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Explainer: How can the construction sector ensure the new normal is green?

Explainer: How can the construction sector ensure the new normal is green?

Sustainable policies and awareness will help build a better future, opines Ali Al Jassim, chairman of Emirates Green Building Council

What are the current challenges to sustainable construction in the GCC region?
Changing behaviour and set patterns are always a challenge – and this is applicable to any sector. Across the region, discussions on sustainably built environments have gained momentum only in the past decade. There is still a perception that green buildings are costlier and changing this will take concerted efforts and time. The need to shift human behaviour towards more sustainable practices is another challenge, given that the common response – especially in harsh weather such as in the region – is to resort to the overuse of air conditioning.

Even small measures, such as setting the temperature at an optimal 24 degree Celsius, helps in achieving higher levels of energy efficiency, but such steps need concerted awareness.

The United Nations has projected that by 2050, 68 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. How significant is it to adopt green building practices?
Green building practices are significant, as highlighted in the UN SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. There are various reports that highlight the urgent need for green buildings around the world. Green buildings can not only reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment, by using less water, energy or natural resources, but they can – in many cases – have a positive impact on the environment (at the building or city scale) by generating their own energy or increasing biodiversity. It is important to note that green buildings do not only consider energy efficiency but other aspects such as resource efficiency (water, materials, waste), indoor environmental quality (air quality, lighting, noise, thermal comfort), health and wellness (ergonomics, biophilia) and accessibility and connectivity (transportation and walkability).

What are the key enablers that foster the green building sector?
There are several enablers that help in advancing the green building industry. These depend on the objectives of the stakeholder within the industry chain, such as long-term financial savings, having the ability to address climate change and gaining trust of the various stakeholders. Buildings represent a major opportunity in addressing global climate emissions. For government authorities, the green building industry offers several opportunities in meeting not only local targets and strategies, but also meeting international commitments.

How is the Emirates Green Building Council fostering sustainability regionally?
We foster sustainable development through a comprehensive and integrated approach. In addition to strengthening awareness about green buildings, we also encourage our members and the community to follow the industry best practices. We have a full calendar of technical trainings and programmes for our stakeholders, which we have been conducting for many years now – helping achieve tangible changes. Last year, we launched our Energy and Water Performance Benchmarking study for hotels, schools and malls in partnership with the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy.

In rebuilding a post Covid-19 world, how can economies ensure that the ‘new normal’ is green?
We are in an unprecedented era. The Covid-19 situation has further underlined the need to act more responsibly. We must build our resilience in order to fight the pandemic and work together to further bolster the economy. There is a huge scope for long term benefits when you look at sustainability.

While Covid-19 has stressed several economies across the globe, it has also presented opportunities in moving towards a stronger future. For instance, research has shown that global emissions from surface transport fell by 36 per cent and by 60 per cent for the aviation industry.

Going green in the construction sector has many benefits such as financial savings, increased trust within the investor and stakeholder community including the general public. We must repeatedly ensure to send out the right kind of message to private players in the construction industry, highlight the benefits to make sure that the ‘new normal’ is green and ensure that the policies are in line with our larger sustainability.

We need to ensure the model of produce-use-reuse to support a circular and eco-friendly economy. Organisations, be it public or private, shall be seen as more trustworthy once the general public witnesses the benefits of going green.

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