Rising to the challenge: Our journey to green buildings in the MENA region

Thursday 16th February 2017

 

Anyone who has been to the MENA region will be aware of the unique conditions in this part of the world. Temperatures can reach highs of 50 °C (122 °F) in cities such as Dubai, and water scarcity affects a large proportion of the region. Furthermore, countries in the Middle East such as Oman and the UAE are cited as having some of the highest emissions per capita of anywhere on the planet, due in part to the region’s historical reliance on fossil fuels, but also to the dramatic rate of physical expansion it has experienced over the past 50 years.

In the context of this unique environment, green buildings allow us to find a better balance by delivering high quality buildings that minimise our environmental impact, enhance occupant and visitor well-being and stand the test of time.

The importance of limiting the environmental impact of our buildings cannot be overstated. The climatic conditions in the MENA region mean that creating a comfortable internal air temperature all year round creates a large demand on energy consumption. Furthermore, water consumption puts pressure on rapidly depleting natural water resources or, if sourced from desalination plants, comes with a high embodied energy consumption. The importance of resource efficiency in the MENA region is therefore critical. At Majid Al Futtaim, we have demonstrated how effective green building designs can be. While it is difficult to compare the environmental performance across our properties, it is possible to make some rough comparisons taking into consideration their layout, size, geography and use. With that in mind, we have found that City Centre Mirdif, which attained LEED EBOM (Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance) Gold in 2015, was almost 60% more energy efficient per m2 and 37% more water efficient per visitor in 2015 than our oldest mall City Centre Deira, which is located 14 km to the North-West and does not have a green building certification.

However the benefits of green buildings are not purely environmental. Reduced energy consumption, improved water management, waste reduction, and lower maintenance costs have also come with long-term financial operating cost reductions across Majid Al Futtaim assets. Additionally, research increasingly shows that sustainable features can improve indoor environmental quality, which in turn improves health, well-being and productivity amongst employees, and in the retail sector, encourages customers to spend longer at shopping centres. We intuitively recognise the business case for creating places people where people feel relaxed, healthy and invigorated. The rise of the WELL Building Certification provides a good indication of the increased importance property developers are placing on health and wellbeing in the built environment, and we are monitoring its emergence with great interest.

Majid Al Futtaim is committed to ensuring it develops and operates world class green buildings, in recognition of these benefits and our broader responsibility to lead by example as the shopping mall, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Since the launch of our sustainability strategy in 2010 we have been committed not only to ensuring that all our new developments achieve a minimum of LEED Gold or equivalent, but also to significantly reducing the environmental impact of our operational portfolio. Our efforts in this area alone have enabled us to reduce our like-for-like energy and water consumption by 139.7 million kw/h and 1.9 million m3 respectively between 2010 and 2015.

Following the completion of City Centre Mirdif, the first LEED Gold Mall in the Middle East in 2010, we have built a further three LEED Gold shopping malls. We have also gone beyond our own minimum standards, achieving LEED Platinum at City Centre Me'aisem, as well as achieving LEED EBOM at City Centre Mirdif and Majid Al Futtaim Tower 2, Majid Al Futtaim – Properties headquarters in Dubai. Al Zahia, a mixed-use community in Sharjah and a joint venture between Government of Sharjah and Majdi Al Futtaim represents the first community development in the MENA region to achieve the BREEAM Communities accreditation.

The hard work doesn’t stop here. We recognise that in order to be a true regional pioneer we must continue to scale up our ambition in this area. Our Green Building Benefits Working Group, established in 2014 and comprising membership from across the business, is designed to ensure we track the costs and benefits of green buildings on an ongoing basis, sharing the lessons learned and developing an ever more sophisticated appreciation of the business case for green buildings. This approach ensures that sustainability is a non-negotiable aspect of all our new developments. For example our new shopping mall, My City Centre Masdar Set to open by the end of 2018, the one-level mall, to be constructed using Majid Al Futtaim’s international sustainability standards, will have shaded parking for 430 vehicles on its rooftop through the use of photovoltaic panels, with My City Centre Masdar’s energy and water consumption targeted to be 40% lower than comparable buildings, in line with Masdar City’s eco-friendly strategy.  The mall will aim to achieve an Estidama 3 Pearl rating, which is the equivalent of LEED gold building status for sustainability. We intend to publish a white paper later this year, which will outline our approach to green buildings in greater detail, and feature case studies practically demonstrating the wider benefits of green buildings.

As a business we are continually looking for new opportunities to innovate and enhance our products, creating great moments for everyone for years to come. We are excited and proud to be working closely with the World Green Building Council on this journey. Being part of their global network keeps us up to date with new regulations, standards and technologies, and ultimately helps us to reduce our environmental impact and continue to enhance people’s lives through sustainable real-estate.

As a member of WorldGBC’s Corporate Advisory Board, Majid Al Futtaim is able to help guide the organisation on its activities, and we recently joined as a Partner on the MENA Regional Network of nine Green Building Council (in Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt), which was announced on Buildings Day at COP22 in Marrakech. We look forward to supporting those Green Building Councils – and working with other leaders – to help strengthen our collective impact on green buildings within the region.

 

(Image: Ibrahim Al-Zu'bi, right, with WorldGBC Board Member Mohammad Asfour)

If you have any thoughts or feedback on our approach or ideas for how we could improve in future please do not hesitate to get in touch at ibrahim.alzubi@maf.ae.

Ibrahim Al-Zu'bi is Head of Sustainability at Majid Al Futtaim, and Senior Sustainability Advisor, Dubai Land Dept, Government of Dubai