Sustainable Real Estate Development: Insights from Sobha Realty's MD

Francis Alfred provides an innovative and forward-thinking approach to real estate development in this interview.
Megha S Anthony | UAE | Real Estate

Meet Francis Alfred, the Managing Director of the dynamic real estate development company, Sobha Realty. He has amassed over 17 years of experience in the industry, making him a seasoned professional with an unmatched perspective. In this interview, REM Times gets to explore Francis’ approach to managing real estate projects and delve into his philosophy on sustainable development practices in the industry.

This candid conversation provides insights into how real estate companies can ensure that sustainability remains at the forefront of their operations and decision-making processes. The interview also explores the financial and environmental benefits of implementing sustainable development practices in real estate management.

Read on to be inspired by Francis Alfred's innovative and forward-thinking approach to real estate development!

Excerpts From The Interview:

1. What are some key sustainable development practices that Sobha implements?

Sobha Realty has a strong commitment to sustainability, which is evident in our philosophy, masterplans, and developments. Our approach to environmental and social metrics such as energy, water, waste, wellness, community development, climate resilience, and open spaces is comprehensive and inclusive, beginning with the conceptual phase and continuing through to implementation. Our holistic approach is integrated throughout our organization, from leadership to field personnel. For example, our streets are shaded with trees, and wider roads have an additional row of trees at the medians that reduces the heat island effect to a great extent. Our landscaping incorporates a mix of local and adaptive species and employs high-efficiency drip irrigation technique using treated water.

The design of our buildings is deeply ingrained with sustainability in mind, reducing demand for energy and water and resulting in reduced utility bills for residents. Our construction phase incorporates sustainable practices, materials, and technologies to reduce embodied carbon to produce truly efficient buildings. This includes habitat protection, waste minimization, and construction waste recycling. Similarly, our in-house facilities management (FM) arm ensures that the buildings are operated in an efficient manner by utilizing advanced technology, innovation, real-time monitoring, and circularity principles. We also embrace renewable energy by using a mix of solar PV panels to offset some of the electrical demand for water heating. We are conscious of the environmental benefits of green mobility and encourage it within the master community by providing suitable infrastructure.

Sobha Realty is dedicated to supporting UAE's net-zero strategic initiative 2050 and actively engages with the supply chain to promote sustainability in this crucial sector. In 2022, we voluntarily published an Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) report, demonstrating our commitment to transparency and accountability. It was a moment of pride for Sobha Realty to be one of the first real estate developers in UAE to pledge to support the UAE government in reaching its net zero targets by 2050. The real estate sector has an immense role to play in the energy transition and we as responsible developer strive to instill sustainability across our portfolio with active partnerships and engagements with the Ministry of climate change and environment (MOCCAE). Looking ahead, we plan to establish our greenhouse gas baseline and work on a comprehensive sustainability roadmap that includes a time-bound emission reduction program. This will be a fundamental part of our sustainability efforts.

2. How can real estate companies ensure that sustainability remains a priority in their operations and decision-making processes?

To ensure that sustainability remains a priority in their operations and decision-making processes, real estate companies in the UAE can adopt various strategies. One of the most effective ways is to align their developments with international sustainable building standards which are aimed at promoting sustainable design, construction, and operating practices. For example, companies can comply and further attempt to go beyond Dubai's Green Building Regulations and Abu Dhabi's Estidama Pearl Rating System, which lay down guidelines for sustainable design, construction, and operation of buildings.

Moreover, real estate companies can focus on improving the sustainability of their operating buildings by adopting best practices and developing strategies to enhance efficiencies in energy, water, and waste management. Benchmarking is also an important driver in identifying areas where resources consumption can be reduced and optimized. The construction sector is increasingly focusing on strategic development methods to meet the growing demand for sustainable and efficient buildings. The UAE's 2050 Vision initiative, which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, is another significant factor that real estate companies need to consider when prioritizing sustainability. The UAE is the first nation in the Middle East and North Africa region to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050, and achieving this goal will require significant efforts from all sectors, including real estate. To support this vision, the UAE has been adopting sustainable construction practices in line with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

3. What are some benefits of implementing sustainable development practices in real estate management, both in terms of financial returns and environmental impact?

The benefits are enormous. Sustainability directly impacts the bottom line in a positive way by bringing in savings in the operational costs. A well performing sustainable building has a lower energy, water and waste footprint compared to any other business as usual building. In addition, research has indeed shown that in mature markets, sustainable certified buildings tend to have higher property values, attract premium rents, enjoy higher occupancy, and provide better financial returns for the investors.

Needless to mention sustainable development has a humongous positive impact on the environment. Implementing sustainable development practices in real estate management can bring numerous benefits in terms of financial returns and environmental impact. One of the most significant benefits is the reduction of operational costs related to energy consumption. Sustainable buildings can significantly reduce energy and water consumption, leading to lower utility bills and maintenance costs. Additionally, green buildings tend to have higher property values, attract premium rents, and have higher occupancy rates, providing better financial returns for investors.

Another advantage of sustainable development practices is the positive impact on the environment. Sustainable buildings reduce carbon emissions and contribute to mitigating climate change. For example, the use of solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, and the latest HVAC systems can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Sustainable development practices also promote resource conservation, such as water, by integrating technologies like rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling. In addition to financial and environmental benefits, sustainable development practices can also enhance the reputation of real estate companies. Consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues and are more likely to support businesses that prioritize sustainability. By implementing sustainable development practices, real estate companies can attract environmentally conscious consumers, improve their reputation, and gain a competitive edge in the market.

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