Dubai meets the green challenge

02 November 2009

The emirate is setting the pace for sustainable building as the only place in the world where all new developments are required to adopt green-building practices

Dubai remains the only place in the world where green-building practices are mandatory on all new projects. In a decree issued on 24 October 2007, the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, said developers would be required to create the “highest international standards” of sustainability from the start of January the following year. The challenge has been turning this declaration of intent into practice.

The issue is complicated by the fact that there is no single entity responsible for buildings across Dubai. Dubai Municipality remains the supreme planning authority for the whole of the emirate, although its responsibilities largely exclude the free zones, of which there are now more than 20.

Sustainable future

Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa), which is the sole producer of electricity and desalinated water in the emirate, and Dubai Petroleum Company, the state oil company, have their own remits. And then there are the buildings and facilities owned by the Dubai police and the federal armed forces.

However, the municipality remains the key to the future of sustainable buildings in Dubai. The challenge it faces is how to deal with hundreds of new buildings and tens of thousands of old ones, some of which are ageing industrial units that were erected before sustain-ability became a priority. The municipality is also responsible for the sewerage system, which includes one heavily overworked treatment plant in Al-Awir.

The municipality has, nevertheless, embarked on the challenge with enthusiasm. It began with a comprehensive review of green-building rating systems around the world.

In particular, it comprehensively analysed six existing sets of standards: the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam) used in the UK; the Leadership in Environmental Design (Leed) system developed by the US Green Building Council; Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark; Japan’s Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (Casbee); Australia’s Green Star; and the sustainable building assessment tool developed by Ottowa-based International Initiative for the Sustainable Built Environment. The review of these rating systems and standards was followed by a study of countries with a climate similar to Dubai that have green-building regulations.

It found there were just three: Australia, Singapore and the US. And the only place that had regulated all the key elements required in green buildings was California.

“If you want to be a green-building consultant working with Dubai World, you have to register with us”

Amin Almulla, chief operating officer, EHS

The next step involved taking the relevant parts of these international codes and introducing them into Dubai’s existing building code. A document detailing the regulatory changes is now being circulated among the main market participants. It is understood that the regulations will set a minimum sustainable standard that will be achievable without being too expensive. The municipality will start with new buildings.

It has been simpler for other Dubai entities to act quickly. Tecom Investments, the Dubai Holding company that owns and runs a total of nine free zones around the emirate, has secured Leed certification for two of its projects: the third phase of Dubai International Academic City, and the commercial interiors fit-out at its head office in Dubai Internet City.

A total of 45 other projects around the emirate, which between them involve about 100 buildings, are in the Leed certification process. The Energy & Environment Park (Enpark), Tecom’s sustainable energy and environmental free zone, will be built completely according to green-building principles, says Ali Bin Towaih, executive director of Tecom Investments’ sustainable energy and environment division.

The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, which runs the Dubai Silicon Oasis IT free zone, also requires developers to work according to an approved sustainable development plan. This, like Tecom’s programme, is principally -oriented towards Leed.

The authority’s first Leed-rated project, which includes solar -panels, is now under development. Two other buildings under construction in Silicon Oasis are also aiming for Leed certification.

But the largest number of new buildings that have been Leed certified are within areas of Dubai controlled by Dubai World, the government holding company that owns ports operator DP World, Jebel Ali Port & Free Zone, and real estate developers Nakheel and Limitless.

The holding company’s Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) regulatory arm says it had been planning to go green even before Sheikh Mohammed’s October 2007 decree.

“We started thinking about it seriously in 2007,” says Amin Almulla, chief operating officer at EHS.

Since then, it has run the largest programme for certified new buildings in the Middle East. EHS had assessed more than 200 projects by the end of 2008, and 300 by the end of June this year.

In-house system

It currently uses its own assessment system, which is based on Leed and sets a minimum standard for all new projects just below the Leed silver rating, although it is also now developing its own standards (see box).

All EHS-certified buildings are monitored to ensure they are operate in a sustainable fashion and deliver the benefits their designs promised. The body says water savings promised by buildings that have been assessed amount to about 12.4 million gallons and energy savings are projected at 67,800MW hours.

The challenge of assessing hundreds of projects has helped EHS develop in-house green-building expertise and strong con-nections with the world’s leading green-building practitioners.

“If you want to be a green-building consultant working with Dubai World, you have to be registered with us,” says Almulla.

Beyond Dubai World’s extensive property portfolio, one of the most important influences on sustainability in Dubai is Dewa, which is struggling with the challenge of containing -carbon emissions, with the need to find an alternative to gas for its power stations and water plants.

Dewa is applying pressure on consumers to conserve more energy. Low-energy light fittings and water-saving features are now required in most new projects seeking a connection to the Dewa grid, and the authority has given approval for developers to use solar power in their developments.

Turning Sheikh Mohammed’s decree into action is still proving a challenge, but it is gradually happening.

Dubai World prepares its green rating system

When Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum issued his decree on green-building standards in 2007, he did not say how Dubai entities were to respond. For Dubai World and its Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) regulatory arm, this was an opportunity.

“It was left to the individual companies,” says Amin Almulla, chief operating officer of the EHS division. “We said ‘let’s try with our own system for a year and then review it’.”

EHS soon decided that existing rating systems did not match Dubai’s environmental needs and so decided to adapt the US Leadership in Environmental Design (Leed) rating system to its own purposes.

“Our projects are complex,” says Almulla. “We have factories, offices, schools and shopping malls. Existing rating systems are generic and, during application of their requirements, people faced real difficulties getting points.

“As we were going through our green-building initiative we thought ‘why not develop our own rating system, particularly when we are facing difficulties in applying the Leed system?’”

As a result, since September 2008, EHS has been developing its own method for rating green buildings, the World Energy & Environmental System for Development, Optimization & Measurements (Wesdom).

Almulla says EHS plans to launch the system by the end of the first quarter of 2010, and it will be applied to all projects being developed in areas controlled by Dubai World.

Wesdom is the fruit of collaboration between EHS, consultants and international sustainability bodies. “We are not working alone on this,” says Almulla. “We have involved all our consultants who were interested in being involved.”

The initial plans suggest there will be a credit system based on five main categories: sustainable site management, water, energy, materials, and the environment and pollution. This contrasts with the six Leed principles of site, water, energy, materials, the indoor environment, and innovation.

“About 80 per cent of rating systems are similar,” says Almulla. “We are aiming to develop a rating methodology that will be generally applicable in the Middle East region and in co-operation with international agencies. It will be open for the Middle East or for anyone interested in it.”

All types of buildings will be covered by the system, and projects will have to be revalidated every year. There will also be both mandatory and voluntary elements

“The real beauty of Wesdom is that it is coming from the international experts who are supporting this initiative,” says Almulla. “And what is unique about our system is that we have made the maximum effort to avoid cosmetic ratings, which is possible in existing systems. It is going to be very stringent and detailed. For our projects, this rating system will be compulsory at a minimum rating.”

Given the number of ratings systems that already exist, Almulla acknowledges there will be complaints about the creation of yet another one. But he believes it is the right thing for EHS to do. “Every region should create a rating system suitable for its needs, environment and culture,” he says. “But the region can accommodate more than one rating system. It shows people are committed. Competition is healthy.”

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