Sustainability increasingly on agenda of construction industry

14 August 2023 3 min. read

Conversations about sustainability appear to be happening more in the Middle Eastern construction industry in the run up to the COP28 conference in Dubai.

More than 70% of respondents to a survey – including most developers, investors, consultants, and government respondents – are talking about sustainability in the planning phase of projects. That is according to a new report by Turner & Townsend, which conducted the study.

While sustainability has been a bigger part of the planning stage for Middle East construction companies, the report found that fewer than half of the respondents continued to consider it beyond the planning stage. So while the construction industry is make strides in sustainability in theory, in practice it may be a different story.

Sustainability increasingly on agenda of construction industry

The Gulf region construction industry is feeling pressure to put more attention on sustainability and work harder to meet net zero goals. The upcoming COP28 conference, to be hosted in the UAE, is expected to be a catalyst for a further focus on sustainability.

“The decarbonisation of the region’s built environment is feasible and has the potential to generate significant value, but the industry must work together to define a shared and a unified approach if impact at scale is to be realised,” said Mark Hamill, Middle East Regional Real Estate Lead at Turner & Townsend.

The construction industry is a major contributor to global warming, and has been one of the hardest industries to abate, considering the rapid increase of population growth and global urban expansion. The construction and real estate industries are responsible for around half of all global material extraction, with the resulting demolition waste accounting for 35% of landfills, according to the World Green Building Council.

The fact that UAE will host the COP28 conference, this year’s edition of the annual UN-led climate change conference, caused some respondents to anticipate a major shift towards sustainability in the construction industry. 89% of respondents said they believed the conference “will change the way in which their business operates over the next 12 months.”

Sustainability increasingly on agenda of construction industry

Most respondents were optimistic, with 64% believing that the conference will have an impact on the sustainability and net-zero ambitions of their businesses.

“Decarbonisation is unquestionably no longer a matter of choice, but a crucial business imperative necessitating a mindset shift in the construction industry. Without a doubt, COP28 will be the catalyst for change in the region,” said Adam Ralph, UAE Country Manager at Turner & Townsend.

While the yearly UN climate conferences have led to major strides in regulation on climate change, with significant framework like the 2014 Paris Agreement, COP28 has been criticised on a number of fronts.

The appropriateness of an oil-based economy like the UAE hosting the event has been called into question, and the decision to make Sultan Al Jaber the president of COP28 has been roundly condemned. Al Jaber is also the CEO of the largest oil company in the UAE, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and has been accused of attempting to ‘greenwash’ his image online.