From an uneasy starting point, the UAE redoubles its sustainability efforts

Several new projects in the country are indicative of a renewed desire for eco-living on both an individual and collective level

How do you make a truly utopian suburb? For Faris Saeed, the answer lay in a living spine. Saeed is CEO of Diamond Developers, the company behind residential community ‘Sustainable City’ in Dubai. Walking around the community, its lush park acting as a green spine for rows of identical villas, it is the personification of the ‘perfect little town.’

Bringing to mind the fictious Stepford Connecticut, the community may not be the first choice for a resident looking for any creative chaos. But with all aspects of living or wellness embodied in the city’s ethos, the end result has an undeniable allure.

Atop each of the houses' roofs is a solar panel, and inside UV reflective paint and insulation cut down on air conditioning costs. In the outer circles there are running tracks, a ring road for vehicles, even a horse track with accompanying equestrian centre.

Two lakes of recycled water irrigate the fig and papaya trees (which also provide the community with free fresh fruit), while there are also co-operatives in the works so that the city’s residents can sign up to weekly food boxes or organise markets for produce they have left over.

Diamond Developer’s plan goes beyond mere comfortable living. The team has been engaging with academic partners such as Herriot-Watt and the American Universities of Beirut and Cairo, as well as green councils and initiatives – with the collective goal of reducing the country’s carbon footprint, which in 2010 was the highest in the world.

Zayed City
Zayed City, a planned project in Abu Dhabi, plans to have 45 parks dotted around its interior

To do this, projects needed to exist on the macro and micro scale, involving every kind of stakeholder, from residents to government.

On a macro level, Earth Hour was organised by Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) for the 10th consecutive year in 2017 in Business Bay. Lights went off at 8:30pm, and thousands of Dubai residents joined millions around the world in a walk lit by only candles and lanterns, to raise awareness about our current energy output.

Initiatives also exist on a state level: the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, aims to provide 7 per cent of Dubai’s total power output from clean energy sources by 2020, 25 per cent by 2030, and 75 per cent by 2050.

HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, and MD & CEO of DEWA, the government water and electricity department, noted that he wanted to: “[promote] a culture of rational consumption in society so that it becomes a daily practice that contributes to conserving natural resources, and driving the sustainable development of the UAE,” added Al Tayer.

[We aim to] promote a culture of rational consumption in society so that it becomes a daily practice that contributes to conserving natural resources

HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, and MD & CEO of DEWA

Not every sustainable project has to take an empty site and create something entirely novel. The Expo 2020 Dubai may have taken this route, employing London studio Grimshaw Architects to design its Sustainability Pavilion, one of the key three themes for the mega-event.

“As society looks to intelligent strategies for sustainable future living, the pavilion aims to illuminate the ingenuity and possibility of architecture,” said the firm in a statement. The pavilion seeks to replicate processes like photosynthesis in its structure, as it captures energy from sunlight and fresh water from humid air.

However, one of the other expo pavilion architects, Foster + Partners, was recently employed by Sharjah to design-ify a soon-to-be disused landfill site.

The British firm have created blueprints for the redevelopment of the emirate’s main landfill site, which plans to become redundant once the city reaches its ‘zero waste to landfill’ target in 2020.

Sustainability Pavilion, Dubai Expo 2020
A to-scale model of the Sustainability Pavilion, set to debut at Dubai Expo 2020

“The agreement is also a clear demonstration of how we do not consider it sufficient simply to meet our zero waste to landfill target,” said HE Salim Al Owais, Chairman of Bee’ah.

“We seek to go further by redeveloping the location in order to show others just how, having transformed their waste management practices, they too can utilise former landfill sites… for the benefit of their economy.” 

Projects like this are appearing in the news almost daily, from the recent US$4.5m seed round to finance a high-tech greenhouse in Nahel in the UAE, to Zayed City, a 17.1 million metre-squared model for high-quality sustainable living in Abu Dhabi that will have 45 gardens, to Dubai’s new solar park, thought to be the biggest in the world.

If the UAE can apply its ‘bigger and better’ ethos to sustainable living, there seems no limit to the country’s green output.