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How Green are we?

While industry stakeholders admit there’s been considerable transformation in the region, the path to sustainability, they say, though paved with the right intentions, is not without obstacles.

| | May 10, 2015 | 3:18 pm
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Much hope has been pinned on the Paris conference, what with experts claiming that the existing treaty – the Kyoto Protocol – and the efforts in support of it, lack teeth. In this atmosphere of heightened green activity and expectation, it is pertinent to look at how the GCC region is faring with its environmental goals, and whether or not multiple stakeholders are pulling their weight. It is important; hence, we have chosen to ask the question, “How green are we?”

In a world filled with rampant cynicism, it is easy to be dismissive about green credentials and milestones achieved. In that context, Dubai-based green evangelist, Sougata Nandi is hearteningly positive in his assessment of the UAE’s sustainable development achievements. “The progress in the UAE has been much faster than in any other country, even in the US,” Nandi says. “The way LEED certification and Green Building certification, in general, have picked up in the UAE – it’s much faster. So yes, we are definitely greener now, certainly greener than we were 10 or five years ago.”

Ulysses Papadopoulos, the Founder and Managing Partner of GreenEmirates Consultants, and Satish Adurkar, the CEO for UAE Operations at Energy Automation JLT, agree with Nandi’s assessment. Adurkar says he has noticed a lot of talk about green and sustainability, especially in the last two years. And Papadopoulos says he has no doubts the country is progressing in its green goals. “We’re not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, because we are classified as a developing country,” he says. “But all the stakeholders are conscious of the need to go green, of the need to reduce the country’s footprint.”

A regional effort


Erick MelquiondWe’ve got a long way to go, but that means we can pursue a lot of serious improvements. The positive thing is that, nowadays, financial investors and large firms are starting to take into account whether a building is really green or not. Today, there are KPIs that rate buildings differently, and Green Buildings with low maintenance and operating costs are pushing the values up to somewhere between eight and 15%.

– Erick Melquiond, President of Eurovent Certita Certification

Mohammed Khaja

More and more suppliers are getting the message across the board that we need to develop and design green. Since HVAC systems consume more power than any other equipment in the region, HVAC manufacturers, in particular, are working towards making more efficient and sustainable requirements available on the market.

– Mohammed Khaja, Product Leader (Unitary Systems), Trane 

Nandi, Adurkar and Papadopoulos are not alone in their views. The general consensus of the industry is that the green movement is heading in the right direction – and it’s not just in the UAE but also in the other countries in the GCC region. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is the site of the largest LEED Platinum project in the world, in the form of the King Abdulla University of Science and Technology. Bahrain is carrying out measures to make its government buildings efficient, including the installing of thermal insulation on windows and switching from fluorescent to LED lighting. Oman is adopting energy-conservation solutions and Green Building concepts. In the words of Gella Bharat, Lead HVAC Engineer at Tebodin & Partner, the industry in Oman is trying to adopt solutions that can help save energy and reduce power consumption.

And Kuwait, says Jalal Zaitouni, the General Manager of OThree Electrical and Electronics, is on it, as well. “In Kuwait, where we import our products, the Ministry of Public Works has very strict regulations,” he says. In Zaitouni’s view, all the GCC countries are pitching in. I think we’re in the beginning, but the region has GSO (GCC Standardization Organization) as well as the Qatar-based GORD (Gulf Organization for Research and Development), and each of the countries has its own organisations. They’re all working on it, on getting us there.”

The enablers

One reason behind the UAE’s rather speedy progress is its size, says Nandi, pointing out: “The UAE is a small country, so any change can be made and felt very quickly. I have seen the transformation begin slowly and then speed up. There are more initiatives happening now than what we were originally taught in terms of green. We have developers who are voluntarily going green and FM companies who are doing green facility management. We have Dubai doing Renewable Energy big time – 100-megawatt and 200-megawatt plans. In fact, they’re not only plans; they’re in the process of execution.”

Papadopoulos credits the UAE’s enabling environment as a factor behind the country’s progress in its green goals, elaborating: “We have the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030. And the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence has launched its Green Jobs programme. In Abu Dhabi, ADEC is working towards making schools efficient. They’re all massive enablers.”

The UAE is covered in terms of regulations, as well, observes Adurkar. “The regulations are there, and they are effective,” he says. “DEWA and Dubai Municipality’s Green Building Regulations and Specifications are comprehensive and a good start. And Estidama has implemented its Pearl Rating System, which is even more comprehensive, because it covers three phases of the building process: pre-construction or design, construction and post-construction.”

