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Putting a price on LEED in the Middle East

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, proclaimed in October 2007 that all new buildings had to be constructed to ‘green building’ standards from January 2008. By Sean Lockie and Nicholas Lander

The American LEED was the standard used but competition has recently been brewing with the BREEAM Gulf standard being launched last October as well as Estidama, developed by the Urban Planning Council in Abu Dhabi, which is currently at pilot stage. LEED has been refreshed with a sliding scale of credits linked to a project’s location in the world which will launch this year.

But it looks like the current LEED standard is holding its market position. Many developers in Dubai are up to deliver projects in accordance with it and some of these are aiming to achieve gold standard. They share the same questions: How much more is it going to cost? And will I get that initial investment back?

The US Green Building Council which runs LEED has researched what the extra cost was for achieving the certified silver, gold and ‘platinum’ standards. Unfortunately for Dubai, these numbers are not directly applicable. The reasons for this include: different construction methods, approaches to safety, building codes, climate conditions and different weightings.

Another important factor is the maturity of the market. In the US, some of the bigger contractors and developers have become very slick at knowing what credits to pursue and the message is percolated right down their supply chains. It’s a different story in the ME where LEED is in it is infancy.

How much more does it cost in the ME?

We were recently faced with this question on a development in Dubai with a capital value of circa £5 billion, a 800,000m² floor area made up of hotels, retail, leisure, offices and residential properties. The project aims to achieve the LEED Gold standard on all individual buildings.

We analysed each of the LEED credits and established the various applicable technologies and any construction activities that might apply, and then costed these. For example the eight credits available for ‘Optimise Energy Performance’ needed to be broken down into improvements to the buildings envelope, glazing, lighting, HVAC system and hot water demands.

Other credits were linked to construction activity rather than design - for example diverting 50 per cent of construction waste from disposal. The later would require the contractor to put in place a site waste management plan, which isn’t usual practice in Dubai.

Each of the credits were then costed locally. We took a view on whether the credit would be included in as ‘standard’ within a cost plan - or if a premium would be paid. This premium was then priced.

The appraisal suggested that number of LEED credits involved deliverables which were likely to incur zero or minimal extra cost - either because they were part of the standard way of designing and constructing buildings or low cost options if a minor change was required. Others were found to bear medium to high cost.

The results were surprising. On the project there were big opportunities to put in a ‘green’ infrastructure which the buildings could plug into. This resulted in the actual buildings getting a number of free credits by including good transport links, grey water recycling systems and on site low carbon energy generation.

The on-cost for the buildings to achieve ‘LEED Gold’ ranged from an additional 1 per cent to 3 per cent depending on the building type.

Similarly, if sustainable design is integrated into the project from the start, then additional on-costs for sustainability can be lowered.

However under a different scenario, where the buildings did not benefit from a green infrastructure (which they could plug into), or early integration, then the costs for achieving LEED gold would have been between 9 per cent and 19 per cent more than standard depending on their use.

Thinking about sustainability early in the process, as well integrating green infrastructure, are both crucial to achieving a holistically sustainable design and satisfactory LEED rating for the smallest cost impact.

Sean Lockie is head of sustainability at Faithful+Gould and Nicholas Lander is head of sustainability for Atkins in the Middle East.

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