By Alex Taylor
The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Can you imagine a building that can reduce your energy and maintenance costs while helping the future of Lebanon’s environment? Well, such buildings are not just a product of an active imagination.

Greenstone Real Estate Developers, the real estate arm of Johnny R. Saadé Holdings, is pioneering the application of BREEAM sustainable building standards to residential buildings in Lebanon through their development, La Brocéliande, in the Beirut suburb of Yarzé – the first residential project to adapt the U.K.’s BREEAM rating system to Lebanon.

“It’s quite scary when you look at reports talking about [the environment] and you imagine how the future will be if we don’t take care,” says Karim Saadé, who together with brother Sandro Saadé, serves as general manager of Greenstone.

A green building is a building constructed and managed to provide minimal environmental impact and healthy living or working conditions. This involves using components in the building and construction practices that are energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. BREEAM is one of several systems that measures and rates the effectiveness of green measures, taking into account design, construction and operation.

Saadé believes that green building is ultimately an investment, not just in Lebanon’s environmental future, but also in the financial sense – green buildings use energy more efficiently and reduce operating costs over the lifespan of the building, for owners and residents.

For this reason, Greenstone has decided to apply the BREEAM rating system across its projects, because, as Saadé believes, “it makes sense.”

Saadé explains that in the process of designing and constructing La Brocéliande, by applying BREEAM’s standards, Greenstone has looked into “everything linked to water, linked to energy, building management, the use of construction material, everything related to pollution, to health, and even the way things are being transported for the construction.”

The scores of these components are added up to a rating of good, very good, or excellent.

“La Brocéliande in Yarzé is expected to be certified as very good,” Saadé says. “Among the features are, for instance, the solar panels, water recycling, an area for bicycles and that adds up points within the process.”

Additional green features of La Brocéliande include thermal insulation, reusing water for irrigation, and what is called a “planted roof” – a roof covered in foliage or plants that reduce the building’s heat absorption while reflecting light and assisting in photosynthesis. The planted roof also serves as an important aesthetic element.

“In the instance of La Brocéliande, we have even sacrificed 20-25 percent of the constructible area to have gardens. So it did have a financial impact. You invest more for it. And we did not reflect that on the prices for the clients,” Saadé says, explaining that this investment is “out of conviction” that sustainable building is the right thing to do.

While Greenstone has made the calculation in favor of green building, much of the real estate and construction industry is blind to environmental concerns, as Lebanon lacks any legislation to promote green construction practices.

“The current construction law does not take into account the energy, water or environmental impact of occupants in buildings,” says Samir Traboulsi, president of the Lebanon Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote public awareness and develop green standards for the building industry in Lebanon.

“As a result of this construction law, you see buildings that that don’t have any green roof and don’t have any measure to limit the consumption of energy and water,” adds Traboulsi.

The LGBC has recently launched the ARZ Building Rating System, which similar to U.K.’s BREEAM and U.S.-developed LEED is designed to measure the environmental impact of a building.

The ARZ system differs from BREEAM and LEED in that it has been “developed for the Lebanese culture, lifestyle and building material, taking into consideration the construction law we have,” says Traboulsi.

Launched in June 2011, the first version of the ARZ system is designed to evaluate existing commercial buildings but will expand to other sectors with time. The ARZ BRS currently has a team of eight “certified assessors” that will offer ratings and recommendations to building owners for green upgrades.

The LGBC hopes to “be a driving force” for owners and developers to implement green measures, beginning with educating the public about the value – economic and environmental – of green building.

“This is our role here, to raise the awareness in the public, telling them that this is an investment, not an expense,” Traboulsi explains.

Saadé, has similarly found public awareness about green building lacking in Lebanon: “Some people are sensitive. I have to say, not many of them. But it’s growing. People are more conscious. They have traveled a lot, they become informed.”

But Saadé claims that in order for green building to become widespread, whether it be certified by the ARZ, BREEAM or LEED systems, the government needs to create incentives.

“[Lebanon] needs to create the right framework for developers and users, real estate buyers, those people who are going to live in the building. This is how you give the market an orientation towards green buildings. If you channel users toward buying green buildings it certainly influences the developers.”

Such measures, like rebates on solar panels, fiscal incentives or reduced interest loans, exist in many countries already and can be adapted to Lebanon, insists Saadé.

But oversight is necessary for moving forward. Saadé fears that many developers claim to be following green standards but only as a marketing tool.

“I think lots of people have been using green certification to promote their projects and they’re not delivering green certification at the end. And there are no proper penalties that are applied to those people. It has become very widespread,” he says, adding that lack of regulations is a larger problem for construction practices in Lebanon.

Like the LGBC, Saadé ultimately believes that legislation is necessary, but slow to push. “Why are things not moving forward?” he asks. “There is no reason. Political turmoil has nothing to do with working on what makes the economy better.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2011, on page 12.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::