Over the years, the buzz of the “Green” trend has gotten louder. It’s been streamlined in the media, conferences, and coffee table discussions. But on a deeper level, how does all this translate into design operations.
Are interior designers willing to embrace it as a challenge or a reality that should be met with serious measures? Has the trend been reduced to plain old propaganda and in turn, is it being misused as a marketing tool for businesses?
According to Christian Merieau, managing director, Samuel Creations, Dubai, in consultation with Melden Francia, the masses are weary of the push to be more environmentally responsible, hence the term “green fatigue”.
The overwhelming information of green products has led to speculations on the adequacy of the efforts of “saving the earth” strategies. This could be brought about by the escalating attitude of society that everything is fast tracked.
“The UAE’s construction industry is thriving but is beset with wasteful practices and the excessive use of materials,” said Merieau.
“Although local authorities have realised the significance of energy efficiency and conservation, the adoption and integration process is painfully slow.
The Emirates is developing a rating system that measures green credentials that will conform to its climatic context and will be region specific.
“In addition to this, the recently formed EGBC (Emirates Green Building Council) is taking steps to ensure sustainable building practices in the UAE.
Attempts are being made to transform the perception of property developers and prospective owners. EGBC says its vision is ‘to be the prime driver in facilitating the UAE’s prominent position as a global leader in the ecological footprint reduction of the built environment by 2015’. This is a bold statement and the task is extremely challenging.
“We, as responsible design consultants, must rally to the cause and form a unified front to help facilitate this vision. We have the ability to suggest ‘lifestyles’, how difficult could it be to suggest responsible ones?”
Siddarth Peters, managing director, The Total Office, is not sure if his company is part of the problem regarding ‘green fatigue’. He said his company joined EGBC three years ago to understand and contribute to a bigger cause outside of the perceived “bottom line”.
“All of our manufacturers preached the green story and we felt it was about time we understood the true meaning of it and more importantly sift the rubbish from the substance,” he said.
“Our Abu Dhabi office was the perfect opportunity to introduce LEED into our corporate culture. The learning curve was tremendous, right from the subcontractor to the design consultant and of course us the client.
We were all learning on the job. We successfully executed the project and just about made certification (LEED CI version 2.0).”
Peters decided to strive for a higher goal and two years later the Dubai Showroom is now going for LEED Gold (LEED CI version 3.0).
“I think very few people care about LEED, let alone the clients. Suppliers use it to boost their image without completely understanding it; designers scramble to understand it when a project requires it to be specified and clients believe by requesting the project to be LEED certified, in the middle of the build process, it can magically happen,” he added.
“LEED is a relatively strict process; to achieve a Gold or Platinum certificate for their facility the discussions need to start at a very early stage, well before the lease is even signed. Unfortunately the pace at which shareholders expect the business to be up, running and returning profit does not allow a moment to foster thought or reflection on the environment.
“One in 10 clients think sustainable environments are important; one in those 10 ever do anything about it.”
Sohail Cheema, head of design, BAFCO, thinks the idea is still new in the region and people are excited and want to get more educated and adopt it. So he believes the element of fatigue doesn’t exist at the moment.
“Clients want to go for LEED Certification so that they could use it as marketing tool and impress their clients but, in actual fact, they don’t really care about having a sustainable environment for now. And designers are never encouraged by the clients to propose sustainable elements if it’s going to cost them more,” he said.
However, Joseph Romano developer sector leader, RW Armstrong, said it would do injustice to many clients who care deeply about and are invested in the success of its projects to criticise their convictions.
According to Romano, designers, clients, and members of the community of vendors and builders all have a role to play and the attitudes we bring all mark a project’s identity.
“We can all identify with this concept. There are better and worse citizens, but we all agree there are laws that govern and control the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and there are opportunities for exemplary behaviour,” he said.
“Most of us care deeply about being good citizens. We all share in the glory of a project that is successfully completed and are judged against its merits. The rating systems give us a useful way into this application of judgment.”
He said if we recognise and provide the basics of what makes a healthy, comfortable environment, a place that is enjoyable, we’re a long way towards achieving a sustainable recipe.
Having said that, Romano does agree that the term ‘green design’ is a phase that has become commercialised and ‘we have learned to abhor’.
“People are right to be wary of being sold a gimmick or a value that is not well defined, or is being passed along as something it’s not. The hope is that we are generally too smart to buy into gimmicks, but it’s unfortunate when some aspect of sustainability masquerades as ‘green design’ when it’s only one small part of a much bigger picture.”
Ben Corrigan, principal-founding partner, Bluehaus Group, said sustainability is still very much a ‘buzz-word’ as opposed to a moral or cultural priority and this needs to change.
“That said, as the market matures post-economic downturn, we are finding more and more clients building sustainability policies into project programmes and budget’s at the front-end which is of course, encouraging,” he added.
“As design consultants, we have a moral obligation to build sustainability into an interior regardless, it should be a habit. Design consultancies also need to maintain a competitive business approach. We can encourage a client, but it needs to be part of their corporate culture, policy or desire for it to happen.”
According to Corrigan, confidence in the market and legislation has encouraged multi-national firms to establish in the UAE long-term as opposed to viewing the UAE as an emerging market.
“The UAE is now considered a hub for the region and a base for multi-nationals, encouraging firms to invest in sustainability and embracing the long-term benefits. Sustainability in one form or another will and should eventually become legislation in the UAE.”
Rashida Rajkotwalla, design director, Design Work Portfolio, said it would be interesting to know how many clients are actually familiar with the expanded form of LEED. She thinks the term has been reduced to a marketing gimmick to maintain one’s position in the rat race.
“With reference to the GCC and UAE, the beginning of the millennium along with the financial boom brought in several multi-national investors who saw this region as the ideal hub for their local offices catering to the MENA region,” said Rajkotwalla.
“Together with the multi-nationals came the exposure to their international working culture and awareness for the global environmental cause. Early 2005 saw the launch of the first few LEED certified projects and since then we have been talking endlessly about going green.
We now have government bodies like EGBC and projects like Masdar City and Pacific Controls. But the fact remains these endeavours are limited to large corporate houses and government institutions, not having reached local businesses, which contribute to a huge segment of the industry here.
“So, the million dollar question remains, do clients understand the importance of LEED certification? Unfortunately, the majority still don’t.
“We may want to go green due to compulsory requirements and use it as a USP in marketing but on a personal, or ethical level, very few organisations have taken it upon themselves to implement green policies and lead by example for the rest to follow.
“As industry professionals, our responsibility remains to constantly educate our clients showing them the advantages of a green interior in the language they understand ie; a form of value engineering, showing eventual gains over a period of time, until such time that going green becomes an inherent part of this industry where no other alternative is available otherwise.
“Although the danger of green fatigue looms over the industry, the silver lining is grooming young designers at an academic level where sustainability is preached as the only way of design and through responsible government bylaws enforced on the industry.”