Analysis

Creating a road map for green building development

Ibrahim Al Zu’bi, head of sustainability at Majid Al Futtaim Holding, provides an in-depth look at how the retail developer has integrated green building principles across its properties

The environmental impact of buildings and the construction sector is indisputable. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), buildings contribute up to 40% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions and approximately 25% of water consumption. At the same time, construction uses more raw materials globally than any other sector, per statistics released by the World Economic Forum in 2016.

These figures are troublesome at best, especially given the co-existing threats to global resources that climate change poses. The good news is that regulators and key property sector players are becoming increasingly aware of the issue, as demonstrated by the emergence of numerous green building certifications, including LEED, BREEAM and Estidama, in recent years.

In addition to minimising water and energy consumption and waste production, green buildings generate their own energy through on-site renewable sources while taking into consideration their socio-economic contribution to surrounding areas. Essentially, integrating green building principles in property ensures that a development has a favourable impact on customers and tenants – how they shop, how they work and their lifestyle decisions.

For Majid Al Futtaim, this definition has informed the way we operate, and over the years we have attained numerous green building milestones. These include LEED Platinum certification at City Centre Me’aisem and My City Centre Al Barsha, Earth Check certification at 11 of our hotels, LEED Gold at Hilton Garden Inn in Dubai and BREEAM Communities accreditation at Al Zahia – a first for the region.

The benefits of green buildings are not purely environmental. They extend to long-term financial benefits in terms of both income and reduced operating costs. For example, across our assets, our operational portfolio has experienced a reduction in like-for-like energy and water consumption of 139.7 million kw/h and 1.9 million m3 between 2010 and 2015. We have also had an 18% improvement in recycling rates across our hotels and a 17% improvement at our malls, and the installation of LED lighting across our malls is expected to save the business AED 3 million.

To shape our journey of integrating green building principles across our assets, we have established a green building excellence toolkit comprising six key elements. At its core, this toolkit can be adapted and used as a roadmap for green building development.

1. Conduct market research
Prior to setting or reviewing any internal policies, a comprehensive review of international best practices must be conducted to help shape the contents of relevant policies, the procedures that support their implementation, and the manner in which their performance is tracked and monitored.

2. Set and review policies
Policies are the foundation of the green building strategy. Majid Al Futtaim has established five main policies to support our goals in this realm. Each policy is reviewed on an annual basis and updated in accordance with international best practices.

Green Building Policy: Our Green Building Policy sets out a series of objectives for each of our business units to support the development and operation of green buildings. Critically, it sets out our commitment to achieving LEED Gold or equivalent on all new construction projects.

Energy Management Policy: Our Energy Management Policy ensures the application of electricity and water efficiency concepts in design and development, and throughout the operational lifecycle of our properties. It aims to limit and control electricity and water wastage, minimise electricity and water costs, and reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact.

Labour Standards Policy: This policy sets out the standards we apply to our own employee workforce, and which we expect our direct suppliers and contractors to meet – for example those building and operating our assets – to ensure the protection and enhancement of labour standards.

Procurement Policy Framework: The framework sets guiding principles to ensure that all suppliers perform in line with a host of criteria around environmental protection, energy conservation and social considerations.

Green Star Ratings: Majid Al Futtaim’s Green Star Rating system is a market first. It assesses the sustainability credentials of store fit-outs; last year, 343 green star ratings were awarded across our portfolio. All Majid Al Futtaim mall tenants must achieve a minimum of three stars.

3. Establish best practice procedures
Best practices act as how-to guides, to ensure clear ownership and understanding of the way policies should be applied, tracked and interpreted across different asset classes. Examples of key procedures which support Majid Al Futtaim’s green building goals include:

Community Engagement Guidelines: This charter, and the accompanying guidelines, ensures that we consistently maintain an inclusive, engaging approach towards our key stakeholders to understand their needs and develop long-term mutually beneficial relationships in developing and operating our assets.

Sustainability Implementation Plan: This project-based tracker enables us to apply our high-level commitments across all our developments and tailor them to the specific conditions at each site, to ensure meaningful sustainability objectives are delivered for every scheme.

Labour Audits: We conduct regular health and safety audits of the supply chain workers on our construction sites and in our assets, and labour accommodation audits for staff that receive labour accommodation provisions. These audits ensure that all direct suppliers and contractors abide by our Labour Standards Policy, and provide a formal opportunity to collaborate to improve conditions.

4. Communicate goals to key stakeholders
Once a set of policies and procedures is established, it is important to consider how best to communicate them to the wider business. The combination of communication channels used depends on the nature of the policy or procedure being publicised. However, it is important to bear in mind that the continued success of any sustainability campaign relies on the sustainability strategy being relatable and easily communicable.

5. Track performance
Establishing a monitoring process is vital to ensuring that the desired results are delivered against the green building objectives. One means by which Majid Al Futtaim consistently measures performance is via our environmental performance tracking process, which comprises:

Construction Environmental Data: We consistently collect data across all our new construction sites to ensure that we can measure, understand and manage the environmental impact of our developments.

Tracking our socio-economic performance: Twice a year, we audit the accommodation our contractors provide to construction workers, to ensure the accommodation provided meets the requirements stipulated in the Labour Standards Policy.

Tracking Operational Environmental Performance: We collect electricity, gas, water and waste data for 100% of the assets over which we have operational control, the results of which inform our asset-level environmental improvement plans and help us understand the impact of our green building certifications on actual performance.

6. Collate, review and share lessons learned
Taking stock of lessons learned along the way, and building on the findings of performance tracking, is critical to ensuring the best possible return on investments in green buildings.

Developers must make concerted efforts to innovate internally and externally. For example, consider establishing a working group tasked with challenging the business to lead by example and pioneer leading standards. The same working group would support decision-making and demonstrate the business case for green buildings through collating and reviewing lessons learned.

In conclusion
As the economies of the MENA region grow, so will the strain on key resources such as water and energy. This challenge will be further augmented by the region’s climate. More than ever, resource efficiency is critical to long-term sustainability of the MENA. For property development, integrating green building is an effective way of reducing energy consumption, improving water management, reducing waste and attaining financial gains.

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