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Race to build green intensifies in the UAE

More than a decade ago, in January 2012, in keeping with the UAE’s ability to foresee much in advance the needs of its people and the world, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai launched a long-term national initiative to build the nation’s green economy.

With the slogan, A Green Economy for Sustainable Development powering the initiative through, the UAE today is doing what it takes to be a world leader in this area and become a centre for the export and re-export of green products and technologies, while helping maintain a sustainable environment to support long-term economic growth. But what, you may ask, has all this got to do with the nation’s burgeoning real estate sector? Evidently, a lot.

Last month, in a major announcement by Abu Dhabi based Aldar Properties, as reported by WAM, the real estate development management and investment company committed to investing Dh25 million for energy retrofit projects in 13 of its residential communities. The move is expected to reduce utility consumption for owners and tenants as part of the company’s efforts to make its communities more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Reduce carbon footprint

The investment by Aldar will offset 19,000 tCO2 per year and reduce utility consumption by a total of Dh12 million per year across the 13 communities. The plan was developed in conjunction with the owners’ associations of the communities, which are managed by Provis, Aldar’s real estate property management company. Grfn is acting as the Energy Project Management Company, while Siemens will carry out the retrofit project.

Seen as a first-of-its-kind initiative by an Abu Dhabi developer, the company’s investment into its communities is incremental to the ambitious portfolio-wide energy management project that was announced in early 2022. The project will enhance efficiency across a range of Aldar hotels, schools, commercial, leisure, retail, and residential buildings.

Commenting on the project, Greg Fewer, Aldar’s Chief Financial and Sustainability Officer, says, “The commitment we have made to reduce the energy consumption of our residential communities reflects the pioneering role we have taken in the region’s real estate sector to reduce our carbon footprint. This project is special as its innovative structure enables significant capital investment into community assets while reducing energy consumption, carbon footprint, and community service charges at the same time. We’re proud of our team’s ability to plan and execute real win-win solutions that move our industry forward and add tangible value to owners within Aldar managed communities.”

Aldar’s wider energy management initiative announced in January is expected to cut consumption by 20 per cent and support the company’s efforts to align its sustainability practices with the UAE’s long-term carbon reduction targets. The retrofit project is a key milestone in the company-wide decarbonisation journey towards net-zero — it will decrease carbon emissions by 80,000 tonnes, electricity consumption by 110 GWh, water consumption by 886,000 m3, and gas consumption by 726,000 m3 annually.

Pioneering role

In Dubai as well, the push for green by its real estate sector sees excellent synergy between the government and corporate players through moves such as the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan. The initiative is expected to maximise the country’s resources with a set of goals including one involving growing green areas in the Emirate by over 100 per cent. The sector’s push for green solutions started much earlier though, even before the launch of the UAE Green Economy drive, when Dubai launched its Green Buildings Regulations and Specifications project in 2011, foreseeing the need for sustainable sectoral growth.

Haider Tuaima, Director & Head of Real Estate Research at international consulting group, ValuStrat, ties in the initiative with the real estate sector’s role in supporting Dubai and the UAE’s thrust for a green economy. “The Dubai Green Building Regulations and Specifications project, introduced by Dubai Municipality in 2011 is a strategy placed towards balancing economic development and environmental protection.

“Initially only mandatory for government buildings, three years later the regulation became mandatory for all new buildings in Dubai. The main goals included sustainable solutions to reduce energy and water consumption and recycle waste.”

Opting for green solutions in any development might come at a higher cost though, adds Tuaima. For example, installing solar panels and batteries to store energy bears a high initial cost. “However, that may well be considered an investment towards reduced energy consumption in the long run. The good news is that with increasing occupier demand for sustainable buildings leading to improved rents and capital values, suppliers continue to innovate and reduce costs due to increased competition, which assists in realising the overall green building movement going forward.”

In fact, sustainability has always been one of the key components of Dubai’s rise as a cosmopolitan haven, says Andrew Cummings, Partner, Head of Prime Residential at global consultants, Knight Frank Middle East.

Sustainable site development

“Indeed, Dubai’s focus on non-oil revenue has been a key part of the UAE’s own sustainability efforts. With a burgeoning population that is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years, the city has of late made considerable inroads in sustainable real estate.”

Agreeing with Tuaima on the aspect of innovation within Dubai’s real estate sector to build momentum in sustainable building solutions, Cummings says, “Sustainable development has been gaining significant traction in the commercial sector, for instance with the green rating system. This tier system ranks buildings based on factors such as sustainable site development and the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, etc. Initiatives such as the green rating system is part of the larger Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, which aims to spur green areas by 100 per cent and also contribute to the UAE’s ambition of Net Zero by 2050.”

In the residential space, Sustainable City was Dubai’s first zero-energy development, says Cummings, while master planned communities such as Al Barari and Tilal Al Ghaf put particular focus on sustainability in the luxury market. Developers such as the Green Group have also spearheaded green living by harnessing solar energy in their flagship Signature Living projects in JVC, he adds.

Eventually, the future of living is undeniably tied to a green and a sustainable abode for all. Hailing Dubai and the UAE’s role in promoting sustainable growth while hinting at the evolution yet to come, Cummings says, “With a population that is constantly on the rise, a redesign of traditional property development is inevitable in a city and for a nation that first embraced sustainable change and diversity.”