Sustainability in the UAE – how green are we willing to go?

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

At Summertown Interiors, we are huge supporters of the green building revolution which is happening in the UAE. With 800 registered LEED-accredited building projects of the 1,250 listed, the UAE is definitely spearheading change in the Middle East.

In both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the government has paved the way for the green movement by enforcing energy-efficient requirements for developers, namely Estidama and the Green Building Codes. Both are part of a long-term campaign in which the leadership is aiming to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020, including the identification of sustainability as a key criterion in the event specification for Dubai Expo 2020.

Promisingly, we have witnessed a greater awareness from business regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. A great example of this is how just a few years ago there was a shortage of eco products in the regional market which meant green investment was slightly halted. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced which has encouraged the development of green building projects.

In addition, attitudes in society towards sustainability have progressed and people are more aware and keener to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Lots of companies are now advocates in promoting well-being at work, paying more attention to the quality of lighting, indoor air, sound level and visual design in the office, as well as providing their staff with breakout and gyms areas.

This being said, the UAE is still considerably behind its Western counterparts when it comes to the sustainability conversation. For example, there is little or no legislation that enforces companies to consider the environment – even Estidama’s mandatory status is a rare thing and most companies that take measures to ‘go green’ do so voluntarily.

This leads into the UAE’s sustainability reporting and the lack of procedures when it comes to companies reporting their environmental footprint. This has to be improved and taken seriously like in other developed markets – it will be a while before companies in the UAE are on par with them.

Although there has been an increased interest in building green in the past few years, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated in the region and deserve to be promoted through a considered educational program for both the construction sector and decision makers.

At Summertown Interiors, we are happy to see the UAE’s green revolution gain momentum and are confident that further change is coming as companies continue to embrace more and more green policies.

From the availability of green products, to the lack of clear regulations in green building and recycling, we do still face challenges. While efforts are made to design and construct buildings that perform better, a key area missed is how buildings are operated and maintained from a sustainable viewpoint. Additionally, more importance needs to be given to the interiors of buildings as at the moment are regulated mainly by LEED certification, not mandatory in the UAE.

Our industry has a crucial role to play in pressing for specific legislation and convincing high-end users of the benefits of green practices. We need to reinforce the collaboration between all key stakeholders for further improvement – authorities, contractors, manufacturers, engineers, architects, designers, developers, facility managers and tenants. Stakeholder involvement at every level is absolutely necessary if green building is to earn its rightful place as the industry standard.

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