To what extent have sustainable building practices been adopted in Qatar?

AL HORR: The construction industry’s adaptation of sustainable initiatives or principles, in general, is very promising in the state of Qatar. We see now-a-days that government agencies, mega-project developers, as well as semi-government institutes or organizations, are adapting to green building practices; starting with very large projects and developments, including new cities, all the way through to commercial buildings, residential buildings, as well as civic buildings, including museums and mosques. This is very promising because all these implementations have, in fact, started before the compulsory implementation of the system as part of the Qatar Construction Specification or Standard, which is meant to regulate the construction industry. If we look at the experience of the state of Qatar over the last 2 years in this respect compared to what is happening outside of Qatar, we are very proud of what has been achieved. We can look to a couple quick examples of the adaptations of different agencies and stakeholders in the state of Qatar. For sustainability initiatives based on the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), we have, on the urban planning level, more than 18m sq. m. of sustainable development in the construction of new cities. We have almost 350,000 sq. m. of commercial buildings which adapt to QSAS. We have around 50,000 sq. m. of sports facilities which are also adapting the QSAS standards, as well as other typologies such as mosques and museums. All these aspects give us a positive indication that the whole practice or exercise of adapting the sustainability principles is going in the right direction.

What are the key challenges that remain in promoting the use of sustainable building practices?

AL HORR: Sustainability practices or principals are very new to this part of the world, to Qatar and to the region. To be frank with ourselves, the principals are new to the whole world; it started only 20 years ago after the Earth Summit related to climate change and the effect of the build environment on CO2 emissions. The barriers that we face in the region are similar to the barriers which are faced in developed countries. Based on our studies, I can quote several barriers which in fact hinder the wide implementation of green building practices in this part of the world. First of all, there is the lack of incentives for builders to build green. The second barrier is the lack of knowledge on how to build green. The third barrier is the lack of products or technologies supporting developers and owners to build green. The fourth barrier is the lack of awareness about the benefits of building green. The fifth barrier is the lack of legislation and codes which support sustainability practices. Another barrier which can be added is the perceived, or sometimes the actual, increase in the CAPEX to build green. Yet another barrier which hinders the wide implementation of sustainability practices in the construction industry is the lack of systems and the cost of paper work formalities to adapt to these practices.

To overcome such barriers, we need to adapt a holistic approach for deployment. One aspect to deployment is not going to be enough to overcome these barriers. Therefore, we are working here in the state of Qatar with all stakeholders to approach sustainability from a holistic approach. Therefore, the plan of implementation includes the following. First of all, outreach activities to target the public through awareness activities, including workshops, seminars, TV shows, and publication, to educate people about the benefits and the positive aspects of adapting to sustainability. This is one angle. Another angle is to provide incentives for builders to build green so that they can overcome the initial extra cost which might be associated with the project. Another angle for the holistic approach for deployment is related to demonstration projects. We are trying in Qatar to have demonstration projects of different levels, be it residential or commercials buildings, so that people can look at these buildings and can touch and feel the positive and beneficial aspects of sustainability. Another angle for the holistic approach to overcome the barriers that we have just indicated is to back-up the initiative with appropriate legislation and codes. Lately, the Qatar Construction Specifications 2010, which has been approved by the Minister’s Cabinet and introduced by the Ministry of Environment, has also introduced QSAS into the building code. This is a great success and a big milestone in the QSAS journey. Some of the buildings in the near future should adhere to QSAS standards or performance. This is also part of the holistic approach. Therefore, if we cover all these angles together we feel that it would be a safe journey and most of the sustainability implementation barriers would be relaxed.

Do you foresee the need for government incentives, subsidies, or benefits to encourage adoption of sustainable construction practices?

AL HORR: We believe that giving incentives is very important for the wide implementation or adaptation of sustainability practices. In the state of Qatar, the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company has embarked on a very ambitious plan to encourage their sub-developers in Lusail City to go green. In fact, the city has mandated the achievement of 2 stars, based on QSAS, as a mandatory regulation for a building to get a building permit. However, if the developer wants to go and achieve a higher QSAS rating, for example 3 starts, the city, as an incentive to the developer, would give extra allowable built up area. That is a 5% increase in the floor-to-area ratio (FAR). This would give the developer more space to rent or more space to sell compared with the rest of the projects. Now, if the developer wants to go beyond the 3 start rating, for each increment of one star, there is a 5% incremental increase in FAR as an incentive to the developer. This is a very good example of the incentive packages that the developers can be rewarded with if they adapt to sustainability initiatives so that they can be compensated for some of the extra initial costs that they might put into their projects. Now, we are also looking for other types of incentives from other government agencies. I think there is good dialogue between different government agencies to support such a basket of incentives. We are waiting in the near future to see even more such incentives.

GORD has launched the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), the first performance-based sustainability rating system in the MENA region. What has been the reaction to the initiative from local stakeholders?