Sarfraz Dairkee, the Secretary of the Board at the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC), agrees with Adurkar on the effectiveness of regulations… of a framework. “When we (the EGBC) started out in 2006, things were very different,” he recalls. “I remember talking about Green Buildings and not having many takers. But the day it became a mandate that every building in Dubai has to be green, a change was felt overnight. The entire industry was suddenly talking about building green.”

The scene is similar in Bahrain when it comes to a green framework. The country has its Economic Vision 2030 and the National Strategic Master Plan 2030. Qatar is guided by its National Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia, through the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME), in 2014 issued a decree giving companies five years to meet ecological benchmarks. In Kuwait, the government is encouraging public involvement in its ecological programmes by way of its online environment portals, like Beatona. And Oman, Bharat says, has released directives through its Green Building Council, which act as a framework for consultants to “contribute to the green revolution”.

In the right direction

The confidence Adurkar et al have expressed in the initiatives of governing bodies and where they are taking the region is echoed in policymakers’ assessment of where the region is with regards to its green targets.

Rankings to think about

  • According to the Living Planet Report, published in 2014 by WWF, based on 2010 data, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are the world’s top three countries with the highest per capita ecological footprint.
  • Again based on 2010 data, the World Bank ranks the six GCC countries in the top 15 with the highest carbon emissions (metric tonnes per capita). Qatar has the top spot, while Kuwait is third on the list.
  • In the USGBC’s 2014 list of the top 10 countries for LEED outside the US, the UAE is ranked ninth, with 1.82 million LEED-certified gross square metres of space.

“We are in very good shape,” Faisal Ali Rashid, the Director of Demand Side Management (DSM) at the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, says of the emirate. “Green Building codes were enforced in 2010 for public buildings and in 2014 for the rest of the community. We have already completed many buildings that are in compliance with those codes. As I speak today, based on the permits we have, the emirate has more than 300 units that are in compliance – around, maybe, 25 million square feet that can be described as green.”

Rashid says it is through comparisons that the government develops its KPIs. “We calculate how much green footprint we have in Dubai and compare that with businesses and activities that are not green,” he says. “That is how we calculate our savings. And we have various programmes, each with its own KPI.” One of the programmes is focused on retrofitting existing buildings. The Supreme Council has already started working on some retrofitting projects with Etihad Esco, which was created as an enabler to help push the market.

The priority at the moment when it comes to retrofitting, Rashid says, is public buildings. “They are old and inefficient, and they represent 10% of the overall consumption, around 3.2 kWh,” he says. “In terms of progress, many MoUs have been signed between Etihad and government entities. So, year by year, we will have more efficient buildings through retrofit and through the Green Building codes.” And then, there’s District Cooling, which Rashid says, Dubai is looking to increase the penetration of.

Stop signs and roadblocks

Despite the positive change he has witnessed, Dairkee believes that a bigger transformation has to take place for the region to truly achieve its goals. “If we talk about the entire HVAC industry, the biggest challenge I see is application engineering,” he says. “Most sell products, not solutions. And when we talk about Green Building and sustainability, the biggest hurdle is product or brand mentality. VRF, for example, is a product. The solution lies in the answer to the question: Why is it needed? To get to the right answers, you must first ask the right questions.”

Identifying the right questions, Dairkee adds, could bring clarity to what the real objective is behind the region’s aspirations for greenness. “The culture of societies is not changed in days or months. It takes generations. Yes, there’s been a big transformation and an accelerated pace of awareness, but that awareness has to go from a ritual level to the understanding level, from mere imitation to adaptation. With imitation, you blindly follow. How can there be consistency in that? But with adaptation, you get to the subtlety of things, and that could bring about a fundamental change.”

Dairkee is not the only one who thinks there’s a need to change society’s mindset. Nandi expresses the same, saying: “What we have to do is change society, not just people. We have to have the right curriculum, so that the young people graduating would already be sensitised. We need to have the infrastructure in place, so by default people would be using that infrastructure.”

Illustrating his point, Sougata recounts: “Before Dubai Metro, people said that we can’t have the infrastructure, primarily because of the migrant population. But today, we have a fantastic Dubai Metro. Is the usage fluctuating because the expats are coming? No. There are more people coming, and because the Metro is there, people are using it by default. Similarly, if people had recycling stations on every street, they would be using them.”

Aiming for social change, Nandi claims, can put to rest concerns over the impact an expat-heavy population can have on the region and people’s commitment to attaining sustainability. “Any city that absorbs migrant population has that problem, because to bring everyone on a harmonised platform is not easy,” he says. As a solution, he recommends making society’s greenness visible. “Greenness is all about visibility, because if it is not visible then how will people follow and merge with that society?”

The forks in the path

In addition to an expat population, the harmonisation of the different standards and regulations in the GCC countries is an issue that a number of industry players also consider an ongoing challenge.

