UAE steps up sustainable shift with focus on health & well-being

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The UAE leadership is investing aggressively to build a smart nation which is in line with its commitment to make a greener and sustainable shift along with restoring and nurturing good health in the light of the pandemic. 

Prabhu Ramachandran, CEO of Facilio, an AI-driven operations and maintenance platform says that when the economy opens to a post-pandemic period, a lot of renovations in buildings will be needed to cope-up with new operating procedures and guidelines. The top priorities in it will be building automation, health and sustainability.

“Given the impact of HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems on controlling the spread of the virus, there is an increased health and wellness focus to their operation. In turn, prioritizing occupant comfort, indoor air quality, better filtration and ventilation, creates significant room for improvement in energy savings,” Mr. Ramachandran added.

The Emirates Green Building Council (Emirates GBC), an independent forum that focuses on protecting the environment by strengthening and boosting green building practices.

As a part of the World Green Building Week, the 2020 UAE Green Building Market Brief, which points out that the nation has 63.96 million sqm of built-up area adapted to local green building regulations or certification programs, was released.

The report underlines the number of buildings in the region that follows Abu Dhabi’s Estidama Pearl Rating System, Dubai Green Building Regulations and Specifications and Ras Al Khaimah’s Barjeel Green Building Regulations.

It further notes that in Abu Dhabi there are 35.3 million sqm of the total built-up area of certified projects under Estidama and 26.9 million sqm of the built-up area of completed projects which follows Dubai’s regulations. Additionally, there is 239,200 sqm of a built-up area that obtained permissions from Ras Al Khaimah.

 Ali Al Jassim
Ali Al Jassim
Chairman – Emirates GBC

“With a growing footprint of buildings being developed under green building regulations, the nation is progressing towards its goal of achieving net-zero carbon buildings by 2050. With buildings and the construction sector accounting for nearly 39 percent of energy-related emissions globally and more so in the UAE, it is important to continue to focus on deep retrofitting and net-zero carbon buildings.”

Renovation is one of the key elements in sustainability and the region has witnessed a lot of progress in it over the past few years. Dubai has completed 1,241 buildings and 6,658 villas under its retrofit program which commenced in 2013, while Sharjah has 18 buildings since its initiation two years ago. Ras Al Khaimah has revamped 16 villas as of April 2020.

With the first UAE project receiving the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) certification, an internationally-recognized green building certification system developed by the US Green Building Council in 2006, there was an increase in the adoption of international green building standards in the region.

Recently, with the outbreak of COVID-19, the Emirates GBC has observed the need to focus on the health and well-being of building occupants within the green building realm and to give more attention to indoor environmental quality.

As of April 2020, 386 projects in the UAE obtained Leed-certification with a total built-up area of 5.9 million sqm. Additionally, 4,000 sqm of built-up area in the region was ‘Well-certified’, an international performance-based system for accrediting buildings based on their impact on human health and well-being.

Emirates GBC targets to help the UAE and wider region for building a sustainable environment with the help of various studies, technical training and programs to promote the boundaries of sustainability across all its partners.

“Smart developers are already seeing the viability of creating greener buildings and communities, especially developers that maintain ownership. Just look at developments such as Sustainable City and Tilal Al Ghaf,” said Marwan Zeidan, real estate and healthcare segment director for the Middle East and Africa at Schneider Electric.

The new normal in the post-COVID-19 period will depend on health and wellness. Brokers are witnessing relocation and demand patterns mainly over value-centric properties with designs closer to the environment and with greenery. But the landscaping segment has been traditionally viewed as a cost-intensive undertaking, involving unsustainable resource utilization.

“Developers, for their part, understand that the conventional make-use-dispose system will fall out of favor in the next economic cycle. So, they are likely to devise new strategies that integrate circular-economy models into building designs. At a macro level, this could enable the UAE to bring real estate, its chief growth driver, under the larger sustainability umbrella,” says Chandra Dake, executive chairman and group CEO of Dake Group.