The green movement as a global phenomenon has emerged in reaction to the fact that natural resources are limited, and they therefore must be managed in a sustainable way. The movement is growing rapidly in the last decade as more and more people are impacted by the effects of global warming. Ozone depletion and other adverse phenomena like acid rain have arisen out of a widespread disregard for the health of local and global ecosystems.
There is a range of ways that people around the world have organized to battle environmental degradation. Governments around the world have taken a top down approach through regulatory frameworks and tax incentives for the development and usage of green technology. They’ve also worked together to implement global environmental policy as with the Kyoto Protocol.
Concurrently, the private sector has been responding to society’s demand for environmentally friendly products. Products ranging from hybrid cars to non-toxic house paints have been introduced in recent years.
Since the construction industry accounts for the largest share of energy and materials consumption, and thus has a major impact on the environment, sustainable construction became the responsible way towards development. A sustainable development is one that promotes, spreads and helps implement high performance construction concepts that are environmentally responsible, healthy and profitable, while sustaining the supply of resources.
Sustainability not only helps maintain economic development but also allows the ecosystem to function and maintain productivity and diversity for a prolonged period of time. In the construction industry, the green building movement offers an unprecedented opportunity to respond to the most important challenges of our time: dependence on non- sustainable and expensive sources of energy, and threats to human health.
There are many certificates relating to sustainability due to custom tailoring each system to meet local or regional needs. While each green building rating system uses a different methodology and criteria to asses the environmental sustainability of a building, the objectives and goals are the same. The main internationally recognized certificates are BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment), the UK certificate established in 1990; and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the US certificate established in 1998.
LEED was created by the US Green Building Council. According to the council, the system “promotes a whole building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.” Furthermore, “LEED provides a roadmap for measuring and documenting success for every building type and phase of a building cycle.”
The push to develop green buildings and residences has also taken off in the Middle East. Currently, the LEED system is being employed by developers in the Middle East to create developments that are attractive for an environmentally conscientious consumer base. LEED has become the leading certificate because it promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health. LEED relies on ASHRAE standards, an American based standard widely used by designers in LEBANON.
Attempts to follow the trend
For the past few years, environmental issues in Lebanon are capturing substantial interest because environmental degradation in the country has reached to dangerous levels. Regrettably, Lebanon has no government policy whatsoever to protect its natural resources. Some circumstantial initiatives are taken by some ministries but they are less than enough. The private sector and the civil society seem more aware and enthusiastic about green issues in Lebanon but much more has to be done in order to achieve satisfactory level of environmental quality.
The civil society has even created its Green Party following the steps of civilized communities. The Green Party of Lebanon however has as its main priority, an awareness role to play, both with the general public and with all the political players of the country, which is to create awareness about the hot environmental issues before the government starts dealing with the regulatory green framework in the construction fields.
An encouraging official initiative was the creation of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC). LCEC is a joint project of the UNDP and the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water. The LCEC addresses end-use energy conservation and renewable energy at the national level. The organization operates since 2002 and picked up activity in 2005. Operations are conducted on a project basis. The projects are financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Ministry of Energy Water (MEW) in addition to other bilateral donors. Projects are managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors offer a wide range of opportunities with huge potential for energy saving, money saving, and the reduction of environmental damage.
LCEC is responsible for energy audits, financial incentive schemes, and standards and labeling, promoting the use of renewable, national energy database, and the promotion for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for carbon off-sets. It handles the official secretariat work for Lebanon in the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP), and is a founding member representing Lebanon in the Regional Center for Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy (RCREEE).
On the other hand, last year the Central Bank of Lebanon created a new program for financing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green buildings projects. The National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action, or NEEREA, is the result of close cooperation and coordination between the LCEC team and the Central Bank officials in addition to the efforts invested by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Energy and Environment team and the European Union (EU). With NEEREA, loans with repayment periods of up to 10 years can be secured at an interest rate of around 0%. It is estimated that NEEREA will deploy investments of more than $100 million in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building fields in the coming five years.