For Zakir Ahmed, the Managing Director of NIA Limited (Gree), harmonisation must be achieved to give stakeholders clear targets to aim for, and by harmonisation, he means not only the unification of GCC regulations but also regional alignment with global standards. “I think the GCC authorities are trying to get ahead of the world and setting targets that are not feasible,” he says. “You have to follow certain global centres for research and excellence. The GCC has always followed ASHRAE standards, because the climate conditions in certain parts of North America are similar to that of the Gulf’s. So long as they are following ASHRAE, they’ll do fine, but if they come up with local set-points, it becomes unreasonable, and the industry will not really invest to catch up with this territory.”

Tarek Alsitt, Standards Researcher at GSO, agrees with Ahmed’s view on following global standards but to a certain extent, explaining: “It’s well known that you don’t reinvent the wheel. If there are already standards that meet your requirements, why create a new one? What we do in GSO is take an international standard and decide if it matches our requirements. If yes, we adopt it. If it requires a slight modification, we modify it. Sure, when none meets GSO requirements, we create our own. But, it is better to adopt what’s available out there, because we want to work with the world, not stand alone.”

On the matter of hard-to-reach targets, he clarifies, “When a specific standard asks too much, there’s a reason behind it; but in general, we don’t create tough regulations, unless it’s very important for the environment and for consumer health.”

Alsitt acknowledges that variations in standards can be confusing for stakeholders. “That is what we are trying to reduce,” he says. “For example, we have issued a technical regulation for low-voltage devices that identifies the roles and responsibilities of the manufacturer, the local representatives, the distributor and the importer, and also defines the minimum safety requirements for the product. This technical regulation is going to be implemented in July 2016 and will be applied to the whole region. What we are trying to do is create one regulation, and the product that complies with it can go anywhere in the market – taking into account, of course, national deviations. There are always national deviations, such as different ranges of voltages or frequencies. So, yes, whenever possible, we try to make the regulations uniform. But when there’s no possibility of this, then each country goes with its national standards and regulations.”

In for a long haul

The region still has a long way to go when it comes to green, remarks Adurkar, but stresses that the length of the journey should not be a deterrent and should instead be seen as an opportunity to participate, to find new and better routes. “If you want to create a green region, you must not be stuck in one area or follow only one path, because it is what’s there,” he says. “You plan and innovate.”

Papadopoulos is just as optimistic. “We still have challenges in the industry, but I prefer to think of them as opportunities, because I sense sincerity in people’s keenness to go green,” he says. “And there are so many things we can still do, like promote net-zero buildings here in the Middle East and look into removing oil subsidies to further encourage people to find green solutions.”

In light of his suggestion and his point on opportunities, perhaps “How green are we?” should not be the only question on the table. Perhaps, to keep the region moving towards its destination and motivate everyone to act, contribute and participate more, policymakers and the rest of the stakeholders ought to answer the question, ‘What else can be done to make the region greener?’

After all, as Dairkee put it, to get the right answers, one must ask the right questions. 

A different thinking

Mario SeneviratneThough harmonisation of Green Codes is an issue many industry players regard as a challenge, Mario Seneviratne, Director of Green Technologies, holds a different view. Describing it as a diversion from the main agenda of sustainability, he says: “Why should we put so much effort into harmonising? Do we have harmonised signage or road rules? Do we have harmonised cultures or currencies? What is the benefit over true sustainability? I don’t see the advantage. I mean, if we are well into the implementation of sustainability, then harmonies, and as such it should be our main concern. Focusing on the issue of harmonisation is delaying implementation of critical sustainability issues – regulations, which are essential. What is more essential is focusing on the sharing of data and knowledge and of lessons learned, so that we can accelerate those critical sustainability issues”

Mario adds that, while it is good to have many ideas, we are always time bound and, thus, must know how to prioritise. “We need to bring a different kind of thinking into the industry, because both our time and finances are limited,” he says. “We cannot afford to waste them on distractions and lose the opportunity of developing more sustainable buildings.”

Another issue he regards as a distraction is the persistent hubbub over LEED certification, its credibility and the lack of monitoring to ensure continuous performance. “It’s a pointless discussion,” he says. “Take, for example, a bachelor’s degree. Once somebody earns it, will you expect the university that awarded it to continue monitoring the student after he graduates? No. So why should the USGBC monitor a building once it gets the LEED certification it has earned?” Like a student that has achieved a credential, it is the responsibility of the student – in this case, the building owner – to maintain his or her credential and enhance it. In the world of LEED, this would mean to enroll the project for LEED Existing Building Operation and Maintenance Certification (EBOM) – this is continual development in the real world.


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