Dubai enters green chapter

greenoffice

While sustainability has been a buzzword for the design industry for more than a few years, it seems that Dubai is taking a more sincere step forward. Find out what industry insiders had to say.

As the UAE government pushes toward sustainability with initiatives such as the Dubai Green Building Codes and project Green Building, green design is no longer regarded as a bonus point, but rather a requirement.

Marcos Bish, managing director of Summertown Interiors, explains: “In addition to government initiatives, public pressure and employee expectations are pushing big businesses to think green.

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“Today, ‘Millennials’ or ‘Gen Y’ constitute approximately 36% of the workforce and are predicted to comprise 75% by 2025. Gen Y have grown up acutely aware of the environment and the need to protect it—for them ‘green’ features such as recycling bins or energy efficient lighting are expected as a given.”

Ross Jackson, general manager Middle East and North Africa for Delta Faucet, agrees with Bish, but expands on the notion that younger generations are more conscientious of environmental responsibilities and reels in the effect of the Expo 2020 win.

According to Jackson, Dubai will require immense infrastructure investment leading up to 2020. He explains: “The emirate is expected to invest over $8.1bn in new infrastructure in order to host Expo 2020. This growth coupled with the fact that the region and the UAE could face water shortages will undoubtedly drive growth of the sustainable products industry.”

When it comes to sustainable design, a key factor to keep in mind is maintaining the health and well-being of those using the space. Creating interiors that use natural light and apply alternative methods for retaining clean air are some of the best ways to distinguish quality sustainable work.

K. Kumar V.K, managing director of The Green Office Company, explains: “Sustainable office design is partly about using sustainable materials, [such as] timber from sustainable forests or recycled plastics, but it’s also about exploiting natural daylight and air, using energy efficient technology and choosing materials that don’t emit high levels of carbon dioxide or volatile chemicals.”

Currently, major trends in sustainable design involve vertical gardens, open terraces, break-out areas and the clever use of recycled material.

Vertical gardens are being preferred over the occasional plant, says V.K. “Indoor gardens are getting integrated into the interior design of the offices with entire walls dedicated to vertical gardens. The odd pot plant here and there will be from days gone by and instead large expanses of greenery will clear the air of toxins with ease, [while] offering a spectacular view right within your office.”

This visual break, according to Bish, stimulates the mental alertness of employees in addition to offering a scenic view.

While vertical gardens are noteworthy, organic carpets are also taking centre stage. Steven Pratt, regional director Middle East at Interface, describes his company’s inventive use of recycled fishing net in Interface’s carpet tiles. The program, known as Net-Works, aims to improve the lives of local fishers while simultaneously providing Interface with a new source of repurposed materials.

“Net-Works has established a community-based supply chain for discarded nets that are then sent to our supplier partner Aquafil to be recycled into yarn. The nylon in the collected fishing nets are recycled directly back into our carpet tiles, which helps us reduce our use of virgin raw materials, and critically, creates livelihood opportunities for local communities.

“One of the resultant products, Net Effect has now been launched and we are beginning to see increased interest not only in the product but also in raising awareness of the collaboration and the real issue of discarded fishing nets in coastal communities.”

While certain trends are up and going in the region’s design industry, the challenges that have long been faced continue to persist. Such challenges like the certification process, access to sustainable materials, budgeting and social awareness create barriers for designers that are difficult to overcome.

Obtaining a ‘green’ label from the government, as well as recognition from the community, no doubt bare positive effects; however, achieving official certifications can cause financial concerns. While V.K notes the overall positive effect of certifying a project as sustainable, he notes that “the green building certification process remains a huge barrier for many businesses seeking to incorporate green building in their sustainability strategies.”

He also adds: “While budgeting certainly needs to be done, certification itself can add to construction costs while promising to cut other expenses. The additional costs of hefty certification fees and the soft costs of consultants and other hires leave little room in the budget for improving a building’s sustainability performance post-certification.”

Regional companies like The Green Office Company are also struggling to meet sustainability levels that are chiefly developed for other regions, and call for certain practices that are more practical in other environments. In addition to meeting international standards that don’t entirely apply to the GCC or Middle East, V.K. notes that the lack of sustainable materials is an additional hurdle.

He says: “Frustration over costs, building limitations and impracticalities of requirements consequently cause some businesses to throw their facilities to the wayside with regard to certifications. In this regard, it is important to provide options for the stake holders to decide the ‘level [or] shade of green’ required, rather than not being green at all.”

V.K makes a sound point—in the nature of a capitalist system, supply must meet demand. And with the world’s eyes on Dubai, meeting sustainability standards and maturing green design initiatives no longer seem to be a choice. A green building, regardless of how ‘green’ it is, is more desirable in today’s market than a building that doesn’t have any environmentally friendly facilities.

As Bish acutely points out, clients today have to think about the “triple bottom line” which refers to people, planet and profit.

Bish adds: “A green fit-out costs only marginally more than one that is not—3% for a project that is certified at a lower level [and] up to 20% increase for the higher rating. However, ‘going green’ delivers major benefits in the long run due to operational cost savings for the building’s occupants.

“Building owners also see the benefit as the real estate value for a green building is higher than a conventional building. We estimate that ROI for a green project is between one and eight years, depending on size and scale.”

While clients aren’t completely happy with the initial big payments, it seems many are coming around and trusting the idea of a long-term return profit.

According to Jackson, Delta Faucet Company has seen an increase in demand from customers who are “looking to increase efficiency in their homes, whilst enjoying maximum performance when it comes to their products.” He also adds that individuals and businesses are beginning to follow the notion of spending now to save later.

While the UAE government has implemented a number of green initiatives, the industry still needs to enhance the end-user perception.

Pratt concludes: “Awareness of sustainability issues isn’t very high in the GCC, especially with local companies and organisations. We’ve got to change the way they think and get them to start demanding more sustainable choices from their suppliers.

“We are completely driven by our goal to eliminate any negative impact our company may have had on the environment and [we] fervently hope that other businesses operating in the GCC will follow suit and explore sustainable options.”

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