AL HORR: Since the launch of QSAS in April 2009 at the Global City Conference in Abu Dhabi, the system has attracted lots of attention, not only from different stakeholders in the state of Qatar, but also from neighboring countries as well as countries which are located really far away from Qatar. Some of the interest that we received came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Sudan. In fact, we started collaboration with different entities in these countries. For example, in Sudan, we are collaborating with the University of Khartoum. Last summer, in August 2011, some of the students in the college of engineering did their graduation projects on applying QSAS in Sudan. In Jordan, there are several professional entities who attended some workshops which we organized jointly there. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, there are bodies who are really interested in looking at the system and extending the collaboration between Qatar and their entities.

We believe that QSAS, as a system, has a good opportunity to survive, not only in Qatar, but also the region, for several good reasons. First of all, QSAS has adapted to the ground up approach serving the context of the region. All climate, environmental, ecological, regulatory and cultural aspects were taken into consideration while developing QSAS. All these angles are really shared and we have lots of common ground between Qatar and the neighboring countries. Therefore, we believe that what is applicable in the state of Qatar is also applicable to a large extent in neighboring countries. The second reason is flexibility and control. Since we have developed the system from scratch, we own the code and the standard and we have full flexibility in changing or adapting to new concepts according to the local situations or circumstances. This is another angle that provides the opportunity to apply the system in the region. The third reason for our confidence that the system can be applied elsewhere in the region is the best-mix concept that we have adapted. Since QSAS was developed very late in comparison with international systems, this allowed us to look thoroughly into all international systems and to capitalize on their strengths and avoid their mistakes or shortcomings. Therefore, our system is based on best-practices which can be seen in different systems.

In what ways are you co-operating with other organizations promoting sustainable building practices, both locally and internationally?

AL HORR: Gulf Organization for Research and Development extends its interactions and collaboration arms with all local agencies and stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment, either through its Qatar Standardization and Laboratories Affairs or the Environmental Impact Assessment Department. Also, we have good interactions with KAHRAMAA (Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation), the utility provider for the state of Qatar. We also work very closely with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Urban Planning, both on the building permits level and well as the urban planning level. We also work with other government agencies; such as the Ministry of Awqaf, to upgrade the designs of new green mosques; the Qatar Museum Authority; the Qatar National Museum, which last April, we awarded the sustainability award with a 5 star level; and also with other government and non-governmental agencies. We feel that the input that we receive from stakeholders is very important for the deployment of the system and to upgrade and fine tune the system. GORD is also interested in extending its collaboration arms outside the state of Qatar. GORD is the only entity in the GCC council which has full membership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a founding member in the SBCI chapter. We have strong joint-venture relationships with international research institutes as well as academic organizations and universities, including University of Pennsylvania, Purdue University, University College London, Aberdeen University, University of Khartoum, King Fahd University, Kuwait University, and the like. We believe that, in order for the system to gain solid ground in implementation as well as a solid scientific base, these interactions, either locally or internationally, are very important aspects for the successful deployment or the successful journey.

What are the key benefits of being located in the Qatar Science and Technology Park?

AL HORR: The location of GORD in the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) has a big impact on our role for a very simple reason; the institute is located in a place where all other international research institutes are also located. This facilitates the interactions among the different institutes and makes it very easy to exchange thoughts, collaborate on projects, and share resources. We think that such a location will stimulate the innovation of different institutes in order to have very innovative solutions, projects, and technologies, not only to the state of Qatar but also to the whole world.

What role does sustainability and resource conservation play in Qatar’s National Vision 2030?

AL HORR: If we look at the Qatar National Vision 2030, we can easily see that it evolves around four pillars: human capital, the environmental angle, the economic angle, and the social angle. Sustainability interacts with all four of these pillars. From the human capital pillar, when we started the implementation of the sustainability initiative in Qatar through QSAS, we have worked on developing the capacity and the skills of the professionals and practitioners working in the construction industry, not only in Qatar, but also in the whole region. If we look at the economic pillar, since the start of the implementation of QSAS, we have started to see a change in the economic scene. New industries have started to emerge in different areas; such as eco-materials, or high-performance materials; technologies such as grey water treatment; and energy. So we believe that, with the introduction of the system, a new process will be generated and we will start to see new business opportunities in the short term as well as the long term. The areas that I have mentioned are only a few examples of the new economic scene that will be seen in the near future in Qatar. From the environmental aspect, we believe that by adapting to sustainability, lots of negative impacts from the build environment can be mitigated. We believe that an up to 30% reduction in water consumption and an up to 30% reduction in CO2 emissions and energy consumption can be achieved. Additionally, up to 50-70% of the construction and demolition waste that we see now can be recycled into new products. Therefore, we see full alignment between the adaptation to sustainability through QSAS implementation and the Qatar National Vision 2030.