x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sustainable development 'crucial for the long term'

Moves towards green building design and construction should not be stalled by a global recession, say environmental building experts.

The credit crisis, which has affect economies worldwide, could slow down the construction boom in the Gulf.
The credit crisis, which has affect economies worldwide, could slow down the construction boom in the Gulf.

Moves towards green building design and construction should not be stalled by a global recession, according to environmental building experts. Keith Clarke, the chief executive of WS Atkins, an engineering and architectural services firm, said the design and construction industry "simply doesn't have time" to wait for the end of a recession before taking action on sustainable development.

"We're in the midst of a financial crash and on the edge of a global recession," Mr Clarke told a green building conference in Dubai today. "But what's really important now is how we change the way we use our resources and our environment. We, as professionals, have to hold our nerve. We don't have time to wait through a three- to five-year global recession. Whether we have a boom or a recession, we have to start rationing carbon."

Failing to incorporate environmentally sustainable measures into building design could be far costlier for property developers in the long term than any losses incurred because of the financial crisis, said Gurjit Singh, the chief property development officer at Sorouh Real Estate, based in Abu Dhabi. "Sustainability might be the last thing on people's minds right now," he said. "But with the real estate industry being one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, if sustainability is neglected because of the financial movements that are happening now, then we would be seriously jeopardising future financial returns in the industry."

Mr Singh said that issues such as sustainability were more important during a downturn, particularly as home buyers became more discerning. "They're looking for greater quality and this can only be infused in the developments if the developers themselves are looking to be in the market consistently and are giving value for money," he said. Peter Busby, a principal at Perkins + Will, a commercial architect design company based in Canada, said the economic slowdown could prompt the construction industry to take a more measured approach.

"The economic crisis will slow down the construction boom in the Middle East, which I think is a good thing - it was going crazy," he said. "Perhaps we'll be more rational going forward. There'll be more time to look at these issues and develop sustainable design solutions." Some companies in the UAE, including Masdar, the clean energy firm, are planning to profit from the growing market for carbon credits in Europe by reducing pollution in the oil and gas industry.

Under such a plan, the company would design a project to reduce or capture carbon emissions and then collect a proportion of the credits, which they would then sell. But Mr Clarke said he had little faith in trading carbon emissions as a way of saving the world. "There's been abject failures by banks in the US and UK, and abject failures to actually count money. If the banks can't trade mortgages, then why would you trust them with the world?"

Mr Singh said Sorouh would look at ways of offsetting carbon emissions once its projects became operational. "The carbon-credit market is gaining slow acceptability," he said. @Email:agiuffrida@thenational.ae