By: Heba Eid

Egypt’s present economic reality, its rapidly growing population, and finite resource pool all make it prudent for the nation to conserve resources and energy.  With the real estate sector continuously on the rise to fulfil the housing demand needs, it is only natural that developers begin to take the necessary steps to build property in a sustainable fashion.

There are many reasons why developers should opt for green buildings. Reducing energy and water consumption, protecting natural resources, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions are the primary advantages of the green real estate market.

Green and energy efficient buildings are not limited to conserving resources only when the property is in use. It spans the whole process from the design to the choice of construction materials and the actual construction process.

KarmBuild, architecture and design firm, is a pioneer in designing and constructing real estate with minimal impact on the environment – in other words, the company specialises in building green. A subsidiary of KarmSolar, KarmBuild was introduced in 2002 as a green real estate development arm to the mother company.

Invest-Gate sat with Mostafa Ascar, KarmBuild’s General Manager, to further gain insight into the green building market in Egypt, the challenges faced, and the potential of the green construction market.

In his introductory comments about KarmBuild and its line of work, Ascar said, “KarmBuild is not trying to reinvent the wheel; it is going back a couple of steps first to try to serve whatever the community needs. Because of development, people want certain prototypes to be replicated across the world without looking to what they are doing to the environment around them, even from the social aspect.”

Inefficient Construction Process

“The construction process in Egypt is one of the most wasteful industries where we waste 50% more water during construction than any place in the world,” said Ascar. “It is not only about conserving resources, but it is also about the overall process, and how we can efficiently use those resources to make a difference.”

“Our approach when designing new projects is pretty simple. We start to think of what we are adding to the area from the social, environmental, and efficiency aspects. Then we start to implement new technologies and methods that help us achieve our end results,” explained Ascar.

Minimizing the environmental impact is KarmBuild’s goal; however selling the concept to developers in a price-competitive market is difficult to achieve. “At the end of the day, solutions offered are either economically valuable or not. And that is what is important to the developer and the end user,” Ascar noted.

The Economy of Building Green

From the client’s perspective, the main advantage to KarmBuild’s work is the cost effectiveness of their designs. Sustainable designs and construction are believed to be more efficient than the traditional design concepts that may not be entirely suitable for the local climate and community needs.

“Egypt is a price-driven economy. The user will purchase the cheaper and inefficient bulb to be used now rather than pay an exorbitant amount for bulbs and save energy and money over the long run. We [Egyptians], in general, are not long-term planners,” commented Ascar.

The shift towards building green is slow in taking off in Egypt but is expected to change in the upcoming years, according to Ascar. The surge in prices and removal of energy subsidies will fuel the demand for more energy efficient buildings. “Prices have soared everywhere around us – from power production and cost of energy with a further increase expected in the near future. This surge in prices will necessitate green and efficient buildings.”

Developers, who have been reluctant to switch to green design and construction in the past, are now more open to the idea. With newer blood and heightened customer awareness, the mentality is starting to change.

KarmBuild Solutions

The solutions KarmBuild offers include design and construction services, in addition to master plan and consultancy design services – all done to help construct sustainable and green buildings.

“Minimal impact on the environment” is how Ascar describes green buildings. “Energy efficiency, water efficiency although not necessarily efficient use of materials. When it comes to more efficiency, the choices of materials that will minimize heat gain, minimize, over time, corrosion, or deterioration, to obtain a long lasting building. It is my hope that one day we design a building that will not require at any given point to turn on the light during the day.”

“No design or construction process is 100% sustainable or green as wherever you start building property, you are killing the surrounding environment. It is what you do in the construction process and how you impact the environment is what makes it green, sustainable, and efficient,” Ascar said addressing the notion of idealistic standards of green buildings.

“It is a challenging endeavour, and this is where we need to change our mindset to give more weight to the value of the development rather than the value of the land only,” added Ascar

 To Ascar, an architect, his dream goes beyond green and efficient buildings. The firm’s long-term vision is to build sustainable and green towns. “Our aim is to bring bigger, more city kind of approach, and we wanted to go for that significant development beyond integrated residential complex – building a town or city. We want at some point to reach the point that we can proudly say: Yes, we managed to design and plan a sustainable town or a city.”

The company’s offered design solutions are multi-faceted and tailored to the customer’s requirements, according to Ascar. “The overall user experiences is a central aspect of our designs. We bring forth to the client several options and discuss the choices available to enhance the overall user experience. A major factor to the customer is the cost and long-term energy savings. Finally, we talk aesthetics – how the final building will look.”

“Cairo has what many can call green buildings, but limited aesthetic value, which KarmBuild deems vital to the overall user experience,” he added.

