The green building concept is catching on in the UAE.

It's hard not to be affected by the excitement that Dilip Rahulan, Chairman and CEO, Pacific Controls Systems LLC, demonstrates at the mention of the recent 'platinum' LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification that the company's regional headquarters, based in Dubai's Techno Park, received. The building, which is based on a 'green' design, is one of the 16 buildings across the world to make that grade, which explains why it is a matter of pride not just for the company but also the UAE. The good news is that this is not the only building that's part of the 'green' brigade. Wafi City's District Cooling Plant was also awarded a 'silver' LEED certification recently. The next one to join the list will be Metito's headquarters that's currently under construction at the Dubai Techno Park.

Rahulan explains that the Leed certification programme has been developed by the USGBC (US Green Building Council), which is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings. LEED provides a framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals and recognises it through its rating system, which includes a certified (26-32 points), silver (33-38 points), gold (39-41 points) and platinum (52 or more points). Pacific Controls earned 55 points.

Green buildings, especially of a commercial nature, are a step in the right direction considering that the Dubai Government has been pushing for sustainable environmental protection. The forming of the Emirates Green Building Council and the efforts of organisations such as the Emirates Environmental Group have also ensured the awareness and practicality of such concepts, especially for corporates and other companies in the UAE.

"Green buildings are environmentally responsible structures that are based on a practical and simple approach in their design and construction. For instance, they optimise the use of interior spaces so that the overall building size and use of resources in constructing and operating them are kept to a minimum. Other factors such as sustainability, energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, and the use of non-toxic, eco-friendly materials within the structure is also important," says Mario Seneviratne, a certified LEED engineer and Director of Green Technologies, the company that did the engineering and project management for the District Cooling Chiller Plant — DCCP One at Wafi City, which is the first building of its kind in the Middle East to be certified LEED 'silver' building.

Seneviratne credits MKM Commercial Holdings LLC for its vision in the creation of the building, which supplies chilled water for air-conditioning of Wafi City, a residential and commercial development.

The project highlight, according to Seneviratne, has been the construction of an 8,100-tonne chilled water plant on a land area that was previously used to generate 720 tonnes of cooling. He says that the district cooling plant also utilises energy-efficient chillers and environmental-friendly refrigerants, improving energy efficiency by more than 25 per cent over ASHRAE STD 90.1, which will result in the most energy efficient operation over its expected lifecycle of 40 years. The habitable area of the automated plant has waterless urinals, water-based paints, carbon dioxide detectors and other green features.

While the DC plant at Wafi is a utility building, the Pacific Controls headquarters is an office that will house 200 or more employees. The building will be an excellent benchmark for companies looking to use green technologies in their own offices. Rahulan says that the building will showcase Pacific Controls, energy-efficient and intelligent commercial and industrial automated products and concepts such as building management systems (BMS) and machine-2-machine (M2M) communications.

"Creating a green building was part of our corporate social responsibility initiative as well as our commitment to the Dubai government's sustainable environment-protection drive. Creating a green building that would earn a platinum rating was a Herculean task that required rigorous processes of design and implementation strategies but we kept on track, ably guided by our consultants, CCI (Confederation of Indian Industry) and supported by our contractors and sub-contractors," says Rahulan.

According to Rahulan, 100 per cent of water at the building will be recycled and used for landscaping. The roof of the building has photovoltaic cells (which provide solar power) that will supply lighting during the day while solar air-conditioning will also be used to satisfy 25 per cent of the building's 400-tonne cooling requirement. Materials used for its construction were sourced from within 200 km of Dubai. This was done to boost the local economy and reduce unnecessary pollution during the transportation of these materials. Bonding materials were also used to curb land erosion. Construction waste was segregated and disposed on green guidelines.

The building has waterless urinals in some areas. Recycled wood and eco-friendly sealants, paints and carpets were incorporated into the interiors. Carbon dioxide sensors were installed to help maintain fresh air in the rooms. Lighting was also designed to meet green building guidelines. Intelligent, state-of-the-art technology has made it a single backbone IP (Internet Protocol)-enabled building, which means all the systems, including the BMS, security system and access controls, are linked to a single IP network. Each conference room in the building has an IP projector, which allows anybody in the world to make a presentation in the room by logging into the IP address. Parking facilities for bicycles and battery-operated cars are also provided. The area in and around the office is built to consider the needs of the handicapped.

While the Pacific Controls building is the only green office building of its kind at present, Metito's global headquarters, also being built on the lines of a green building, will be worth watching. Metito is a leading name in the areas of water, wastewater and desalination treatment projects.

"To achieve a green building certification, there were a number of prerequisites and credits required to be documented and achieved. Some of these that can be found in our building include innovative wastewater recycling technologies, water use reduction through the installation of water conservation fixtures, water efficient landscaping designs, optimising energy performance, CFC reduction in HVAC, CO2 monitoring, low emitting building and finishing materials, thermal comfort control, IAQ (indoor air quality) management planning during construction and before occupancy and several other features," says Bassem Halabi, Group Business Development Director, Metito Overseas Ltd.

Halabi says that the reason for building its headquarters on green concepts is linked to the company's core business, which focuses on the environment to the extent that even its logo represents an endangered species.

"A green building is about logical steps to reduce impact on the environment, some of which are very simple. As a small example, we reduced the number of lights installed in the building by maximising the use of indirect sunlight, thus reducing costs while still ensuring each person was receiving appropriate illumination for his job. What we learnt in the process was that green buildings have a significant economic advantage," says Halabi.

"Contrary to popular belief that taking care of the environment is a costly affair, we were able to reduce both capital and operating costs by becoming a green building," says Halabi.

Seneviratne and Rahulan believe that green buildings don't just bring down the operating expenditure, but have more longevity (compared to conventional buildings) and promote employee productivity. Seneviratne says that several buildings in the UAE have one or more green features including Dubai's Hyatt Regency, which has one of the most efficient air-conditioning plants in the region. The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi is also a strong contender. He adds that energy costs will play a major force in motivating companies to go green.

Rahulan is optimistic that Dubai will be a model city for green initiatives because awareness about the concept is on the rise. He says that the UAE has seen such phenomenal development and considering that the country has been in the forefront of adapting technology and trends, it's natural that the 'green design' concept will catch on here.