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Greening the GCC: How the construction sector can support a sustainable future


The construction sector is frequently perceived as polluting, slow to innovate and dangerous. It’s time to change that perception, and innovative new technologies can help.

 

By Jihad Bsaibes, CEO AMANA Contracting Group

 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that global warming will increase by 1.5°C by 2040 – describing it as a “Code Red for Humanity”.

 

Climate change is possibly the greatest existential crisis facing us and taking action to reduce carbon emissions in the race to net zero has never been more important. Urgent action is required by governments, businesses and individuals around the world to tackle global warming.

 

As part of the construction industry, we bear a responsibility in addressing climate change, locally and globally. After all, building and construction are responsible for more than one-third (39%) of all carbon emissions in the world, with operational emissions from energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounting for 28%.[1] The balance 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions – associated with the construction processes as part of the whole building lifecycle.[2] The World Green Building Council (WGBC) has set an ambitious target for the sector to reach 40% less embodied carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve 100% net zero emissions by 2050.

 

The silver lining? There is a real will to make a difference. Since the pandemic, environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy have been prioritized by leadership in the public and private sectors. Our clients are more ready than ever to commit fully to achieving ambitious sustainability targets, through measures large and small.

 

From retrofitting buildings for solar energy and passive cooling, to greenfield developments constructed using innovative, resource-saving technologies, businesses are open to all possibilities to become more sustainable. There is a sound business case for the shift to sustainability as well. Research from the World Economic Forum states that a move toward a circular economy could generate $4.5tn (AED16.5tn) in additional economic output by 2030 for the UAE.[3]

 

The case for productization

Each business has a unique sustainability journey, a product of its industry, maturity, values and leadership. Our own journey over the past thirty years has seen us championing the shift from projects to productization.

 

Part of this is inspired by being headquartered in a region driven by incubators for innovation and imagination. However, while breathtaking projects such as The Museum of the Future in Dubai are being realised, is the region’s construction sector ready to step forward into a sustainable future?

 

The shift from a project mindset to a product manufacturing one, is enabled by technology. Software such as Autodesk Building Information Modelling (BIM) and innovative technologies, such as modular construction, can help the industry achieve the economic diversification, job creation and sustainability goals set by national agendas such as Vision 2030 and Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program.

 

Modular construction can go a long way towards making the sector cleaner, greener and leaner. We can now manufacture entire buildings off-site in factory-controlled environments, reducing the need for manpower by up to 30%, and with far lower wastage rates than an open construction site. Modular construction potentially reduces material waste by up to 30% and improves the work safety environment by up to 70%.

 

Pre-finished modules can be trucked to job sites, where they are installed. Time to project delivery is shrunk, as modules are manufactured in parallel within a factory environment, ensuring consistency in material and finishes. Offsite construction reduces environmental impact in pristine sites such as The Red Sea Development Project (where AMANA has successfully delivered dozens of buildings for The Red Sea Development Company) in KSA

 

The construction sector has long suffered from a shortage of talent and people to work on sites, which has delayed projects across the region. Today, digitalization has presented the sector with an opportunity to attract talent by reimagining our business models and operations.

 

There have been countless reports[4] backed by anecdotal evidence to show that people want to work for a company that has a strong sustainability agenda, and a strong environmental conscience. Digitalization is creating office and factory-based jobs for construction workers, improving health, safety and productivity; and helping the sector improve scores on diversity and inclusion as well.

 

Why sustainability should matter to our clients

Group AMANA has invested over 10 years of research and development in modular construction, with projects prototyped and realized across the region, delivering over 130,000 sq m of built-up area (BUA) in modular.

 

 

However, not all clients buy the business case for going green. Despite the best intentions, the reality of budgetary pressures can force stakeholders to value engineer and reduce costs where possible. Affordability is the top challenge in adopting sustainable construction practices and policies for almost 40% of UAE-based companies. Half the construction firms across the Middle East expect green buildings to incur higher primary production costs.[5]

 

Building sustainably actually makes sound business sense over the long term, delivering earlier returns on investment (RoI). Investors value green building assets higher than traditionally built buildings, due to their reduced operating costs. Not to mention the health benefits to workers, communities and future inhabitants from decreased air and noise pollution.

 

To combat climate change, new buildings must be built sustainably and existing buildings must be decarbonised. As a regional construction leader, Group AMANA is championing initiatives to promote sustainable construction in the region, bringing in the digital tools, standardised manufacturing techniques, reduced wastage, and processes to usher in a new era for the industry.

 

Looking to the future, sustainable construction has the potential to be a powerful change engine for the construction sector, a catalyst for the GCC’s decarbonised future and a valuable contributor to the global fight against climate change.

[1] https://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/WorldGBC-embodied-carbon-report-published

[2] https://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/WorldGBC-embodied-carbon-report-published

[3] https://resources.imdaad.ae/insights/towards-a-circular-economy-in-the-uae

 

[4] https://thecsrjournal.in/ibm-employees-work-environmentally-sustainable-companies-pandemic/

[5] https://www.italent-me.com/insights/why-sustainable-construction-in-the-middle-east-is-becoming-more-important/

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