How environmental regulation may change the face of warehouse construction.
With the biggest developments in the world, the tallest buildings and the most luxurious hotels, competition seems to underpin all aspects of the construction industry in Dubai. Now developers have something else to squabble about - which company has the greenest building.
At the beginning of the year, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced that any new buildings throughout the country would need to be environmentally friendly.
For the logistics industry, this naturally suggests that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgreen warehouses' will begin to appear in the country. So what will this mean for supply chain practitioners looking to build a new facility? The answer is that the specific form the regulations take will likely vary from emirate to emirate.
While Dubai's own set of regulations are still being drawn up by the municipality and won't be expected until the end of the year, other emirates - not least Abu Dhabi - have forged ahead with their own code of certification.
Abu Dhabi's Estidama regulations, announced at the beginning of July, are adopted from the US-created Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification schemes and are perhaps more stringent than anywhere else in the world.
Town planners in the emirate say they want to leave a clean, sustainable city to future generations.
Whether Dubai decides to transplant the Estidama regulations or whether it will adopt the US LEED pedigree, it is clear that warehouse developers in the emirate are in limbo for now.
Whatever form the rules take when they are adopted at the end of the year, there will inevitably be a skills shortage. Firms that have been able to take out multiple projects at a time will suddenly have to put new contracts on ice until they train up engineers in the new rules or find the right consultants to ensure that the buildings are built to specification.
There are currently only 11 engineers in the UAE who are trained to LEED certification, and bosses at industrial construction firm Amana recently announced that they will train 10 of their staff in the US building code.
"We see that the markets locally and the markets globally are moving toward sustainable development and a lot of it is coalescing around the LEED certification of the US Green Buildings Council (USGBC)," says Amana chief operating officer Riad Bsaibes. "Dubai looks like it is moving that way - by using LEED as a standardisation of requirements.
"Abu Dhabi has taken it to another level, perhaps to a higher level in creating its own requirements. The reason why it is important for us to move in that direction is because that is the route the market is taking.
"But the first thing that we need to do is to raise the wareness within the company of the requirements for sustainable construction with respect to LEED certification," he adds.
In order to train the 10 engineers, the company is looking to bring in LEED consultants from the US.
"We don't believe the market here has the right means to train our staff. Right now it is still coming together and is thus in an early stage," says Bsaibes.
"We needed to bring expertise from a developed market like the US to train our people. The aim is to have 10 LEED certified staff by the end of the year."
Bsaibes himself admits that should the new code be a LEED pedigree they may struggle to retain their engineers after the regulation comes out and the skills shortage hits the market.
Other companies, however, are playing the waiting game to see what the final system will be before training up in-house experts. For instance, ProLogis, which has led the field around the world in developing sustainable warehouses, has not trained up any of its engineers in the Middle East region.
"We are seeing that consultants are already preparing to take on this type of document management," says Joseph Ghazal, ProLogis' senior vice president in the Middle East.
Ghazal adds that he is not convinced that Dubai Municipality will simply adopt an identical LEED system to that utilised in the US.
"We believe certification will be closer to the standards in Abu Dhabi or Europe - a modified version of LEED or BREEAM like in the UK," he says.
LEED certification is split up into six categories - sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.
It is a points-based system that stretches from gradings such as certified (26-32 points), through to silver, gold and platinum (52-69 points).
The Abu Dhabi scheme is more stringent and has a point-based system that goes up to 75 (five pearl level). It also bases its assessment on a wider range of criteria - water, energy use, indoor environmental quality, ecology, management, transport, pollution, materials, waste management and, finally, land use.
Critics are divided on whether the eventual system that will emerge in Dubai will resemble the Estidama code, but Amana remains determined to train engineers up to LEED level regardless.
"The Dubai building code with regard to green buildings is not out yet but it will be published sooner or later," says Bsaibes. "So we could do one of two things - we could wait for that building code to come out, wait for the consultants to understand it and then start designing facilities. Or we could take a more pro-active role and say we are going to jump into that sector and understand it in the meantime.
We will run our training in parallel with the building code as it is being developed so when it is released we will have a better grasp of what it takes to build green industrial facilities," he adds.
Bsaibes stresses that the basic bones of LEED and Estidama codes are essentially the same and even if an alternative system is adopted it will not be too difficult to make the transition.
"They are very similar and both are largely to do with the requirement to save both power and water. In addition, both require that you are able to generate your own source of power," he says. "These are the common themes, whether it is LEED certification or whether it is European or British certification."
Even if it is the case that Dubai Municipality adopts LEED, it is still not clear on what the minimum number of points will be. But Amana has good grounds on which to guess. The company is currently in negotiations with a "large government entity" to build an industrial building to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsilver' LEED classification.
In both LEED and Estidama, developers can earn Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpoints' in each category for energy-saving methods within the warehouse. For lighting systems, these can range from the simple step of providing skylights for natural lighting, to motion and daylight sensors to prevent wasted electricity.
Other tips include painting roofs white and installing reflective glass to prevent the warehouse from heating up, thus reducing the need for excessive air conditioning.
According to Ghazal, ProLogis is currently in the process of building a 70,000mÃ‚Â² warehouse for Aramex that is destined to carry a significant number of the above features.
Another type of technology for green warehouses that is likely to catch on is solar power. Amana is currently in talks with companies abroad to purchase photovoltaic cells to be installed on the roofs of green warehouses. Moreover, the company is also competing for the tender of a solar farm under Abu Dhabi's Masdar Initiative.
Solar technology can enable firms to cut their electricity bills, but the immediate capital costs are fairly high. Bsaibes believes this to be a temporary issue.
"The development costs are going to be slightly higher because it is going to take time for the construction industry to understand what it takes," he says. "This means that the costs will go down over the years, so that's one reason why many are thinking about waiting later to develop a facility.
"But, on the other hand, the earlier you build it, the earlier you can capitalise on it from a marketing point of view," Bsaibes concludes. "It can also save you money - having a green building lowers your operating expenses on power and water.
So there really are economical advantages to green buildings. It's not just a necessity that needs implementing because you are compelled to do so by the laws of the land."