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Growing Cundall’s sustainability business in MENA

Sustainability By Mario Saab, Head of Sustainability, MENA – 14 January 2022

Downtown Dubai with the Burj Khalifa in the centre with the complex road network in front


Mario Saab wearing a blue suit while standing in-front of a glass wall

Mario Saab

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The world has committed to a net-zero built environment by 2050. A highly challenging and ambitious task!

Current business practices have put us on trajectory for at least a 3.5oC global temperature rise. This figure is well above the targets and aspirations of The Paris Agreement, and will have a profound impact on us all. It is therefore vital that we act now and act fast to move the date of Earth Overshoot Day and meet decarbonisation targets.

In order to achieve reduction on a global scale, we must witness a complete societal transformation through more purposeful and better integrated solutions. This is the only way to flatten then reduce emission curves, and lead the transformation towards a circular economy.

The recent pandemic shone a spotlight on the value of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) considerations globally. It has made us aware of our vulnerability to disruption in a world where climate risks remain unchecked. Amidst the crisis, we have increasingly recognised the importance of sustainability and health and well-being.

The challenge of raising awareness is key, and it can only be addressed through investing more time and effort in education, ultimately involving more people in the process of improving energy efficiency within their communities.

Looking ahead, sustainability will be at the forefront of all future decisions, whether on the financial, technical, investment or project development level. There is a growing interest, specifically within the investment community, in adopting the sustainability paradigm as a mainstream financial model that will influence resource allocation decisions. The appetite which was once high for investments in low-cost hydrocarbons in the region has now declined proportionally.

This shift is seen in announcements from companies like Amazon and Microsoft to become fully carbon-neutral in the next 10 to 20 years. Other big investment firms are announcing their desire to exit any investment with a clear sustainability risk.

Our mission now is to avoid a climate disaster. In an average year, the world releases around 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. This number needs to be reduced to zero. The problem in getting to zero, however, is that almost every activity in modern life currently involves releasing GHG.

One of the main challenges is our innate cognitive biases as human beings which always draw our attention to immediate threats, causing us to underestimate the long-term, more complex challenges, and take a bystander position. I believe the best way to predict the future is to create it, which is why at Cundall, we work tirelessly to provide solutions, studies and data to inform decision making and prevent legacy problems that could impact many generations to come.

This is made possible through expanding performance simulation capabilities on all fronts (CFD, digital twins, energy modelling, parametric analyses, etc.). Computerised models are becoming increasingly important as we navigate the transition to clean energy sources. They provide the necessary comparative analysis of what will happen if relevant actions are taken now (and what will happen if they are not), in order to incentivise the shift away from current approaches.

In my capacity as head of sustainability MENA, my mission is to provide our clients with the right tools, data, studies and expertise to change the status quo at governmental, investor and citizen levels.

These solutions and studies will continue to be scaled up to district and city size models using digital twin technologies, an emerging technology with huge potential that leverages the combined power of physics-based simulation, GPU accelerated cloud computing and real-time operational data.

We must adapt to the future, today. This means adopting smart solutions in new buildings and retrofitting existing buildings with innovative solutions. We will continue to see the domains of IT, BMS, IoT, performance simulation, AI and energy trading form part of the strategy and offerings of Cundall required to mitigate climate change.

It’s encouraging to see that many Local Authorities and developers have signed up to the WGBC’s Net Zero Carbon target of 2030 for new buildings and 2050 for existing ones, as well as an abundance of additional great initiatives being seen in the Middle East arena. The Dubai Vision 2040 and the Saudi Green initiative are two examples, along with decarbonization strategies at an organizational level. At Cundall, we see it as a vital part of our role to support governments in tackling these challenges and providing expert guidance in achieving climate change milestones.

We are assisting governments, authorities and regional green building councils to enact policies that promote environmental sustainability across all industries. This involves implementing improved regulatory standards for emissions, recycling, and building codes, along with restricting the use of materials that have a negative environmental impact.

In 2020 we were recognized as the first consultancy worldwide to achieve the Net Zero Carbon trust certification, following twelve years of data recordings. We fully understand the challenges at stake, and our MENA sustainability strategy capitalizes on these lessons learned to provide stakeholders with tangible tested solutions that can achieve Net Zero Carbon.

In my new capacity, my aim is to expand our sustainability reach across the region and work with a whole host of communities ranging from cities, schools, hospitals, malls, universities, governments and local authorities. Through helping them evaluate their own complex network of buildings and the energy systems that serve them, they will be empowered to make intelligent choices about the solutions that will work best for their community.

Sustainable design is slowly but steadily becoming the main goal in every owner’s project requirements, and I have a firm belief that it will be the main driving force behind all other services in the built-environment.

Looking ahead to the future, our plan is to continuously invest in our teams to build the sustainable capabilities needed to effectively guide our clients and help stakeholders in the MENA region play a leading role in shaping the global sustainability agenda.

We only have one planet and limited time to act, this is our chance to make a positive difference.