Going green

Regardless of the existing safeguards and regulations, all construction takes place at the expense of the environment.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  January 14, 2004

|~|desert_evironment_200w.jpg|~|UAE’s landscape is changing forever as development after development eats up both beach and desert. It is development that is necessary for the future of the country, but it must be planned in a way that makes the least impact on plants and animals other than humans and ensure the efficient use of energy.|~|Regardless of the existing safeguards and regulations, all construction takes place at the expense of the environment. With the UAE experiencing an intense period of development the need to take action and protect the environment has never been more acute. However technologies and methods are emerging that will help contractors save money in the long run and preserve the country’s natural resources and rich habitat. The landscape of Dubai is changing forever. Although the transformation into a modern city and the accompanying economic prosperity is welcomed by all, it has come at a cost. Every modern city has developed at the expense of the environment and Dubai is no different. All construction changes the environment in some way. Some changes are obvious, others less so. The Palm Island development has quite clearly changed the environment. Although this is an extreme example, it is important to remember that every building changes the environment in some way. Everything from the building’s foundations upwards, impacts the environment. A building alters the topography of its surroundings in a number of different ways, the site must be levelled for construction to begin, the actual land will alter as earth is moved, subsidence may occur, water tables may change, drainage channels may be diverted, the possibilities are endless. Above ground, the mere presence of a building changes its environment by altering wind flows and shading patterns. Although changes are inherent to the physical presence of a building and cannot be avoided, the impact of change may be reduced and controlled, while at the same time, other ways that a building might affect the environment may be almost completely avoided. Since the 1980s, efforts have been made to correct the environmental balance. This movement began in the United States, with the creation of thegreen buildings concept. Green buildings have four general aims. The first is environmental, to reduce the impact of natural resource consumption, the second is economic, to improve the bottom line; the third is health and safety and, fourth, community benefits, such as minimising the strain on local infrastructure and improving quality of life. The groundswell of interest resulted in the formation of the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Formed in 1993 the body is ‘leading a national consensus for producing a generation of buildings that deliver high performance inside and out.’ Since then, the USGBC has introduced a rating system for certifying the green status of newly constructed and renovated buildings. The system known as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) has certified buildings in ten countries worldwide including, Australia, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Spain. There are four categories of LEED certification. Based on a points system, there is a standard level, silver level, gold level, and a platinum level. Platinum being the highest rating. The criteria for gaining certification are broken down into five areas. Firstly, indoor environmental quality; second, energy and atmosphere; third, sustainable sites; and forth, materials and resources; and fifth, water efficiency. With the Middle East experiencing a period of accelerated development, and faced with a growing need to manage its natural resources more effectively, it is no shock that interest in sustainable buildings is growing in the UAE. Buildings that have a minimal environmental impact are ultimately desirable, but issues of cost and expertise often prevent such buildings ever leaving the drawing board. Although most would equate environmentally sound construction and building management techniques with higher costs, this does not have to be the case. Once completed a building’s operations have a significant impact on the environment. These primarily involve the building’s energy consumption. For instance, in the USA buildings account for 36% of total energy use. In the blazing sun of the UAE, much of the energy consumed is used by air conditioning systems. Conversely, buildings in Siberia consume energy for heating. The effect that these high levels of energy consumption has is dramatic. Firstly, it is detrimental to the environment as the majority of energy in the UAE is still produced by burning fossil fuels, which puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and second, energy is expensive with high consumption leading to higher energy costs; something that anybody would be keen to reduce. With greater supplies of fresh air, natural ventilation also helps prevent ‘sick building syndrome’. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “The term ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort affects that appear to be linked to the amount of time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” This contrasts with a ‘building related illness’ that can be directly attributed to contaminants found within the building itself. According to the USGBC sustainable buildings can be 1.6% more expensive to construct, but future energy savings can be significant, with figures from the USA suggesting energy saving can be as much as 43%. It is doubtful whether year-round air conditioning would facilitate such large savings, but the potential for savings in the UAE could be significant. The UAE must learn its own lessons and adapt techniques to its own particular problems, specifically its demanding climate. The UAE must, “keep in mind the conditions we live in,” said Sougata Nandi, manager energy & resources reduction, ServeU. “Every place has its own considerations. No where is the same as the other.” ||**||

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