Dr. Anas Bataw, Director, CESC, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, sheds light on the new and innovative initiatives that can help create greener communities
Nearly 80 percent of the energy generated globally comes from fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas. As a result of this extensive usage of fossil fuels, pollution has become an increasing threat globally. It has affected the environment negatively, such as an increase in greenhouse gasses and the ecological disasters potentially associated with oil spills and strip mining. The environmental damage caused by fossil fuels will have a lasting impact spanning decades and centuries.
A recent report by the World Bank has predicted that over 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people could be pushed into poverty if adequate steps are not taken to address the impacts of climate change and that rising temperatures could also make some parts of the world inhospitable by the end of the 21st Century.
While the solution is not one-fold, globally, green communities are gaining significant importance and are visibly showcasing the ability to support the environment positively. Simply put, green communities implement environmentally friendly practices to meet the needs of its inhabitants. For example, green communities may feature facilities made and insulated with recycled or biodegradable materials, 15-minute cities, community gardens, recycling plants and active composting options, vertical gardens, in case of lack of space, hydroponics, and conscious consideration of environmentally-friendly products.
Developing sustainable communities should be part of governmental agendas to combat the harmful effects of increased carbon emissions. For example, in the United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi launched the Environment Vision 2030 which aims to minimise the impact of climate change, conservation of biodiversity and waste management as its priority among others. Additionally, Dubai’s Vision 2030 seeks to establish the city as a knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-centric global hub. Looking at neighbouring countries, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 also has sustainability at the heart of everything. The country aims to creatively and responsibly address energy and climate issues.
The built environment encompassing the construction industry is one of the key elements of achieving greener communities. However, the existing carbon footprint of the sector is high. Furthermore, the leading source of emissions comes from operating and using existing buildings rather than their construction. A report by McKinsey showcases that this contributes 69 per cent of total emissions along the construction value chain. Additionally, the past few years have been phenomenal for the construction industry. An upward trend in growth has meant that the industry needed to keep up with the demands. According to the latest statistics, the UAE construction market is expected to reach a value of USD 133.53 billion by 2027, registering a CAGR of 4.69 per cent over the forecast period (2022-2027). This has put an increased strain on the industry to relook at its sustainability agenda and incorporate rigorous solutions to support emission control.
This raises the question of green buildings and the effect infrastructures can have on the environment if built sustainably. Green building involves different stages of the structure include its planning, followed by design, the actual construction, operations and maintenance and the handling of the end of the lifecycle. Likewise, it will also consider key elements such as energy, water, indoor environmental quality, materials selection and usage, and location. Green buildings and green communities cut landfill waste, facilitate alternative transportation use and encourage retention and creation of vegetated land areas and roofs. Furthermore, the urban environment, be it in developed or developing countries, needs to preserve nature, including the wildlife, and ensure that land quality is protected and enhanced.
Moreover, certifications for buildings can recognise how a structure contributes to the environment, positively or negatively. For example, LEED-certified buildings, provide the means to reduce the climate impacts of buildings and their inhabitants.
Adapting to the changing climate, ensuring resilience to events such as flooding, earthquakes or fires so that buildings stand the test of time and keep people and their belongings safe. Designing flexible and dynamic spaces, anticipating changes in their use over time, and avoiding the need to demolish, rebuild or significantly renovate buildings to prevent them becoming obsolete.
Furthermore, tenants can also play a significant role in supporting these green initiatives, beginning with improving energy efficiency by making small changes around the home. For example, switching lights to energy efficient fixtures, reducing the usage of heating devices through conscious usage, ensuring the refrigerator is not overloaded as blocked airflow reduces its energy efficiency. Unplugging devices when not in use, using natural lighting as much as possible and incorporating air purifying plants indoors. Additionally, tenants can urge the building management to use efficient lighting in common areas, specifically ones that switch on upon movement detection.
While the world still has a long way to go in implementing greener choices, how communities behave and evolve will significantly increase the chances of widespread and quicker adoption of environmentally positive changes. Long-term understanding and usage of such strategies can substantially reduce the carbon footprint of buildings and occupants beyond energy efficiency alone. Green buildings and extended green communities can be an active part of the solution in fighting climate change.
(About the Author: Dr. Anas Bataw, is the Director of Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) at Heriot-Watt University Dubai)