Meshal Al Shamari Believes In A Greener Future: Building Sustainably Is A Qatari Priority
Qatar Green Building Council was the initial Green Building Council in the Middle East and North Africa, which was primarily established with the assistance of volunteer workers," says engineer Meshal Al Shamari, Director of QGBC. Engineer Issa Al Muhannadi, the organization's current Chairman, launched the concept of developing the QGBC in 2009, and two years later, the Qatar Foundation decided to support QGBC initiative for a period of five years. "Currently, it is under the umbrella of the World Green Building Council, which consists of around 100 Green Councils established around the world, and a member of Qatar Foundation." QGBC, a non-profit, membership-driven organization, provides leadership and encourages collaboration in conducting environmentally sustainable practices for green building design and development within the country. "The need for QGBC was very important because Qatar faced a big construction boom between the year 2002 to 2006, and most of those projects were done without consideration of green building or abiding by the sustainable requirements of construction," says Al Shamari.
Al Shamari points out that the Qatar Foundation is one of the first major organizations in Qatar and in the Gulf region to consider the practice of green building, and the environmental impact of the construction industry within the country. "In 2009, the concept of sustainable development or green building was not popular in Qatar and the region, since it was basically a new concept." As a result, QGBC creates awareness in reference to the relevance of green building practices, which are supported by the organization's three major pillars. The first pillar is "Sustainability Education and Training," responsible for creating a green building and sustainability culture within the industry, and the community through education and communication, and also provides industry professionals with expert training on sustainability and green building practices. For instance, Al Shamari says that they target schools and universities. "We focus on students from year seven till year 12. At year seven, the students have an understanding of the concepts and the technical aspects of green building and they study those items in the curriculum. Our aim is to show them or to demonstrate those aspects that they can learn –within [the subjects of] chemistry and biology– to read examples [of green building] within the industry. In universities, we focus mostly on the engineering students who will work in that field in the future." The organization is currently hosting Master's degree students, and is collaborating with them on two research study projects. "Our aim is to create awareness of green building in the near future so it can be part of our culture. We want to get the nation here in Qatar to integrate and enforce green building practices as part of the culture," explains Al Shamari.
The second pillar is "Technical Expertise Development," revolving around promoting planned feasible sustainable development by collaborating with industry leaders and experts in order to define a set of environmental, and green building best practice guidelines based on already recognized systems and practices. "Green Building has a written system, they are not uncontrolled items or aspects. We have international standards such as the American, British, Australian and Japanese. From all over the world, we have so many written systems." For instance, Al Shamari says that the operational part of the building is a very essential stage in the process of green building; therefore, QGBC has created professional training for facility management, and interior design, which are green building professional elements that the Qatari market requires. "They are professional engineers or consultants dealing with those writing systems, and our overall aim here is to extent the profession in this field by providing training programs. By providing technical support, educating them about the tools that they should use for green building."
Consequently, the most crucial pillar according to Al Shamari is the "Research and Innovation" leg of the initiative. "Any kind of industry or development cannot develop further without research. Research makes it very affordable to the industry because as far as the research achieves it becomes cheaper as it develops more. Therefore, we do different kinds of research with the universities and the International Research Institute in Qatar. We try to develop, or we try to search or to explore the technologies and the materials that we intend to use, and that we would like to use in Qatar as part of the green building development." In addition, QGBC also studies different materials and previous experiments conducted in various environments. For example, in European colder climates, studies would focus on sustainable materials used in the cold environments to see how applicable those materials are when used in a very hot climate. Simultaneously, creating public awareness of the importance to enforce green building construction has its challenges. "The concept is still new in the industry, therefore most of the clients perception is that it is an expensive approach, and most of the developers would like to reduce cost of the project in order to maximize the benefits," says Al Shamari.
In Qatar, there are two major players in the construction market, the governmental and private sector. "We don't have any problem with the governmental sector because the government is supporting that approach." As a result, Qatar has now a local rating system for sustainable construction or green building, which is the norm for all governmental tenders in the construction of projects. However, Al Shamari highlights how the main challenge is the private sector, which is taking a big share in the market. "The private sector has the perception that they will be a higher cost or higher investment in applying green building practices." Secondly, there is a lack of available green building experts in addition to the required available materials within the market. "Since it is a new concept it takes time to build up experience, and to get the appropriate materials to Qatar." On a positive note, Al Shamari says that having the governmental support, and for governmental projects to abide by green building planning, and being successful has led to the private sector to gradually embrace the concept. "We also focus on developers –on the benefits of the green building, but from the financial part of view– not from the environmental point of view." For this reason, QGBC focuses on the long-term investment such as saving energy, in addition to the added market value of having a green building development and or facility. Additionally, QGBC focuses on promoting the indoor quality of the facility, meaning that employees live in a healthy environment, and as a result will be more productive. "They will have fewer sick leaves or the effects of an unhealthy building of having the high or low temperature that affect the comfort of their employees. These are the kind of points we try to spot light on, which defines the value of the green building, and has financial benefits to the developer."
Al Shamari adds that sustainable construction has developed in a very progressive way since 2005. "We have seen in Europe, the region and in the Far East taking the sustainable construction approach. In the past building green was very costly, but now it is more available, henceforth the price has become reasonable." In terms of the cost of sustainable building versus traditional construction, Al Shamari estimates that in the GCC it is 5% to 9% more, whereas in other countries it is approximately 1% to 3% more. "It depends on the development of that concept in each country, but we always call it an investment, not cost, as the investor can get back his money between 5-10 years, and the investor can get guaranteed added value for the development, and all can be considered a recovery profit investment."
Dubai and Qatar are presently leading the concept of green building in the region. In Qatar, it costs 3-9% more to build using sustainable practices, whereas in Dubai, it costs 3-5% more. Subsequently, Al Shamari illustrates how in general one must differentiate between the cost of the project and the cost of green building. "For example, we have a building for Qatar Foundation or for the government, which costs a lot of money compared to traditional building. We always say that the [high] cost is for the architectural expenses, and not for the green development. I cannot compare a very luxurious building and say that it cost US$100 million, which is a green (LEED) building. It doesn't mean that the cost went entirely to building sustainably."
Ultimately, building sustainably is a Qatari priority since in the last decade the country has witnessed a tremendous growth in the economy, which is evidently reflected in the construction industry. The country's National Vision 2030 has the Environmental Pillar, which outlines the balance between development requirements and protecting the environment. "Our mission and vision is based on the National Vision 2030, and we are supporters to that approach. In order to achieve the Environmental Pillar of the National Vision, Qatar needs the support from different organizations, and we try to find or to bridge the gap we have here in Qatar. We found that there is big gap between the suppliers and the demand for green projects and services in Qatar, therefore, we have developed the Qatar Green Directory, which it is an online application." The Qatar Green Directory is an online platform for all green building projects, which provides services that are available within the country or can be imported to Qatar. "We don't have much natural resources in Qatar, and we have very high temperatures. Taking the [sustainable] approach is very essential because it saves water, energy and provides a good in door climate for tenants, and users of the buildings. We have scarce resources and it is [relevant] that we should save them."