How to create more sustainable communities within the UAE
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How to create more sustainable communities within the UAE

How to create more sustainable communities within the UAE

The UAE is home to 869 green-rated buildings, the 14th highest national concentration globally

Gulf Business
Hawazen Esber is CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Communities

Over the previous centuries, humans have been growing the world’s infrastructure, finding new ways to enhance our lives and economy. And whilst we need these innovations to live and function, it’s no secret that man-made structures can leave behind large footprints.

As the world gears up for COP26 and celebrates World Sustainability Day, the race to net zero is a reality.

Governments across the Middle East have announced the first-ever Middle East and North Africa Regional Climate Week, hosted by the UAE and set to take place in February 2022. With governments across the globe taking the lead, sustainable and environmental practices need to become key to any business strategy.

This is an opportunity for all of us to step up our efforts to improve the quality of life amongst communities and cities.

Recent studies show that today 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities, a figure that is projected to increase to over 68 per cent by 2050, reinforcing the critical role residential buildings will play in combating climate change. From innovative construction techniques, additional green spaces, to the use of technology and the overall growth in ‘smart’ buildings, these are the key elements to improve energy efficiency, whilst enhancing customer experience.

In the Middle East, sustainability is a hot topic, with more and more investors opting for homes that satisfy stringent ESG targets and an increasing buyer appetite for sustainable properties. According to recent surveys, the energy efficiency of homes is a ‘very important’ issue in the region, compared to 42 per cent of investors globally.

In the MENA region, cooling is one of the biggest drivers of high consumption rates, with air conditioning alone expected to triple over the next 30 years.

Research by BREEAM in 2016 found that the average CO₂ saving for a BREEAM-assessed building is 22 per cent, while a BREEAM Excellent building is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 33 per cent.

How we live, work and socialise has changed, and as placemakers, we must continue to shift our thinking to meet those evolving needs, remaining agile in seizing opportunities to repurpose space. In today’s world, it is essential to create spaces where homeowners find themselves in the healthiest and most productive environment possible.

When we, as a customer buy a product, sign up for a service or use specific tools, we expect them to help us achieve our goal. There is no difference when people purchase their own homes, they want elements around them to enable frictionless experiences while contributing to a greener future. Technology, including smart buildings, robotic process automation, AI, and the internet of things (IoT), will play an instrumental role in advancing the industry and taking the next step towards a more sustainable future. From sensors, thermostats, alarms, and lighting, PropTech allows us to incorporate a responsible element into developments, with the end goal to build a sustainable environment.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 44 countries have made net zero pledges or proposals to date, accounting for 73 per cent of global CO2 emissions. The UAE is home to 869 green-rated buildings, the 14th highest national concentration globally. But to reach net zero indefinitely, we need to start eliminating emissions from the construction, to the operational stage and throughout the building’s lifespan, across all developments.

From innovative materials, design practices and construction technologies, it’s about improving an industry that fuels the economy and has an opportunity to make a real change. The demand for green communities is on the rise, and certifications such as GRESB, BREEAM, and LEED are the first step towards a more sustainable future.

We need to remember that humans have five senses – taste, smell, touch, sight and sound – those are the elements that create a holistic experience and immediately stimulate an emotional response. The most successful designs are usually those that engage more than one sense: These spaces create the best experience and become the most memorable.

Parks, green spaces, and shared facilities are not only an essential part of sustainable community development — but they are also foundational to people’s well-being and growth. When designing the landscape and shared facilities, we have three main goals, capturing the beauty of nature, driving sustainable innovations and recognising the potential for healthy living. By integrating walkable neighbourhoods, parks, and open green spaces within the communities, we aim to draw people outside and promote social interactions. If properly designed and developed, green spaces also deliver multiple ecosystem services, making urban areas more resilient to climate challenges and contributing to the transition to low carbon and a more sustainable environment.

Hawazen Esber is CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Communities

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