KarmBuild has a wide array of projects in its portfolio for the residential, commercial and hospitality sector. In Marsa Alam, for example, Portal Boutique Hotel is currently in progress as well as the Wadi Sabbara residential development project. Another Hotel is currently under construction is the Seil Hotel, also in Marsa Alam, and KarmSolar Red Sea Campus for workers and staff.

When asked about retrofitting buildings in Cairo, Ascar said, “It is possible, but it is quite expensive to retrofit existing ones. Certainly, there are steps that all buildings and all owners can take to be more energy efficient, such as changing the light bulbs for example which saves a massive amount of energy yet people are hesitant to implement due to the high initial costs.”

In response to Invest Gate’s question on best locations to build green property, Ascar said “Each region has its characteristics with its set of requirements. You cannot take one idea, implement it in certain areas, and then replicate it in another area. A design that is suitable in Cairo is not necessarily fit for Hurghada.”

“It is true that certain parts of Egypt are relatively easier to adopt an eco-friendlier lifestyle because they haven’t been incorporated into urban and city lifestyle.  The problem in these districts, though, is that the people in the community want what they see in the movies and Cairo – high rise buildings and glass towers, all of which are not sustainable in the long term.”

Ascar then explained their experience in building the KarmSolar Campus in Bahriya. Locals were quite surprised at our choice of materials and what seems an ‘outdated design’ to them, Ascar elaborated. People living in remote areas are striving for more modern buildings – which as KarmBuild we are trying to wean Cairenes of.

When asked about KarmBuild’s plans to cooperate with leading developers to expand on the green building concept, Ascar confirmed that the company has been in touch with several developers. “Some developers are torn about their approach moving forward. Developers are between the traditional development approach to design and construction and the use of ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘more efficient’ as a marketing tool. The customer’s uncertainty poses a dilemma for developers at this point which I believe that they are still trying to figure it out.”

“That is why we do not mind holding multiple consultations sessions with the developer to facilitate the decision-making process. The developer has the means to bring KarmBuild’s dream to life, and that is why we will continuously endeavour to find the right developer. We have to find the perfect marriage.”

Commenting on the ongoing dollar crisis in Egypt, Ascar highlighted that the main impact of the current currency fluctuation is mainly in the finishing stages of construction, which witnessed a 10-15% increase in cost, in addition to the natural inflation in its price levels over the past couple of years.

Impact of Energy Subsidies on the Consumer

Commenting on the impact of energy subsidies on the consumer, Ascar explained that subsidies are going away, and consequently one needs to start thinking of more sustainable and energy efficient solution.

“Clients have been hesitant to make the ‘green shift yet after the announcement of the elimination of subsidies, and developers are now welcoming the idea. Now once the five-year plan of subsidy elimination has been announced and with the increase in electricity bill prices, more and more clients are revisiting sustainable solutions. It was a red flag of sorts – energy subsidies ARE going away,” confirmed Ascar.

The government-enforced limits on electricity consumption play a role in building energy efficient properties, according to Ascar.  “Let’s say you can go to a developer, and he is only allowed, less than 10 megawatts of electricity, and his future extension will require 30 megawatts, and the government will not give him that 30 megawatts. Then the developer will try to find other viable and energy efficient solutions. The enforced power caps will force the developer to plan for the next 10-25 years which is what Egypt lacks yet needs now.”

Challenges

When asked about their biggest challenge, the answer was one word “mentality”. Ascar considers their biggest challenge to be the concern with short term gains rather than long term ones. “How much and what can I gain now is the widespread mentality which is holding us back. What we would like to see in is long term thinking and planning for the future generations of this country.”

That current thinking mentality is an impediment for KarmBuild especially in their dealing with government officials. The present mode of operation involves conventional buildings and your common construction materials which are not the track that KarmBuild follows. For example, a proposal submitted to a governmental authority might find some resistance due to materials used or construction methods and it is usually due to lack of understanding of our practices and outdated knowledge, Ascar explained.Infograph Green House Purchase Opinion

Looking further into the potential of change Invest-Gate asked it’s readers about their willingness to pay higher fees for greener homes, a staggering 86% preferred to pay more of a house that was constructed to rely less on electricity and is less harmful to the environment.

Sustainable solutions, in all its forms, are crucial to Egypt’s future and the real estate market is no exception. KarmBuild is determined to conquer what may seem like insurmountable challenges. The prevalent culture mentality, although a hindrance now, is slowly starting to change. And KarmBuild expects that the current status quo, with all its pros and cons, is on the brink of change – the existing mode of operation is just not sustainable.