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Qatar spotlight: fusing growth with sustainability

Sustainability By Gary Dodds, Country Director - Qatar – 08 May 2024

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Gary Dodds standing in front a wall with an arabic ornament design in the Cundall Doha office

Gary Dodds

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Originally published in Construction Week Middle East.

In an exclusive interview with Construction Week Middle East, Gary Dodds, Country Director Qatar emphasises the consultancy's significant contribution to sustainable development, underscoring its involvement in various projects and dedicated pledge to attaining net-zero carbon design across all their projects by the year 2030.

He also provides insights into future trends, such as the adoption of generative AI, the circular economy, and the increasing demand for low-carbon and net-zero structures.

Could you explain the impact of Qatar National Vision 2030 on the construction industry and the economy?

Qatar's construction industry is poised to enter a period of growth, with the growth rate expected to rise by 9.13% by 2029, according to Research and Markets latest report. This upcoming pipeline of construction projects will effectively drive the objectives of Vision 2030, which prioritises creating an advanced society capable of sustaining development and providing a high standard of living for its people. We can expect significant government spending to be a driving force behind construction industry growth. The government's strategic focus involves both enhancing infrastructure and diversifying the economy, reducing reliance on the oil and gas sector. This is a step-change shift towards long-term, low-carbon sustainability and resilience in Qatar's economic landscape.

With Cundall’s sustainability team expanding, what are the most sought-after sustainability projects? How is the growing concern for health and well-being influencing new projects?

There has been a growing emphasis on employee wellbeing in recent years, accentuated by the impacts of the global pandemic, with increased flexible and hybrid working policies, and a progressively challenging landscape for retaining talent. We've seen increased demand for WELL-certified workplaces that overtly emphasise occupant health and wellbeing. The Internationally-credible certification, in tandem with studies highlighting the productivity and reputational aspects of overall indoor environmental air quality (IEQ), is changing design and delivery of buildings. More clients seek to develop projects that prioritise indoor air quality, natural lighting, and spaces conducive to physical and mental health.

Moreover, there's growing interest in decarbonisation plans for existing buildings and net-zero carbon roadmaps for assets and portfolios among developers and government entities. These initiatives align with broader Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies, reflecting a shift towards embedding sustainable practices and responsible development.

In response to climate change concerns, there's also an increasing emphasis on climate risk assessments in project planning. Clients are seeking designs that ensure resilience to climate-related hazards, incorporating adaptive strategies to mitigate risks. This is key to ensuring the long-term viability of urban environments and human settlements in the face of environmental challenges.

What are the latest trends and innovations in retrofitting that are gaining traction in the region?

A looming crisis for asset owners is that by 2030, many existing buildings risk losing market value and becoming stranded assets, unsuitable for sale or lease. To mitigate this risk and avoid what's known as 'brown discounts' and associated financial and reputational losses, real estate owners must proactively make buildings future-ready.

Retrofits are also crucial to maintain value and attract top-tier tenants, both commercial and residential. This involves implementing a comprehensive program of net-zero carbon (NZC) interventions as part of broader asset repositioning strategies. The needs of tenants must be central to decision-making, and financial models need to factor in both risk and reward.

In Qatar, we are seeing a lot of focus on improving the efficiency of MEP systems, as the opportunities for passive design optimisation are often limited by the constraints of the existing building, the harsh climate and the whole life carbon of replacing existing façade systems part way through their lifecycle. Often you can identify and rectify some straightforward signals of inefficiency, for example we can make 10% to 15% energy savings improvements just by managing assets more efficiently before we move into fundamental changes.

ESG targets and new energy efficiency ratings systems are placing demands on corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste to landfill volume across their building portfolio. Cundall has been working on projects around the world, assisting asset owners, asset managers and major tenants with multidisciplinary design and building performance services to ensure they can take the high-performance road to net zero.

Can you discuss Cundall’s contributions to Qatar’s built environment, particularly in terms of sustainable development?

Since Cundall Qatar's establishment in 2011, the role the team has played shaping Qatar's built environment and sustainable urban mobility solutions has continued to grow. One extremely noteworthy project involved providing multi-disciplinary design services for the Lusail Light Rail Transit (LRT), a sustainable, state-of-the-art transportation network serving the 19 districts of Lusail City.

Post-World Cup, we have seen an increased demand for sustainable design, and our team is undertaking multiple projects for important clients including Hamad International Airport (HIA), Qatar Investment Authority, Msheireb Properties, other government institutions, and for private clients across the hospitality and workplace sectors. Cundall is at the forefront of net zero carbon design which is forming a blueprint for industry, clients, developers and peers to learn from and collaborate for a brighter, more sustainable future. We are committed to achieving net zero carbon design on all projects by 2030. Everyone needs to rise to the scale of this challenge and work together to achieve this.

Looking towards the future, how do you see the construction industry evolving in the Middle East, particularly with respect to new technologies and sustainable practices?

The growing impact of climate change and the strong national visions of governments in the Middle East are having an influence, with more companies making commitments to developing more efficient, zero-carbon buildings in the future. This presents a significant opportunity for sustainable building proponents to accelerate retrofits and meet the increasing demand for low-carbon footprint and net-zero structures.

Between now and 2030, we will see an explosion of generative AI whereby early-stage, multi-objective optimisation across all disciplines will become standard practice. This will inform and de-risk projects from the start, including cost analysis, code compliance and carbon emissions reduction.

The circular economy is also poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the region's construction industry. There is already a growing recognition of the need to minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency throughout the construction lifecycle. We can expect to see a continued shift towards more sustainable practices, driven by both regulatory measures and market demands, greening the whole supply chain.