The building industry in the GCC is projected to grow by up to four per cent annually in 2023-2024. This projection presents a great opportunity for sustainable developments and implementation of clean energy.
Despite the persisting economic dark clouds, investments in sustainable design strategies and environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related programmes will continue, especially as more organisations understand that their real estate may be the most powerful climate action tool at their disposal.
As embodied carbon analysis gains recognition alongside the drive for operational net zero goals, design and construction strategies that sequester carbon in buildings and prioritise locally manufactured materials will see a high degree of success. Advocacy for local building code improvements will be critical as governments seek to raise the standard across projects.
Global architecture, design and planning firm Gensler has published its annual forecast report on global trends across the built environment. Among the key trends that are relevant to the Middle East are:
• Carbon performance certifications will increase in importance across global real estate in the immediate future.
Radical transparency is the name of the game as companies shift to a culture of disclosure around their environmental commitments. Net zero energy and carbon certifications will become baseline expectations even in industries with traditionally poor building performance.
• Europe will chart a course toward regenerative systems. The Middle East will follow suit.
Recognising that carbon reduction is only a first step in a long journey, much of Europe is embracing climate action strategies focused on low-tech design and regenerative systems. Such strategies will shift the focus from minimising environmental harm (net zero) to actively benefiting local ecologies and generating renewable, clean energy (net positive). This presents a great opportunity for the Middle East to learn and leverage from this success and partner for advancement in these sectors.
• Transforming existing buildings and materials with reuse strategies will supersede new construction.
As energy grids decarbonise, the embodied carbon associated with new construction will become more consequential. Adaptive reuse, which can reduce a building’s life-cycle carbon by 40 per cent, will be an important antidote to this dilemma, especially as forward-thinking governments and firms pledge to prioritise retrofits over new-builds. The GCC currently has growing initiatives on reuse and recycling, with upcoming focus on low carbon projects, emphasised by Saudi Arabia’s vision for sustainable giga-developments.
Renovating existing building stock to a zero-carbon-ready level should be the next priority for advancing the region’s sustainability targets for 2030-2060. Renovating buildings typically save between 50 per cent to 75 per cent of the embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new building, particularly when the building foundation and structural skeleton are maintained.
• Certifications will emerge to better define and quantify socially responsible strategies – the ‘S’ in ESG.
While many prominent certification programmes exist to demonstrate environmental and governance commitments, the same cannot currently be said for social aspects of ESG. Funds are increasingly seeking clarity on equity, inclusion and wellness. In the coming years, we expect new evaluation systems for socially responsible strategies as companies look to prove their mettle to investors and customers.
An uptake of qualification targets will encourage a new set of baseline sustainability measures to be enforced across the Middle East and globally. While the Middle East is far behind the rest of the world in building renovation and reuse volumes, the region has a unique opportunity to develop and implement sustainability measures from the off-set across new projects.
* Samar Hussein, Design Resilience Leader and Associate at Gensler Middle East. Gensler is active 53 locations and has more than 7,000 professionals networked across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas.