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Will 2013 be the year the construction industry goes green?

  • FILE - The Emirates NBD head office building is seen on Baniyas Road in Deira November 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)

The Middle East has often been criticized for its excessive consumption of resources, a fact confirmed by a 2012 Living Planet Report which named Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as the top three countries having the largest per capita ecological footprints in the world.

The situation is ripe for change and developers across the region are now giving serious thought to the impact of sustainability and green construction concepts on their profits and cost savings targets. Saeed Alabbar, Director at AESG, a leading energy and sustainability consultancy in the Middle East, shares his insights into what he believes will be the top sustainability trends for the construction industry in 2013.After steady growth through 2012, the Middle East construction market looks set to regain once again the momentum of the pre-recession era. Countries across the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have announced plans for major development undertakings. Experts predict $4.3 trillion worth of construction projects across the MENA region over the next decade, representing a growth of 20 percent through 2020.

Taking center stage in discussions within the industry is the issue of sustainable construction. As far as new projects are concerned, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in translating good sustainable designs into sustainable buildings. For a number of projects in the region, lack of quality control in construction or poor commissioning have resulted in great intentions on paper not transpiring into reality.

With regard to the existing building stock, while an increasing number of facility and building owners are looking to manage their energy and water consumption more effectively, this only accounts for a fraction of the existing stock in the Middle East.

While sustainability has been a buzz word in the industry for a number of years, we are now definitely witnessing a genuine drive of new development projects in pursuing increasingly higher levels of sustainability. This is driven partly by regulation but also due to developers realizing that sustainability offers a genuine opportunity both to increase the value of their assets and ensure that such assets are future-proofed. Commercial as well as private buildings will begin to incorporate green design elements into their construction in order to limit the amount of damage they do to the environment as well as be as energy efficient as possible.

Throughout the region there is a commitment from governments to invest in social and commercial infrastructure. In order to increase the financial efficiency of these projects during both construction and operation, government agencies are increasingly turning to sustainability and energy efficiency as a means of reducing the life cycle costs of these buildings.

AESG has been working closely with a number of public sector clients on projects that include major ports, airports, schools and government buildings. The results of these efforts have led to reductions in government spending on utility bills and infrastructure which ultimately translates to freed up revenue for more ‘constructive’ purposes. As massive infrastructure projects are due to get under way during 2013, developers will be keen to look at innovative means to reduce the energy impact of these ventures during both construction and operational phases.

Traditionally in the Middle East, commissioning of buildings has not been carried out effectively, resulting in many buildings performing poorly and therefore requiring frequent maintenance.

Judging by the feedback through 2012, however, we are likely to see an increasing number of developers choosing to utilize commissioning agents on projects to ensure a more effective transition between their design, construction and operation stages. Such agents will be increasingly called upon to identify potential savings in capital costs for clients by better optimizing designs and streamlining the testing and commissioning process, in order for building owners to receive a better functioning structure right from the start of operation.

Due to recent increases in utility tariffs, the economic downturn and a greater focus on energy and sustainability issues, facility owners and operators are paying greater attention to their utility bills. Conducting detailed energy audits of facilities has shown that buildings can save approximately 20 percent of their energy bill through low to no cost measures that all pay back within 12 to 18 months with an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) upward of 40 percent. As far as investment decisions go, this is a no-brainer and during 2013, building owners are likely to realize this and take measures to reduce their energy consumption.

While these trends only scratch the surface of green building, they are indicative of the positive direction in which the industry is heading. 2013 looks poised to be a year for massive growth in the green building market and the onus is now upon facility owners and managers, and architects and design teams to “think green” lest they find themselves in the red.

Saeed Alabbar, is director of AESG.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2013, on page 5.
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