Most of the materials used in The Change Initiative building on Shaikh Zayed Road are from recycled products. Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: For Dubai to truly champion the essence of sustainability, it’s not enough to just do it during the main event itself, the World Expo in 2020. Instead, it should walk the talk consistently over the next seven years in the lead-up to the Expo and beyond, an advocate of sustainability said.

“Dubai’s intentions are right. Dubai’s idea of proving to the world that even bigger events can become sustainable is absolutely correct,” Gundeep Singh, a businessman and advocate of sustainability, told Gulf News.

“But all those things should come together initially that even the builders, the construction, everybody will start. So I think with the next seven years, you should see a constant flow of regulation [on sustainability].”

Singh didn’t draw these suggestions for Dubai from nowhere. For a man who lives and breathes sustainable practices, pointers like these do hold weight.

Singh is the owner and founder of The Change Initiative on Shaikh Zayed Road, which secured the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating, making it the most sustainable commercial building in the world. The rating was made by the US Green Building Council (GBC), a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable buildings worldwide.

The challenge then, as Dubai continues to rapidly grow, is to make it “sustainable, liveable and comfortable” or otherwise risk losing everything once resources drop to nil.

Experts from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, publishers of the Living Planet Report, said we have improved on this aspect; but not enough improvement if we’re to use Dubai’s gold standard. In 2012, the UAE bequeathed its most hated world title – the most environmentally wasteful country on the planet— to Qatar, followed by Kuwait.

So if the seven billion people around the world were to live like UAE residents, we would need 5.4 additional planet Earths to sustain us, down from the requirement of six planets in 2010. But it’s a huge number still and we can further bring this down, Singh said.

To continue driving things towards the right direction, Dubai needs to adopt five steps over the next seven years:


Firstly, framework for sustainability.

Singh said, as with everything, Dubai has to come up with a guideline so we don’t chart the course blindfolded. “The first thing is to rush to the framework. We have to be doing the right things and leading the right things. We should treat Dubai like a sapling that we’re trying to grow into a tree. And it should look green all the way through.”

Secondly, involvement.

The Expo venue, which will be built off Jebel Ali, is touted to be based on sustainable principles. But having a sustainable building at one certain place is not sufficient, Singh said.

“It’s not enough that there’s a little area in Dubai that’s sustainable and the rest of the place looks completely different. So we have to walk the talk all the way through otherwise we will lose the essence of what we are trying to say.”

Thirdly, infrastructure.

After establishing the framework and ensuring everybody’s involvement, the next step is to look at infrastructure. Singh said future infrastructure should follow the sustainable framework before the construction phase. But for old and existing buildings, Dubai can still practise sustainability principles when the buildings need refurbishing or renovation.

Fourthly, assess the current supply chain.

Since Dubai is a hub or a distribution centre that caters to the Middle East and Africa, the supply chain has to be influenced both at the regulatory level and also at the fundamental level to ensure that whatever products come to Dubai are at least of a certain standard.

“Dubai should not be seen as distributing products that are completely unsustainable when we are trying to create an image,” Singh said.

And lastly, communication.

Singh said everyone in a city or country has to be at the same pace with government in the quest to being sustainable. Communication plays a key role in this.

“Communication should change from saying that it’s a sustainable Expo to saying that Dubai will now stand as a benchmark in the world for sustainability and work through that and that’s the key. So it becomes as one movement rather than just one part,” Singh said. “I always say sustainability is not a destination, it’s a journey. In seven years, we would have learned a lot more.”

Dubai’s efforts and investments in tapping its other resources to produce clean and renewable energy like the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which will generate more than 24 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year that’s enough to displace carbon dioxide from an average of 2,000 cars from the road yearly, are steps in the right direction. Another example is the power generated from methane gas recovery from the millions of tonnes of trash deposited over the last 20 years at Al Ghusais Landfill.

But ultimately, Singh said sustainability is a massive effort and should involve not only government but also its people.

“It’s all in the perception of people. We have a lot to change. We’re coming from absolutely the opposite direction. Dubai has to become a hall bearer of something so significant that it stands out significantly for sustainability, but then It has to be seen at every aspect of what Dubai does. Because, like we always say, in Dubai you can do that,” Singh said.