x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The UAE, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular, are leading the way when it comes to implementing green building practices. The same can be said of Qatar and together these countries are showing the rest of the region the way forward.

The King Abdullah Financial District, which is currently under construction, is seen near King Fahad Road in the Asahafa area in Riyadh. Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters
The King Abdullah Financial District, which is currently under construction, is seen near King Fahad Road in the Asahafa area in Riyadh. Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters

As the Kuwait Green Building Forum came to a close yesterday, governments and private sector stakeholders in the Middle East are increasingly embracing the challenge of green development.

The move is part of efforts to curb the excesses of the past and move forward to a more sustainable future.

One of the key strands in this approach is a sharper focus on building practices, especially here and in Qatar where construction is booming. An increased emphasis on green building is coming not just from the region’s governments, but also from developers, who in turn are responding to rising sustainability benchmarks set by large corporations from both outside and inside the region.

Perhaps the most prominent recent example of governments’ new focus on sustainable building practices is the new Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) sustainable building in the Al Quoz area, the largest government building in the world to secure the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) platinum rating.

Opened in February, the building has become an international showcase for sustainable building practices, using technologies such as low-power LED lights and automatic lighting control systems with occupancy sensors, an on-site 660KW solar power plant and a grey-water treatment plant and sewage treatment plant facility, to drastically reduce electricity and water consumption.

Such high-profile buildings are not confined to the UAE, or the Government sector. Other flagship green building developments in the wider region include Qatar’s Barwa Financial District, where each tower has undergone a solar impact study to optimise shading effectiveness and reduce cooling costs, and the King Abdullah Financial District in Saudi Arabia, which will become the world’s largest green development project and first Leed-certified district worldwide.

However the UAE is currently at the forefront of the green building movement in the Middle East, accounting for more than two thirds of the 1,236 Leed-rated projects in the GCC. Qatar has 190 registered Leed-rated projects, followed by Saudi Arabia with 158. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman have 51 Leed-rated projects between them.

It is perhaps no coincidence this country’s and Qatar’s leadership in green buildings within our region coincides with the development of the two nations’ own unique green building rating systems to run alongside Leed and other international systems such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method.

Abu Dhabi’s Estidama programme, launched by the Urban Planning Council in 2008, is widely held up as one of the most sophisticated green building frameworks in the region. The programme’s pearl rating system has already been used with more than 230 developments, occupying a gross floor area of more than 10 million square metres, and is mandatory for all new building projects here.

The Qatar sustainability assessment system was launched in 2009, aimed at creating a sustainable building environment that address the economic and social development and environmental needs of the country.

The Government of Dubai has also shown initiative in the green building sector. The Dubai Municipality Waste Management Department issued mandatory guidelines for waste management in shopping centres last year. Meanwhile, its Green Building Regulations and Specifications, introduced as a voluntary code in 2011, will be applied to all buildings in the emirate from next year.

While almost all new buildings in the UAE are built with sustainability principles in mind, the upgrading of older buildings that are already being leased to meet sustainability targets remains a challenge, according to Saeed Al Abbar, the vice chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council.

“Globally you see a gap between the incentives for the tenant and the landlord, as any investment that the landlord puts in to save energy will initially only benefit the tenant. Thus the landlord will not have as much incentive to make an additional investment,” he says.

Dubai’s Supreme Council for Energy has launched an initiative to increase incentives for landlords to retrofit existing older buildings to make them more sustainable and cost effective, whereby landlords will pay for retrofits out of the savings that they produce, says Mr Al Abbar.

Outside of the UAE there has been little in the way of binding regulation in the area of sustainable building, according to the international property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

“The limited progress to-date is due mainly to a lack of legislation, the absence of any discernible financial premium, the heavily subsidised energy, water and waste disposal costs in the region as well as the limited awareness of environmental issues,” JLL said in its investor sentiment report for the Middle East and North Africa region last month.

A lack of knowledge among tenants in this country is still a key obstacle to the development of green buildings here, says Mr Al Abbar. He stresses that the issue is still a new one in this country and the region, and tenants will “vote with their wallets” once they begin to realise the savings that green buildings can offer.

While government initiatives will drive the adoption of sustainable practices in the construction sector, the take up of green building practices will mostly be spurred by the evolving demands of large corporate clients looking for sustainable buildings that are more cost effective to run, according to George Kostas, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties.

Mr Kostas cites the international bank Standard Chartered, which had opted to build its own headquarters in Downtown Dubai and a second building in the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre free zone, to comply with its own internal targets for sustainability, despite the availability of existing office buildings in prime locations across the emirate.

“I think we’re going to see more examples of this phenomenon, which will drive demand for more sustainable, greener buildings in the local market. These guys will pay to get the sort of facility that they want and they’ll ignore older, more redundant buildings. It’s just going to take time,” Mr Kostas says.

A survey on property investor sentiment in the Middle East released by JJL last month found 63 per cent of investors would pay a sustainability premium of up to 10 per cent to acquire a green building, providing it could be demonstrated it would provide lower operational costs in subsequent years.

However, the survey noted that sustainable building concepts in the wider region remains limited, and that the trend to fully embrace the need for more sustainable property will take some time.

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