Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guest Post - What Can the Middle East Teach Us About Sustainability?

When one thinks about urban development in the Middle East, sustainability may not be the first idea that springs to mind. But recent reports show that, as a matter of fact, the Middle East is actually leading the way when it comes to implementing sustainable practices.

Disparate Attitudes

This news has come as a surprise to many, particularly in light of the disparate attitudes towards promoting sustainability which are held by Middle East and Western governments. The British government, for example, introduced a tax which made it exponentially more expensive to purchase landfill space in the UK. In addition, there are many more resources available, from companies such as Mark Group, for homeowners who want to shore up the sustainability of their homes. By contrast, there have historically been significantly fewer financial incentives provided in the Middle East for the development of green buildings.

International Findings

Nonetheless, the findings of a major international study which was recently commissioned by the UN Global Compact has shown that, when it comes to sustainability, the Middle East is actually ahead of the global game. In particular, Qatar is shaping up to be an international player on the sustainability stage, with strong investment in circular economy and incentive driven green developments at the forefront of urban policy.

Increased Trade Benefits Sustainable Development

It certainly helps that certain Middle Eastern regions have been benefitting from increased trade, which follows a slump caused by the global financial recession. Increased spending has meant that there is more consumer interest in shopping locations which had previously been overlooked. The famous Mall of the Emirates, for example, is one of the only shopping centres in the world to be in receipt of a prestigious LEED gold award.

Recognising Demand

Perhaps at the heart of the Middle East’s sustainable overhaul is a government and developer-driven recognition of the need to understand the requirements of people at both local and regional levels. To uphold this ethos, commercial standards were first implemented in government buildings before being applied elsewhere. In addition, water and electricity costs are heavily subsidised throughout many Middle Eastern markets, and government sponsored initiatives to reduce carbon emissions are being introduced across the UAE.

So, what can we learn from the Middle East about sustainability? Their greatest successes seem to stem from paying close attention to the needs and requirements of people, consumers and businesses at a local level. Communication, as ever, seems to be at the heart of success.