By Ilham Kadri

When the Burj Khalifa opened with a dazzling fireworks display earlier this year, the tower was hailed as a marvel of modern engineering, which it certainly is. However, it is also an excellent example of sustainability at work.

From the facilities management system that increases efficiencies and the practices and technology to extend the tower’s lifespan, to the use of condensation to irrigate its 11-hectare garden and solar panels to heat water, the Burj Khalifa comes with a ‘sustainability inside’ tag.

‘Sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ are not new concepts that have just become fashionable. In 1987 a document called ‘Our Common Future’ or the Brundtland Report was published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and defined ‘sustainable development’ as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

How does this apply to construction? Simply put, it means a greater emphasis on designing and constructing structures that are environmentally and economically efficient, while serving a social purpose.

The early view of sustainability in the building industry was about ensuring that the construction process paid credence to the three pillars of conservation – renew, re-use and recycle.

Today, effective sustainable construction has evolved well beyond making more with less. Now, the focus is shifting towards buildings that incorporate sustainable elements in their design. This means that in addition to housing people, businesses, serving as landmarks and enhancing the landscape aesthetically, new buildings are becoming conduits for long-term energy conservation, with lower carbon footprints.

Through specialised construction technology, the ability to maximise renewable energy sources is being built into the hardware and construction of new properties. One example is the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle, which integrates photovoltaic cells into roofing materials. New building designs now incorporate solutions that aim to boost efficiency, such as increased natural lighting and specialised insulation.

Increased legislation for sustainable practices shows how governments are taking the subject very seriously. Countries in the West and the US already have extensive regulations in place. In the UAE, the Emirates Green Building Council has launched sustainability assessment criteria based on the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) rating system.

The volume of energy consumption in the Middle East certainly is a cause for concern.

For instance, it is estimated that the UAE ranks fifth in the world for per capita energy consumption, making it particularly important for energy saving measures to be built into all new construction projects.

And regional governments are developing new local standards. Under the directives of High Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai Municipality is already working towards ensuring that all new buildings fulfill a set of green standards, which are under definition and will certainly make an impact on the emirate’s carbon footprint.

Another sign of how important the region is taking energy conservation is the increase in demand for Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (EIFS), which can reduce energy consumption by almost 40%.

Sustainability is no longer simply about installing solar panels on a roof. It is about integrating a sustainable approach and acknowledging that there are economic, energy and environmental advantages to adopting a sustainable design model.

Sustainability needs to be ‘inside’ everything we do and should become a part of our DNA.

Dr. Ilham Kadri is general manager for the Middle East and Africa of the Dow Advanced Materials Division.