Building a Greener MENA

This month, green building council leaders from Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE came together for the first time at Arabian Construction Week, Abu Dhabi, to compare strategies for sustainable design and construction in MENA

Presidency of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME), The Jordan Green Building Council, Egyptian Green Building Council, Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development

When was the council established?


Sultan Faden: The official approval was given in late 2008 by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME), since then we have been working on the registration of the Saudi Green Building Council (SGBC).


Mohammad Asfour: We surveyed 200 people, of which 65% believed it was important to introduce a green building concept to Jordan. So we worked with universities to host a number of workshops locally to raise awareness and received more interest than expected. The Jordan Green Building Council (JGBC) was officially launched in March.


Hussein Moussa: We had our first meeting in June 2008, before then there were no green-building initiatives running in Qatar.


Ayman Mossallam: The Egyptian Green Building Council (EGBC) was established in 2009.


Jeff Willis: The Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) was formed in 2006 to advance green-building principles to protect the environment and increase sustainability in the UAE.


What is the council’s main role and what are its key targets?


Faden: The mission of the SGBC is to facilitate and promote the design and construction of sustainable buildings, raising awareness about climate change and environmental concerns, and offering support to policymakers and professionals.


This is done by providing guidance and assistance for the development of green practices in both new and existing architectural and urban undertakings.


The SGBC is established to help Saudi Arabia transform its rapid economic growth into a model of sustainability, developing a sustainable construction industry and driving the implementation of green practices.


Moussa: There was a race to build Qatar within two years and today many of the buildings cannot be considered green, there wasn’t much attention paid to efficiency and many are unoccupied.


The aim of the council is to provide leadership collaboration in green design and buildings. The council’s supported by a state decree and fostered by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.


Mossallam: Our vision is to provide a mechanism to encourage building investors to adopt Egypt’s Building Energy Efficiency Codes (BEECs), which were launched in the country around eight years ago.


The problem in Egypt is that people need to be housed so we’re building ‘eco-villages’ and communities. The government is funding 400 new villages for 10,000 inhabitants, creating jobs and investment opportunities.So the council is embedding a green philosophy in the development of national projects by educating contractors and suppliers. This has been made easier by the fact that the council’s chair is the Minister of the Urban Planning Council for Egypt.


Willis: The Emirates Green Building Council is actively supporting the UAE so it can eventually become one of five world leaders in helping to reduce the ecological footprint of the building environment by 2015.


How does the council intend to meet its goals of increasing sustainability in construction and design?


Faden: As the first council of its kind in Saudi Arabia, the SGBC will work with government officials and industry professionals to develop various policies and identify educational opportunities through conferences, expos and marketing materials.


Council programmes will be consensus-driven, committee-based and member-driven.


Mossallam: We are approaching sustainability in a new way that tackles Egypt’s unique issues and imposing a new philosophy. In our rating system, the highest attainable level of sustainability is not gold, it’s green.


How proactive have government and industry been in helping you to achieve these goals?


Faden: The Saudi government has been excellent and has offered us more support than we expected. We are mainly working with the government through establishing strategic partnerships. But in the future, we would like to see more serious actions taken towards encouraging sustainable development.


The response from industry [to sustainability] in KSA has not been as good as expected, but we have had some interest from the more professional individuals and organisations. We believe the poor response has been mainly due to low levels of sustainability awareness and the impact of the financial crisis in 2009, although most Saudi projects implemented over the past two years have been governmental.


How many members does the green building council have?


Faden: We have four founding members. Annual membership will be activated as soon as we finish registration.


Asfour: We have more than 125 members comprising mainly individuals that represent large organisations. We’re soon to launch a new scheme to encourage more corporations to come onboard.


Mossallam: We have a growing number of members that includes individuals, companies and government ministers.


How do you encourage companies demonstrating best practice to share knowledge rather than keeping it as a commercial point of difference?


Willis: It’s not about giving away secrets. If we don’t share knowledge we won’t be able to move forward.

Moussa: It all starts with education.


Do you maintain consistency between the roles of the region’s green building councils?


Moussa: We all have common goals; mainly to raise awareness and preserve our culture and heritage, but Qatar has different needs to other countries.


Asfour: Culture affects the way each council is governed and organised. We see the council as a watchdog organisation. But we share the common goal of incorporating green concepts into a built environment.


Are there certain steps that can be taken to construct a green building?


Asfour: Not all green buildings have to be certified, but there are three levels of sustainability to reach: One; buildings must incorporate minimum energy and water use, which can be achieved by adhering to building codes. Two; government should intervene to support energy and water programmes. Three; voluntary rating systems should be available for those who want to go that extra mile and be innovative.


Mossallam: The expression ‘green building’ is limiting; we should say ‘green societies’, and this incorporates roads, bridges and so on. A green building is a concept liked by the user. New villages and low-income houses are required in Egypt and these can be built sustainably through education.


Can you summarise the main obstacles to achieving the council’s sustainability goals?


Faden: Low levels of sustainability awareness, imposing regulation, encouraging self interest and the negative impact of the financial downturn are all hurdles in achieving the Saudi Green Building Council’s goals.


What accreditation should individuals seek and should there be one internationally-recognised rating system that suits all?


Willis: The council should offer people overall guidance. Often people don’t know the difference between the rating systems, but this doesn’t matter too much as using any will increase performance. However, you can’t have one standard worldwide. This will lead to regulations becoming the same and eventually the buildings will look the same. I expect there will be many different rating systems for some time.


Mossallam: It is good to have regional systems. Eventually I’d like to see a Middle East green building council, or perhaps instead there could be clustered councils established between some countries, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia for example.


Moussa: A rating system is an independent third party that lets you know how well you’re doing. LEED is a good system, but is it the best for the region? Breeam Gulf is more applicable to the region in how it is applied. In Qatar there was a Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) developed by a private company, but there shouldn’t be a focus on one system – they’re all saying very much the same thing.


If the systems are giving the same guidance, is the choice of ratings systems becoming too diverse?


Moussa: There is not too much diversity, but by not supporting one system we allow the developer to decide. Even if the building is certified as LEED Platinum, for example, it may not be considered this sustainable 10 years later.


Asfour: It is a free market that’s evolving with different systems being launched.


We’re trying to combine leading rating systems to produce a local system. In Jordan, our engineers come from 35 countries so it’s in our interest to have a system that can work anywhere in the world. That’s why we’ve been working with LEED, but we have also be looking at Breeam Gulf.


You must find the common ground between the systems.


Willis: If you’ve been properly educated in sustainable processes, it doesn’t matter what rating system you use. If you don’t have the training, you can make a mess of any system.


Last year, the Saudi Green Building Council announced it would develop its ‘own version’ of LEED guidelines, is this still in progress?


Faden: Taking into account the large landmass of Saudi Arabia and hence the many construction works there, we are still in the early days of formulating the mentioned Saudi rating system. In the meantime, we would encourage adopting official rating systems demonstrated around the world.


Furthermore, the past few months have allowed us to carefully explore the steps needed in our quest. Our current priority is to increase awareness about green life in general and green building initiatives in particular.


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