There is a gap between how things are and how they could be in most things in life, and that is certainly true of the way the human race is caring for its planet. However, just as a new exercise programme begins with a brisk walk before work but aims to become an hour’s intensive jogging, so it is with the changes we could make to sustain our lives on Earth.
Two men who know just how easy, and just how difficult, it is to bring about these changes are engineers Bill Jolly and Jamie Brougham who work for Hyder Consulting Middle East in Dubai.
Both are passionate about sustainable buildings and both feel the UAE is poised to achieve great things in this field over the next decade. But they are also both practical people and their working lives are governed by one question from clients and developers alike: “How much will it cost?”
The answer to that question varies. You could argue that if we do not make our buildings sustainable, it will cost us the Earth. On the other hand, if living in a building with high carbon emissions becomes socially unacceptable – like smoking or driving without a seat belt – then the cost of going green becomes irrelevant.
MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) engineer Brougham said: “Sustainability will become something that takes over; at the concept design stage we will sit down with the designers. However, at the moment it is just an afterthought.”
The practicalities of a green building are stark. Engineer Jolly explained: “Consider an apartment development where the apartments are being sold to residents. If the building was completely sustainable, then by default the energy bills will be significantly less. That is what everyone will come to accept as normal.”
The two men are from the UK where change grinds slowly and targets for sustainability have needed to be backed up with legislation. For example, all boilers installed in the UK now have to be rated as more than 85 per cent efficient.
However, in Dubai nothing changes slowly. Last October, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, decreed that “all buildings in Dubai will have to be constructed as per environment-friendly ‘green building’ standards from January”.
One month later, Dubai Executive Council’s Committee for Green Buildings outlined its targets: 30 per cent energy savings required for cooling air-conditioning, nine per cent savings for lighting, six per cent for heating water, and 30 per cent water conservation.
Jolly said: “This is a large step in the right direction. When we discuss the added cost of making a building sustainable, we have to consider what Sheikh Mohammed is trying to achieve. He is trying to build the best city in the world with the best buildings on the planet. The best buildings on the planet are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“The next 10 years will be exciting in the UAE; it is highly likely that the UAE’s carbon footprint will be reduced in that time.”
It is estimated that Dh1.83trillion worth of projects is being built in the UAE. That is an increase of 83 per cent over 2006, and accounts for more than a third of all current developments in the GCC.
Some of the biggest of these are island projects in the UAE – Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, the Lagoons, Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeirah and Palm Deira in Dubai, and Fujairah Islands.
Developers Nakheel recently announced a Dh200m Blue Communities initiative. Executive Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said: “The long-term aim is for Blue Communities to provide leadership in the development of sustainable coastal communities.”
So things are changing quickly here, but change always brings complications. Jolly said: “Very few people understand what sustainability means.”
“The primary aim of sustainability is reducing emissions. For example, by changing from electricity to gas domestically, it is an immediate 50 per cent drop. The key thing is to introduce a benchmark. Leed (the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, developed by the US Green Building Council) is what everyone is adopting. We now get requests for advice and help on Leed from clients every day in Dubai.”
Changes can be small and commonsense. For example, designing a building beside water in such a way that it casts a shadow over the water for the biggest possible part of the day, naturally cooling it down for use in the cooling system.
Both men believe it is only a matter of time before such clear thinking is commonplace. Brougham said: “We are not pushing at an open door yet, but attitudes are changing.”
And Jolly, who saw carbon emissions being discussed on UK TV soap Coronation Street recently, added: “That is what we need, so that it is an everyday subject in normal conversations. Then you know change is happening.”
Step in the right direction
The UAE has signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which sets global targets for the reduction of so-called greenhouse gases, the emissions that are thought to cause climate change. Famously, the United States never signed.
The International Panel on Climate Change has concluded that humans are affecting climate, and a 5.2 per cent drop in carbon emissions is required from everyone.
Each country has specific targets: in the UK it is a 12.5 per cent reduction (although internally the government has set a 20 per cent target).
The UAE is classified as a developing country so has no target. On February 16, 2005, the requirement to cut emissions entered International Law. Because of that, each country’s target has become legally binding.
Developing countries, however, are not bound by law as they have no targets. Other countries use tax incentives to persuade developers that going green is worth their while.
In a tax-free country such as the UAE, such a carrot-and-stick
approach is not possible. So Sheikh Mohammed’s decree last October was considered vital.