing the carbon footprint of built environment. We see this keen interest in building efficiency as a game-changing trend for the Middle East’s real estate sector.

Role of EmiratesGBC

EmiratesGBC is an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices, and ever since our inception in 2006, we have focused on promoting dialogue and positive action in promoting green buildings. As an independent entity, our role is to provide the inputs that support decision making and influence policy-making, The Council also encourages the private sector and the community at large to become active participants in driving sustainable built environments.

Emirates Green Building Council is playing a vital role in facilitating dialogue between the public and private sectors

Over the years, we have played a pivotal role in facilitating a dialogue between the public and private sectors, to support green building initiatives in the region, aiming to make the UAE a leader in sustainable development. We have served as a catalyst in Energy Efficiency in existing building stock through introducing technical programmes. We facilitate the growth of the energy efficiency market, and work to increase awareness and capacity building. We function as a common platform for all stakeholders in the building industry supply chain, whereby they can meet, discuss, interact, and exchange groundbreaking ideas and help promote a sustainable built environment. Most recently, we launched the ‘Green Building Tooltips,’ freely accessible online at this link.

Rapid Progress of Green Building Sector

The UAE has been among the first movers in embracing green building design and implementation. In fact, as early as 2007, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced a decree that mandated all new urban structures to conform to environment-friendly green building standards. Over the years, the UAE has consistently revisited its sustainable development goals such as the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy, A Green Economy for Sustainable Development in line with the UAE Vision 2021, the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and the UAE Energy Plan for 2050. All these are drivers for the public and private sector, as well as the community, to embrace green practices.

The UAE has introduced a slew of initiatives to ensure sustainable built environments including buildings codes such as the Estidama Pearl Rating System in Abu Dhabi, which mandates that all new buildings must achieve a minimum Pearl 1 certification and all government buildings must have a minimum of 2 Pearls. Dubai Municipality has issued the Green Building Regulations and Specifications (GBR&S) for all new buildings in the emirate since March 2014, and much progress has been achieved in this regard. This has further been strengthened with the launch of Al Sa’fat, the new building rating system introduced by the Dubai Municipality.

The new system energises the ongoing initiatives to promote sustainable buildings, a key area of EmiratesGBC. In other initiatives, Dubai is the only city in the MENA region to join the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA) programme, to double the rate of energy efficiency by 2030. BEA is a programme under the ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SE4All) initiative led by the United Nations Secretary-General and funded by the Global Environment Facility. The strong commitment of the government acts as a catalyst that drives green buildings in the UAE, which encourages de-carbonised diversification by setting targets in demand side management, and renewable energy generation. In addition to the regulations mentioned above, retrofitting initiatives such as Etihad ESCO in Dubai and the Tarsheed programme in Abu Dhabi also drive green building development.

The Way Forward

The UAE experience is a great model for the region to implement effective, efficient and tangible green building practices. There are several areas that should be prioritised – starting with a strong governmental resolve that reflects in its vision and strategy. With governmental support, the private sector is further energised to embrace green building practices. Also of critical value is the need to promote awareness.

DEWA Headquarters in Dubai is the world’s largest LEED-certified building

When EmiratesGBC was launched, dialogue on green buildings and sustainable built environments was limited. There was apprehension on the cost associated and the need for such a tactical move towards ‘green buildings.’ Over the years, through our interaction with industry stakeholders and their commendable action to make a positive change, the need for green buildings is now widely recognised for the long-term value they bring and their role in securing a greener future for the coming generations.

It is also important to undertake benchmarking projects to assess energy and water use efficiency – as we did for the hospitality sector in the UAE – so that we understand the true challenge at hand and can take corrective actions.

Similarly, we need to promote innovation and investment in the green space. We see several clean-tech start-ups in the region, who can play an important role in driving the sustainable development narrative. It is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all formula to promote green buildings. Further, the green building best practices by different stakeholders such as developers, contractors, and product specialists within the built environment must be recognised and rewarded. Additionally, research and development is key in creating a market for sustainable alternatives in energy efficiency, water management, waste, and indoor environmental quality.

Each country has its own challenges and the key is to ensure a broad understanding of the need for sustainable built environments and facilitating an environment that helps accomplish it. Through awareness, education and capacity building, and promoting public-private partnerships and collaborations, we can further drive sustainable built environments in the region.

About Saeed Al Abbar

Saeed Alabbar is the Chairman of Emirates Green Building Council, an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices in the UAE. He also sits on the Board of World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), a network of national green building councils in more than 90 countries. A mechanical engineer by profession, Saeed holds a First Class Masters degree with honours in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bath and is a LEED Accredited Professional and Estidama Pearl Qualified Professional.
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