The Government has implemented programmes to encourage sustainability in the UAE, although there is a way to go yet.
Abu Dhabi leads on sustainability
As the first Arabian Gulf country to develop its own credible green ranking system – Estidama – Abu Dhabi has shown the world it is serious about responsible development amid a huge construction programme.
Although better than both Qatar and Kuwait, the worst global offenders in terms of per capita carbon dioxide emissions, the UAE still racked up 22.6 tonnes per person per year in 2009 – twice the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development world average that year. This, along with the fact that buildings account for at least 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, puts construction here in the environmental spotlight.
The Government has implemented programmes to encourage sustainability in the UAE, although there is a way to go yet. Dubai and Abu Dhabi consume some 83 per cent more water per capita than the global average – almost all of which comes from desalination, a process that accounts for 20 per cent of the UAE’s total power outage.
“There is a definite role for the Government to play [but] unfortunately most governments in the region have selected the ‘green-washing’ approach; highlighting erratic initiatives and shying from addressing the core issues,” says Khaled Awad, the founder of the UAE-based consultancy Greenea.
“Subsidies remain one of the biggest hurdles facing sustainable projects,” says Mr Awad.
But the Emirates is at the vanguard of change. Of the 1,200 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified projects across the Middle East, 65 per cent of these are in this country, home to some critically acclaimed developments in the last few years. Among them, the new headquarters of Standard Chartered Tower, a US$140 million new office in Downtown Dubai, which is LEED Gold ranked and designed to use 30 per cent less water than standard for such a building.
In the end, claims Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) in a recent report into sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, it will be the rising cost of energy that will provide the biggest impetus for developers to follow the green lead. JLL estimates electricity and cooling account for about 40 per cent of the total operating costs for Grade A office buildings in the Emirates.
“Subsidised energy costs act as a barrier to reducing energy consumption [and] the absence of zonal metering and the inability to calculate disaggregated levels of energy usage in many buildings presents a serious handicap to energy reduction initiatives,” the report reads.
“It’s hard to quantify the benefits of something that cannot be easily measured.”
This is especially true, says JLL, when it is difficult for owners and occupiers to quantify the value of green buildings in any other way than by reading their energy bills. In the Mena region, the value or rental premiums attracted to sustainable buildings, is hard to pin down, JLL says.
For example, the report says, Majid Al Futtaim’s (MAF) Mirdiff City Centre has achieved a LEED ranking yet it attracts the same rent as the company’s other two malls.
MAF declined to comment when contacted by The National.
As the economy recovers, action on sustainability should increase, with organisations such as the capital’s Masdar leading the way.
“There is a lot of talk about sustainability but there doesn’t seem to be much action [so far], outside of what Masdar is doing in Abu Dhabi,” said Matthew Green, head of research at CBRE in Dubai.
“Abu Dhabi is obviously trying to drive [sustainability] in terms of regulations and what gets built,” Mr Green says, but he adds the widespread take-up of green building has yet to fulfill expectations.
“I don’t see the same kind of level of interest that we presumed it would have a couple of years back.”
Still, with a growing emphasis by the Government and developers on implementing best practice in sustainable construction, that will only grow.