Notes from the Networks – Green building growth in the MENA region
Visionaries, thought-leaders and change-makers are demonstrating real green leadership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The COP22 climate change conference, which was held in Morocco in November, and last month’s MENA Regional Network meeting in Dubai, are affirmation of this commitment and choice.
But the seeds were sown back in 2010 during the WorldGBC Congress in Singapore, when Dr. Sadek Owainati and Jeff Wills from the Emirates GBC, together with myself from Jordan GBC and Issa Mohannadi from Qatar GBC, agreed to establish the MENA Regional Network. We believed the Network would increase the regional profile of Green Building Councils (GBCs), open the door for strong relationships with our governments, and help spread the movement into countries that do not yet have GBCs.
Fast forward to 2017, and the network now has nine Green Building Councils, a number which is growing! This is a strong indication that the green building movement is progressing despite many challenges. As a matter of fact, all nine Councils met in Dubai last month to learn more about one another and to identify projects they could work on together.
GBCs first agreed on strengthening the business case for green buildings, an issue of growing importance in the region. The MENA Regional Network believes that property investors are still seeing green building as an added cost, despite research (like WorldGBC’s groundbreaking 2013 report, the Business Case for Green Building) which has shown that green buildings yield economic benefits such as higher rents, higher occupancy rates, higher resale prices and increased worker productivity. The Network will look at local case studies that provide the type of investment data that resonates with property investors to shift investments from standard building to green building in the region.
Prior to the meetings - generously hosted by our regional partner Majid Al Futtaim, another leader which recently announced its plan to become net positive – delegates had the opportunity to attend the MENA Green Building Awards. The Awards included 14 categories evaluated by 12 bilingual judges from across the region, with Majid Al Futtaim winning the Green Building of the Year award, and the coveted Developer of the Year Award.
Mr. Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of the Emirates GBC, which was behind the Awards, informed me that this year’s Awards “provided an exemplar of the best practices in green building innovation throughout the region”, with a record number of entries demonstrating the commitment to sustainable development in MENA.
The MENA Regional Network is keen to strengthen this regional awards programme and is exploring how to leverage existing awards to engage the whole region. To serve this purpose better, a special task force was formed during the meeting, led by the Emirates GBC, with representatives from Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.
(Image: Mohammad Asfour, far right, and WorldGBC Chairman Tai Lee Siang, second from right, on a visit of the Masdar eco city, organised by Emirates GBC)
Green schools are also a hot topic, and GBCs agreed to foster and accelerate their work in this area. This is key given that more than 1,100 new schools are needed across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Riyadh, and Cairo by 2020 to serve 1 million more students, according to a JLL study. GBCs strongly believe that green schools should not be a privilege for the advantaged few but a right for all students. Every child in this world deserves a happy and healthy place within which he or she can learn and grow.
Different GBCs have run green school activities nationally. But the Network is exploring how to expand these to the regional level. One idea has been a “green schools’ campus” an initiative where MENA GBCs and other like-minded organisations at the grass-roots level could engage communities in adopting greener ways of living, thereby equipping such communities with the resources and support needed to transform schools into healthier, brighter, and greener spaces. They could develop and share case studies of green education facilities that would in turn create practical guides for communities. Watch this space.
The meeting was attended by WorldGBC Chairman’s Tai Lee Siang, who reminded us that “this is the greatest green building movement in the history of mankind!” - an excellent chance to work together on not just a noble cause that fights climate change, but one that can fuel a green economy, and create more job and business opportunities in the months and years to come.
Mohammad Asfour is Regional Manager of the MENA Network
If your company is a supporter of national GBCs in the region and wishes to get involved with our work at the MENA level, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss partnership opportunities.
This blog is part of the ‘Notes from the Networks’ series, which focuses on how WorldGBC’s five Regional Networks around the world are delivering change on the ground.