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Road to sustainability

June 23, 2013 11:34 am

While there has been increased talk about the importance of creating more sustainable buildings and communities within the Mena region, progress on converting this talk into concrete action continues to lag behind, concludes a recent report by investment and advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle.
The dialogue continues, along with an increased awareness on why the region is in dire need to create more sustainable cities. However, the conversion of this conversation into greener construction and building practices has been, so far, relatively limited when compared to economies such as France, Australia or the UK – who have introduced and enforced sustainability friendly legislation.
The study, recently published by the world-leading real estate company, reveals some of the challenges that lie ahead on the region’s road to sustainability. The four highlighted obstacles include: a lack of legislation to enforce change and introduce new practices in most markets, an absence of any perceptible financial premium, subsidised energy, water and waste disposal costs and, perhaps most fundamentally, limited awareness of environmental issues.
In western economies, there is a growing body of evidence to show that green buildings do, in fact, result in financial benefits for both owners and occupiers, but the industry is still nascent here. The conversation flows and environmental awareness, particularly in the United Arab Emirates – dubbed by the report as the leader in this arena – is certainly on the rise.
Alan Robertson, chief executive officer of Jones Lang LaSalle Mena, says that along with the aforementioned hindrances to sustainability, we have our own set of unique issues and challenges to deal with in the region, including, but not limited to, water shortage mitigated by costly desalination. He says we’re also faced with high water consumption, which subsequently translates into a higher carbon footprint.
“The fast pace of urban development, along with the short term and cost-conscious focus of many regional real estate stakeholders are also limiting the uptake of sustainability initiatives and the more widespread development of sustainable buildings and communities,” says Robertson.

On the plus side, despite sustainability being in its infancy in the Middle East, signs of real estate stakeholders adopting more initiatives are beginning to surface. According to Robertson, it’s an enormously encouraging sign to see both Estimada and Masdar City with their own sustainability agenda in the region, and he believes it will “provide a further impetus towards the concept of sustainability”.
However, the report strongly emphasises that the region needs additional initiatives, greater (and stricter) government legislation and an increased awareness of the financial premium associated with green buildings. Investors must be made aware that through higher rentals and values, lower operational costs and a lower obsolescence risk, financial premiums can be very attractive. As of yet, there is no proof of that in the market.
Over the next ten years, the report predicts that these factors will contribute to increased attention on sustainable building practices in the Middle East. Craig Plumb, head of research for JLL Mena, says it’s extremely encouraging to see that sustainability was identified as one of Dubai’s three main themes in the emirate’s bid for Expo 2020.
“As stakeholders we all have a social responsibility to continuously encourage proactive debate and further research into this critically important space,” he says, adding that in the next five years, he expects that significant advantages of more sustainable real estate to become more widely apparent.