Steps Toward Sustainability

Thursday, 22nd December 2016

As nations increasingly take steps to attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of modern construction and industry on the environment, while also meeting the demand for advanced housing, Egypt has largely been lagging behind in terms of introducing environmentally friendly and sustainable approaches and projects.

With its fast-growing population, Egypt is considered a major consumer; meanwhile, the level of carbon dioxide has increased by 72.5%, while the total level of greenhouse gases registered an 80.9% increase in the period from 1990 to 2000, according to a report on climate change by the United Nations.

There has moreover been a notable increase in consumption in the building sector, including the consumption of electricity that is used for lighting and cooling. according to a World Bank report entitled “Building Energy Efficiency Codes”. Approximately 60% of the total electricity produced in the country is consumed in residential, commercial units, and offices, while artificial lighting consumes 36% of the electricity used in the non-residential sectors.

In a country where environmental repercussions have long taken a toll on people’s health–with a World Health Organization report stating that breathing the air in Cairo is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day, placing the level of pollution at 20 times higher than acceptable–it is worth questioning what efforts have been made in the building sector to mitigate such effects.

“People’s behavior is the greatest factor that consumes energy, where consumers tend to only pay for the cheapest products or whatever matches their budget and never oversee the long-term benefits of buying products that reserves energy such as LED lighting,” Mostafa Ascar, General Manager for KarmBuild, told Invest-Gate.

Green Building Codes in Egypt

General standards for green building are expected to include shading devices, double glazing, roof insulation, the use of solar-powered water heating and efficient light bulbs. Although there is no officially declared building code that is applied in Egypt; there are nonetheless different types of internationally-accepted official standards in defining certain buildings as green architecture, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) which is a green building certification system for building designs that uses sustainable techniques that improve performance in energy saving, water efficiency, reduced carbon dioxide emissions, and enhancing environmental quality.

“LEED is one of the global standards alongside with BREAAM, and the Passivhaus standard, which all work as third-party verification systems applied in commercial and residential buildings,” Tarek Rakha, a Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University and Founding Partner of Mostadahm Architects, an environmental consultancy firm, told Invest-Gate.

Another green building code was introduced in 2005 through a ministerial decree, the Building Energy Efficiency Codes (BEEC) that was developed with international assistance from the United Nations. The code seeks to cut down 20% of electricity consumption from air-conditioned new homes, while making non-air conditioned new homes more comfortable, according the World Bank report; however, it was never implemented to this day.

“The golden pyramids rating system is one of the green building codes that was created by the Egyptian Green Building Council but was not officiated by the government. However, when a company seeks to register a green building it acquires certification from the council,” Ascar noted.

The government’s codes in green building are neither binding for developers nor treated as an official platform, but are rather used a reference for eco-friendly construction, Ascar continued.

Green Projects and Initiatives in Egypt

Despite the fact that green building codes are not implemented on an official basis, several companies and entities have taken it upon themselves to offer comprehensive consultancy and  assessment services to developers for green projects. One such company is SGS, an Egyptian consultancy firm that offers a wide range of services that include feasibility studies to assess basic building designs, application of  LEED certifications and other green schemes, building energy and lighting simulation and modeling, indoor air quality sampling and testing, energy management services, and building sustainability services.

The European Union (EU) has also funded initiatives that promote green construction, including an administrative building located in Sharm El Sheikh that includes low-tech techniques that suit residential buildings and small office buildings. The low-tech techniques that helped conserve energy were implemented through shading devices, leakage prevention, thermal insulation, and efficient lights, all of which worked together and managed to reduce almost 50% of the original energy used. Another project that was also funded by the EU was the development of greenhouses in Minya governorate, where it contributed in preventing humidity through special sealers and local materials.

A government-based entity that promotes green construction, the Egypt General Building Council (Egypt-GBC), was established in 2009 and comprises national and international experts such as government ministers, members of NGOs, businessmen, labor leaders, and contractors. The council aims to provide a mechanism to encourage developers to adapt BEECs that manage to conserve the environment.

These goals were adopted in the council’s three current projects that include construction of low-cost and environmentally-friendly village, formulation of a method to apply local and international environmentally-friendly construction techniques, and building developments through using industrial byproducts and natural materials that implement energy-sustainable concepts.

