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GREENING URBAN ENVIRONMENTS

In this article, specialist sustainability consultancy EMG Group* highlights how various stakeholders in the Middle East are recognising the potential of building ‘green,’ both for the well-being of society as well as for the productivity of the economy.

December 2015

Green buildings are already a prominent feature of the 21st century, and their value is only increasing. No longer just a niche part of the construction industry, building green has become a way in which an ever increasing number of firms are designing, constructing and improving buildings around the world. While for many, the impetus for building green is simply because it is the right thing to do for the environment, for others, including investors and developers, the need to attach a tangible, monetary value to the benefits of building green are crucial in getting many projects off the ground. As the number of green buildings, districts and cities increase, the evidence of their economic viability and social and environmental advantages are clear.

The excitement behind building green is the potential within which it houses. Responsible for 40% of carbon emissions (and a portion of transportation’s 20% share a consequence of the way cities are planned) and 25% of global water use, the urban environment is a big part of the problems we face as a global society; but this also means, it is a big part of the solution.

The move towards green urbanisation is global, and for the Middle East, it presents a solution to the challenges of climate change and population growth. The region has the lowest renewable freshwater resources per capita and many of its countries rely on non-renewable aquifers or on energy-intensive desalination for their water supply, and therefore, low-energy and low-water solutions are essential for sustainable growth in the Middle East. Further, mirroring the increase of 2.5 billion people to urban areas around the world by 2050, the region is expecting its own 20% increase in population. And as such, urban spaces which have the capacity to cater effectively to a growing number of inhabitants is crucial in ensuring not only the health and well-being of society, but for their productivity and the economy.

A much needed development in the practice of building green is well underway, with the scale of design and implementation increasing from the level of the individual building to that of the cityscape. This is a big step forward and shows recognition of the capacity of an urban space to positively influence the behaviours, practices and perhaps most importantly, the energy-use of not only the infrastructure itself, but of the city’s inhabitants too. Such an embedded approach can yield great opportunity in minimising resource use and maximising health and well-being, with intelligently designed and compact infrastructure using less energy than sprawling systems. This may, in turn, spur economic growth. Why? Because consumer choices change in compact cities, where the environmentally option is also the most convenient and accessible option too:  localities can be improved by introducing walking and cycling routes, renewable energy capture technologies and improved public transport. The preservation of, and introduction of new green spaces can play a vital role in improving drainage and air quality, helping to combat the urban heat island, improve health and well-being, and reduce noise pollution.

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