Two states bid for sustainability lead

By Arvin Daeizadeth

Leadership in sustainability can only be seen in two countries, the UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar. These are the only two states that have mandated sustainability ratings for new buildings – Estidama and QSAS.

One of Alpin’s current projects is the Msherieb Downtown Doha project, a massive redevelopment set in the heart of Doha. Comprised of more than 90 buildings, most are set to be LEED Gold.

The overall LEED masterplan is valued at between $4-5 billion and is slated to become the largest single cluster of LEED certified buildings in the world, once complete. This is being developed in a country which doesn’t yet have a national programme for recycling and has to import most of its construction materials.

The challenge of building to this high level of sustainability certification can be compared to building a remote village on Mars. Okay, that is a bit extreme, but there is an acute lack of sustainability infrastructure and knowledge regarding LEED, or sustainability, among contractors, subcontractors and vendors.

While this makes it challenging to build to LEED standards today, the government, through its firm backing of the project, is setting the stage for industry education and awareness, so the next phases of private development will be easier to build sustainably.

A bit further to the East in the Gulf, rests Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Masdar City is a hybrid sustainable mega-project, testing facility and cleantech university, which allows for the practical integration of technology, capital and consultancy. This project was, and for the most part, is still considered the world’s most ambitious attempt at building the most sustainable development possible: most of its buildings target zero net energy.


Until now, both the UAE and Qatar have been doing their respective parts to lead the industry in sustainable developments, but there is one area where they have diverged.

In the late 2000s both states started developing their own green building rating systems. QSAS was first introduced in 2009, nearly a year before the Pearl Rating System, created by Estidama, in Abu Dhabi, was implemented. QSAS has since fallen behind in the number of buildings registered and certified.

Abu Dhabi made it compulsory for all new private and public projects to comply with the minimum rating certification levels in order to make a serious commitment to the cities’ sustainability goals. QSAS has remained mandatory only for government projects, but this is due to be expanded to commercial projects in the near future.

In addition, Abu Dhabi continues to ratchet up the minimum certification requirements for all new government buildings and, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has led to higher sustainability requirement for government schools.

Despite such progress, both systems currently trail global standards, such as LEED, in the lack of a system for operations and maintenance. We have heard however, that the team at Estidama is busy working on the development of the Estidama phase for Operations.

Looking at the milestones and the developments taking place in the region, it seems that there are two regional leaders in sustainability, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, with Abu Dhabi currently coming out on top.

Qatar’s heavy investment in technology, developments and QSAS should be felt over the coming years, and as in all things competitive within this region, it will pay to keep up to date and informed, as both entities are racing to become world leaders in the sustainable space.

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