Egypt-GBC’s other projects include Eco-village, a national project that will be located south of Cairo utilizing the major green building codes. The project will offer opportunities for sustainable technologies, systems, and methodologies applied in developing new homes that will be provided to citizens who do not own houses.

Efforts to maintain a green environment in Egypt may also be witnessed on a minor platform, not only through companies, but also through initiatives that have taken the lead in encouraging more environmentally-friendly building, such as Building Energy & Environmental Innovations in Egypt (BE’IEE). A website and social media campaign that was launched on Facebook, BE’IEE gathers Egyptians and non-Egyptians who are interested in sustainable development and who exchange ideas on building energy and environment-related issues.

The initiative aims at raising awareness of the importance of environmental construction that can be applied through urban developers and architects who also share their ideas on this page. Ideas discussed on this platform include the capability of reaching acceptable human comfort levels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing product quality.

Meanwhile, Mostadahm Architects is a recently-launched architectural design, planning, and environmental consultancy firm that has previously worked on several international projects in the US and Europe, and is now expanding in Egypt, where they will be implementing a multi-national textile manufacturing company that is energy efficient.

“We make full use of natural resources, such as using the sun for thermal comfort and natural lighting, promoting the use of abundance in nature, applying proper insulation [that is] resistant to heat, use cutting-edge cooling systems that use energy to minimize loads, and we intend to integrate waste management through multiple systems, such as grey water use as a means of energy conservation,” added Rakha.

KarmBuild, along with its subsidiary KarmSolar, is another company that promotes green construction and operates as a solar technology and integration company that delivers to agricultural, industrial, tourism and business sectors. The company is currently working on an eco-friendly hotel in Marsa Alam, which is part of a tourist project called Wadi El Sabara. The hotel building will be built using earth stones that are recycled and used for construction material.

“The benefit of such stone is that it is heat resistant, where heat is transferred through the building over a long period of time, therefore keeping the building cool enough. We are also constructing a solar network in Marsa Alam and solar panels to resolve the issue of electricity shortage in the area, acting as an efficient concept of self-consumption,” added Ascar.

KarmBuild is also constructing a new office building in Sahl Hasheesh that complies with green building codes of international and local standards.

Future Projects

The German Development Company (GIZ-Deutsche) has allocated $50 mn to the European Union fund targeted for a green environment and constructions program that aims to develop areas of Ain Shams, Ezbet Al-Nasr in Cairo, and Warraq and Geziret El-Dahab in Giza; as well as developing an area in Qaliubiya.

GIZ aims to develop several areas in Egypt in efforts to create green constructions and sustainable communities. The abovementioned developments will be finalized by the end of 2018.

In efforts to present low-income families with affordable housing that is also energy sustainable, Egypt-GBC seeks to implement low-income housing projects in 6th of October City within an integrated community of hospitals, clinics, stores, malls, cinemas, clubs, and schools.

Benefits of Green Building

Sustainable building provides several advantages, such as cost-efficiency, increasing productivity, and improving a developer’s financial valuation. Green building also could accommodate areas with overpopulation.

The costs of green building may vary and depend on the material used; for example building materials that are recycled from sediments, stones, and ocean resources are eco-friendly and also cost-efficient. However, green building methods used in modern construction that contain plans based on material selection and production, destination of the project, and heat and sound insulation materials may carry a higher cost.

Yet, despite the higher cost of environmental friendly construction, a return on investment is expected to be seen within five to 10 years, when the building will be paying for itself through feed-in tariffs from renewable energy. Therefore, it is considered a better investment option on the long-term, stated Rakha.

“In fact, green construction is very suitable for Egypt currently, because Egyptians are currently looking for products that consume less energy and deliver less costs ever since the recent economic changes have resulted in price increases in electricity bills and other resources,” added Ascar.

Both studies and developers alike agree that the concept of green architecture is applicable in Egypt, as it is all triggered by citizens, and companies’ willingness of conserving energy through daily consumption of electricity and water or green building. Further, while Egypt’s green building industry may be a fledgling one currently, these companies on the avant garde of the movement are paving the way for a more sustainable future, in a country where the need for it continues to grow.

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