The Journey to Sustainability

November 16, 2017

How do you introduce sustainability at all levels of the built environment? Nandan Tavkar, Sr. Engineer – Sustainability, BuroHappold Engineering, explains.

What is meant by sustainable practices in the built environment?

The journey of implementing sustainable practices starts with the city level (macro), through the district/campus, onto buildings and finally to the most important aspect, the People (micro). In broad terms, this covers energy, water, environmental quality, materials, waste, transportation, etc.

How are sustainable practices being adopted in the construction sector?

Sustainability is generally implemented on the building scale via Green Building Rating Systems like ‘LEED’, and ‘Estidama’, and with mandatory guidelines such as ‘Dubai Green Building Specifications and Guidelines’. We have seen this for around ten years. This has created a considerable support industry of suppliers, commissioning agents, testing companies, waste management companies, etc.

More recent trends include sustainable master-planning on a district scale and city-scale policies such as Demand Side Management, Etihad ESCO Building Retrofit and Shams Dubai Roof-Top Solar. Even more recent are the health and wellbeing related policies. These are relatively nascent and the support industries are not completely formed yet. There is a significant opportunity for businesses to enter this sphere and for government entities to understand the impacts of these programs and to focus their efforts towards their 2020, 2030 and 2050 visions through policy instruments and investments.

What role do sustainable strategies play within the framework of a construction project?

Other than the obvious environmental factors and green-house emissions, the key roles include operational cost reduction, robust and resilient utilities and infrastructure management, and the creation of desirable and healthy spaces for people to live in and thrive, with the added benefit of improvement in productivity.

How are GCC states doing when it comes to sustainable construction practices?

Within the GCC countries, UAE and Saudi Arabia are at the forefront of sustainable construction practices. Of the other GCC countries, Oman is now picking up momentum, having recently shown interest in renewables, and green building rating systems. Bahrain uses LEED certification (Green Building Rating System from USA) for a lot of its developments. Kuwait has undertaken some Renewable Projects, and may be moving towards Green Building Rating Systems for its buildings.

What are the biggest challenges that the industry faces in adopting sustainable practices?

undefinedThe primary challenge is subsidised utility rates. It is difficult for energy efficiency and renewable energy businesses to make the financial argument while the rates remain artificially subsidised. Removal of some subsidy would be beneficial for the businesses implementing energy efficiency, water efficiency and renewables, and for the wider take up of more sustainable practices.

In terms of the construction industry, we have observed that there is this legacy of traditional, non-sustainable practices which a lot of the contractors, and even some consultants, still use. Through platforms like The Big 5, wider education and training and educational sessions in project meetings, it is possible to help them (contractors, and some consultants) unlearn non-sustainable practices, and outline the wider benefits of adopting sustainable practices.

Culture is also a major factor. Currently sustainable practices are not integrated into our daily culture. Awareness is necessary to create a culture of sustainability. This will be a key element to determine the success of the programs implemented by governments. 

During your Talk, what will be your key focal point?

While I will talk about integrating sustainability in various scales of the built environment, cities, districts, and buildings, it is the ‘people’ who are the connecting elements of each scale. The focus will be on how the ultimate beneficiaries of integrating sustainability in the built environment are you and me, and what we can in-turn do to help integrate sustainability.

Who will benefit the most by attending your Talk?

Although the intention is to reach out to everyone in the Construction industry, it will be especially beneficial to property developers, policy makers, change makers, urban planners and architects, property owners and managers.


Nandan Tavkar, Sr. Engineer – Sustainability, BuroHappold Engineering, will speak at The Big 5 Talks on day 1 of The Big 5 running from 26-29 November

Event: Sustainability Talks

Topic: Integrating Sustainability into all Scales of the Built Environment

Location: Sheikh Rashid Hall

Time and Date: 16:30 - 17:30, 26 November


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