Saeed Al Abbar hardly requires an introduction in green building circles. He is a mover and shaker in the field of sustainability and has earned quite a long list of credentials under his name. As for his introduction, keep reading to hear it from the man himself. We attended the Emirates Green Building Council Annual Congress, where he delivered a speech rallying people present to tackle the daunting task ahead in terms of climate change. Although a sobering topic, he remains hopeful about Dubai's contribution to the cause in the building sector.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role with EmiratesGBC?
I am the chairman of Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), and a Board Member of the World Green Building Council, a network of national green building councils in more than 90 countries.
As the Founding Managing Director AESG, a specialist consultancy firm in the Middle East, I am also involved in managing and directing design and construction projects throughout the Middle East. Through AESG, I have worked on several landmark projects including some of the largest and prestigious master-planned developments, high rise buildings, housing development and critical infrastructure, delivering high quality sustainability and energy consultancy.
At Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), which is an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices in the UAE, my role is to lead the Council and along with my team, I identify strategic opportunities for strengthening sustainability initiatives, liaise with governmental and corporate clients, formalise training sessions and lead the organisation as the change agent for a greener future.
What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to designing/building for environmental sustainability in the UAE?
Over the years, through our diligent efforts, we strongly believe that we have overcome the most challenging phase in the development of green buildings – to create awareness on the need for such initiatives. Today, the UAE is a role model in promoting sustainable built environments, and we have several path-breaking accomplishments in the green building sector. Across the industry, the stakeholders are not just aware – but eager to be part of the ‘green movement’ and embrace energy and water efficiency measures, and deploy eco-friendly building practices. The challenge then is to ensure that we implement best practices that will promote to a greener future.
At EmiratesGBC, we take such challenges seriously. We work with stakeholders from across diverse industries and work with our members and other partners to drive a culture of localised innovation in green buildings.
I think the real game changer is the commitment and green vision of the UAE government. The leadership has a firm commitment to reduce energy and water usage, and promote environmental sustainability. This is an inspiration for all of us in the industry.
What are your thoughts about the relationship between the past and present in architecture?
Today, a number of new buildings, particularly in the region, learn from traditional models of architecture and employ the best practices for a greener building. The wind towers of the UAE, for example, are a classic example of how our forefathers followed innovative building designs to improve the living environment. From the design – which often seeks inspiration from traditional architecture – to the use of materials and in the layout of the buildings, the influence of traditional architecture is becoming more pronounced today.
What do you think will be the key factor in determining the result of our fight against the effects of climate change to provide us with an adaptive and sustainable future?
Apart from the personal commitment of the people, businesses and the government – which is critical to create a sustainable future – I believe that a key factor will be how we look at the design and management of buildings. Buildings – residential or commercial – are typically the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is important to make ‘green building’ design principles integral to every development. This will not only help manage the greenhouse gas emissions at the very preliminary level but also encourage the residents to adopt greener lifestyles. This commitment must be taken seriously by every sector – be it retail, hospitality or commercial buildings – to achieve tangible gains for a greener future.
Through our initiatives such as the EmiratesGBC Technical Guidelines for Retrofitting Existing Buildings, we are enabling the industry to identify areas of actions and solutions to implement based on their actual needs and level of expertise.
What is the relationship between EmiratesGBC and Dubai Municipality regarding implementation of the green building guidelines? How can architects incorporate this in their work?
Let me reiterate that we are an independent forum; we are not responsible for the implementation of green building guidelines. That said, our role is to encourage the building industry stakeholders to adopt the regulations put forth by Dubai Municipality. We work with all stakeholders – including architects – and through our networking meetings, focus days and workshops, we underline the need to uphold these regulations. And we are delighted that the industry has been responding positively and the UAE is among the first-movers in the region to embrace the concept of green buildings.
What are your thoughts about the pace of development here in the UAE with relation to environmental sustainability?
Our leadership is committed to implementing sustainability measures in the built environment, which is highlighted by the green building regulations and standards set by Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Further, the nation has also set clear goals in retrofitting existing buildings, and in implementing sustainable lighting solutions.
‘A green economy for sustainable development’ is a roadmap for a greener future unveiled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. The UAE Vision 2021 also places the highest emphasis on promoting sustainability while the Dubai Plan 2021 has one of its pillars as creating a city where environmental elements are clean, healthy and sustainable. Dubai is also taking the lead in energy demand management which is further highlighted by the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 that aims to diversify the energy sources with a larger share of renewables. The UAE’s model in promoting sustainable built environments surely serves a model for other nations.
Favourite building/space/area in the U.A.E.
It is difficult to choose one building or space because the key green developments in the UAE are each iconic in their own way, and continue to inspire me as a green building professional. The Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai Chamber and the IRENA Headquarters building, which I was personally involved in the design and construction of are great examples of creating world class sustainable spaces.