The ARZ environmental rating system
In December 2008, the Lebanon Green Building Council (LGBC) was formed. LGBC is an NGO with a vision of creating a sustainable built environment in Lebanon. LGBC pledges to work on identifying and promoting procedures, methods and solutions for the design, planning, construction and utilization of both new buildings and major renovation of existing buildings that achieve the goal of sustainability.
In June 2011, LGBC, with support from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, launched the ARZ rating system created to evaluate the energy efficiency of commercial buildings in the country to encourage better resource management, which decreases energy costs and addresses climate change.
While several internationally accepted green building rating systems already exist, the Lebanon Green Building Council and IFC recognized the need for a system that responds to Lebanon’s unique conditions. The ARZ Building Rating System measures the extent to which commercial buildings in Lebanon are healthy, comfortable places to work and do business, and also their impact on the natural environment. The new rating system is a tool to encourage owners of commercial buildings in Lebanon to undertake renovations that save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IFC is providing technical assistance to the project, which will help commercial building owners in the country assess their structures’ impact on the environment and recommend changes to reduce energy and water waste.
The new system will rate buildings as certified, bronze, silver or gold. The IFC expected that the ARZ rating system, once widely adopted, will encourage building owners and facility managers to achieve ever-higher certification levels that will help attract tenants and clients. IFC’s Lebanon Green Building Project is co-funded by Japan.
“By taking part in the ARZ Building Rating System, commercial building owners now have the chance not only to do something to support better management of Lebanon’s precious water and energy resources, but can also save money over the long term by investing to ‘green’ their buildings,” says Samir Traboulsi, president of the Lebanon Green Building Council.
Earlier this year, the IFC launched a sustainable energy finance initiative in Lebanon that aims to develop financial products that help Lebanese companies use resources more efficiently and protect the environment. It estimated that high energy costs and unsustainable practices cost Lebanese businesses more than $400m annually in lost profits, in addition to their negative impact on the local environment.
The IFC indicated that the initiative aims at expanding access to finance for projects that will save energy and other resources, and promote the efficient use of energy.
Building sustainably makes business sense
More than an environmental theory and outlook, sustainability can also be considered a way of business that aims at mitigating the negative effects on the environment in order to grow revenue, reduce costs, manage risk and grow social responsibility. This definition gives focus to the foundational drivers of a business while adding the new dimension of environmental impact. Thus, sustainability opens the door to new businesses and a market worth billions of dollars.
According to McGraw-Hill construction, the world’s ‘green’ building is currently worth $60 billion. In 2013 this is expected to more than double to $140 billion. The increase in the sustainable market in the Middle East also is set to rise rapidly while Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are introducing their own compulsory environmental building regulations. The ‘green’ construction sector is also growing due to the commercial value of building green. A report, by Real Property Association of Canada, looked at buildings in North America and the UK and showed an emerging link between green features and market value.
It is accepted now that building sustainably makes business sense. This is scientifically proven, but actually, many developers in Lebanon are using it as marketing tool to attract ‘green’ customers, which necessitates the urgency of regulating the concept and making inspection and reporting mandatory to all developers.
Still a long way to go
Undoubtedly Lebanon has one of the most dynamic construction markets in the region. But there is a danger that the unchecked human and economic activity will result in environmental degradation that will impede the growth of the country. Therefore, a renewed focus must attend to green building alternatives, green transportation, and green tourism.
There is definitely a need to push forward for green buildings regulations in Lebanon. With the real estate boom, prices have increased in Beirut, thus making it economically affordable for developers to include sustainable solutions and contribute in the end to the well-being of the buildings’ residents. Currently Beirut is growing vertically thus increasing the carbon emissions per square meter of land. This should be offset with efficient sustainability measures.
Nevertheless, without proper legislation and supervision, sustainability measures and ratings will remain circumstantial, and country’s non-renewable resources will get further destroyed.