Thriving, healthy economies and social well-being are fundamental objectives of the global community. Abu Dhabi is no different. Through the Vision 2030, the emirate has committed to build a sustainable, stable economy through a diversified and broadened enterprise base across a range of sectors.
One priority is the development of infrastructure and buildings to support and sustain Abu Dhabi's anticipated levels of economic growth. Buildings consume a large share of energy and are a major contributor to the intensifying effects of climate change. The United Nations Environment Programme, for one, reports that the building sector accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of global energy use. In Abu Dhabi, the share is even greater: approximately 50 to 60 per cent of electricity generated is consumed by buildings in the emirate.
These figures cannot be ignored - the need for action is immediate. To this end, Abu Dhabi is working to transform its built environment to be more energy efficient and environmentally mindful.
Green buildings do not require us to choose between economic returns and environmental sustainability - both benefits come hand-in-hand. This is the driving philosophy behind the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council's Estidama programme, the emirate's sustainable building initiative which is meant to ensure the shift to green buildings.
Launched in 2008, Estidama sets regulations for architects, contractors and engineers to embrace a more sustainable approach to the design, construction and operation of the new buildings of Abu Dhabi. Its Pearl Rating System requires all new buildings to achieve specific benchmarks such as the reduction of energy and water use, lowered construction waste and utilisation of recycled and locally sourced building materials.
The challenge for businesses and residents of Abu Dhabi is to be able to create healthy, vibrant communities while at the same time protecting our environment and making economically sound decisions. Not only will shifting to green buildings have an enormous environmental impact, but the investment into infrastructure also makes social and business sense.
To understand how green buildings are transformative both economically and environmentally, we have to look no further than one of the most famous buildings in the world - New York's Empire State Building. After being retrofitted according to principles of green building, the landmark saves $4.4 million (Dh16.1 million), reducing energy use 38 per cent and significantly reducing carbon emissions.
And the green building industry also has the ability to boost entire economies. For example, in the United States, a country that is quickly shifting to green buildings, the US Green Building Council estimates that the industry has the potential to add $554 billion to the GDP, save or create 7.9 million jobs and conserve $6 billion in energy over the course of four years.
Within Abu Dhabi, Estidama is transforming the local construction industry to encourage a highly skilled and productive workforce. To aid this transformation, the Estidama team has embarked on outreach, training and education programmes. Workshops and training opportunities are offered for a wide range of stakeholders to ensure awareness and understanding of the Pearl Rating System. The goal is also to encourage a supply chain of local, sustainable building materials to reinvent the industry and help the emirate to diversify its economic growth.
Masdar City - as a blueprint for sustainable communities - is demonstrating the value of environmental-friendly building practices that Estidama has sought to codify.
To complement its array of clean technologies and renewable energy, Masdar has reduced its impact on the natural environment by applying green building practices such as recycling and reusing waste, repurposing wastewater for landscaping and using certified sustainable timber. For instance, the buildings of Masdar Institute sourced more than 1,800 square metres of certified timber to ensure forests and ecosystems were sustainably managed. These buildings also use 54 per cent less potable water and have less than half the cooling demand of the UAE average.
Similar to the results of the Empire State Building, achieving Estidama's standards makes financial sense in Abu Dhabi. For example, by meeting the mandates of the Pearl Rating System for residential buildings, developers may be able to reduce energy use by 25 per cent and water use by 20 per cent.
Beyond the immediate benefits, these standards create lasting paybacks for Abu Dhabi's developers and homeowners. Long-term advantages include lowered operating costs, higher return on investment, greater tenant retention, and improved marketability and higher reputation of real estate. Studies indicate that buildings integrating sustainable design maintain higher occupancy rates and command rental and sales prices about 30 per cent higher than those not meeting green certifications.
The Urban Planning Council and the Department of Municipal Affairs plan to transform green ideas into reality. The challenge now lies with the rest of Abu Dhabi - from architects to contractors to homeowners - to not only realise, but also act upon the fact that a sustainably built environment is wise financially, socially and environmentally. The implementation of green building practices will provide our community another bridge between long-term economic prosperity and environmental stability.
Rather than as a burden to builders, Estidama must be seen as a competitive advantage that will provide Abu Dhabi with the framework, tools and motivation to position itself as a global leader – environmentally, economically and socially.
Dr Sultan al Jaber is the chief executive of Masdar