Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, CEO of Sharjah Sustainable City, discusses progress on a megaproject that will put the emirate on the Sustainable development map
Over the last few years, there has been a considerable shift in attitudes towards the concept of sustainable development, particularly in the GCC region. Where developers were once disdainful about the need to create efficient and effective communities and buildings, the success of some pioneers has shown that there is a growing appetite for developments that have been built with the future of the planet in mind.
Although the movement towards sustainability has been a long time coming in the UAE, the country’s Vision 2021 has clearly set out its ambitions to transition towards a green economy. The initiative aims to enhancing the UAE’s competitiveness and making it possible to achieve long-term economic while protecting the environment.
Given how serious the UAE is about achieving the targets it has set out, it is no surprise to see that developers are following suit, with a plethora of new projects either launched or recently completed that embrace a vast variety of sustainable development goals.
It is this growing awareness that led the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) to collaborate with Diamond Developers, the pioneers behind The Sustainable City in Dubai, to create the first global mixed-use residential project in the Emirate of Sharjah that will achieve the highest sustainability requirements.
Costing $544.5 million and covering an area of 668,902 sqm, Sharjah Sustainability City is being developed with the goal of lowering the emirate’s carbon footprint through its use of 100% solar energy and its recycling of 100% of water and waste. Having been designed to meet the highest standards of social, economic and environmental sustainability, the city offers residents a range of amenities and facilities. These include agricultural products grown in greenhouses onsite, and electric mobility solutions, which include charging stations and 2.4 kilometres dedicated to autonomous electric vehicles.
In order to find out more about this intriguing project, which recently passed the 70% completion mark for its first phase, Big Project ME spoke to Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, chief executive officer of Sharjah Sustainable City.
How did the concept and idea for Sharjah Sustainability City come about?
Sharjah Sustainable City was conceptualised and developed as a partnership between Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Diamond Developers to create a project that meets the finest sustainability standards. This was formalised in an MoU signing ceremony between Shurooq and Diamond Developers in March 2018, and we broke ground in 2019.
The project is part of a global movement which embraces a lifestyle that is better suited for the future, providing practical lifestyle solutions due to the increased demand for food, water and natural resources, which have doubled in the past 50 years. The city is designed to cover all three elements of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.
We modelled the city after the success of the iconic ‘The Sustainable City’ in Dubai, and aim for it to be another premier, fully sustainable, and happy society in the UAE. It represents the next phase in the development of sustainable cities and allows us to benefit from and implement our learnings from The Sustainable City.
What lessons were learnt from the development, launch and operation of the Sustainability City in Dubai and how did those lessons learnt inform and improve the work done on Sharjah Sustainability City?
The Sustainability sector is constantly evolving in line with scientific innovations across multiple industries, but it is only when you implement these innovations in a real-world environment that you see their effectiveness. That is why we benefited greatly from The Sustainable City in Dubai and used that acquired knowledge to develop an evolved version of the city in our plans for Sharjah.
The Sustainable City in Dubai was delivered in 2016 and since then technology has evolved and construction practices have been enhanced, so we are confident that our project will represent a fundamental change in the concept of future cities and urban planning.
More than 50% of work has been completed on the first phase – can you outline the construction and design process for the project till date, and what have been some of the major construction challenges encountered so far and how have they been overcome?
Sharjah Sustainable City is an inclusive community of three, four- and five-bedroom villas designed to combine high quality standards of living with minimum impact upon the natural environment. The city also models an economic solution making sustainability widely accessible. It offers modern, smart homes, that use sustainable materials, sustainable design and renewable energy production, which reduces utility bills and operational costs.
There is 100% recycling of waste and water on site as well as environmentally friendly mobility options such as electric vehicles and an autonomous shuttle bus. Leafy green vegetables and herbs are produced in bio-domes and with vertical farming and there is an emphasis on wellbeing with shared sporting facilities and open areas. Phase one comprises 280 villas that are due to be handed over later this year.
In terms of the challenges, the biggest one has of course been the ramifications of the global pandemic, which affected everything from supply chains to work hours. We saw construction come to a necessary halt in the official lockdown in March last year and had to manage the reduced manufacturing output.
This of course is not unique to us, as the real estate sector across the world has been hit hard, and we are delighted that we are now back on track and pushing ahead.
Who are the main contractors, consultants and subcontractors working on the project? Why were they chosen? Do they have a track record in sustainable construction?
Our primary contractor for the project is JEET Building Contracting, which has over two decades track record of delivering successful projects including The Sustainable City in Dubai. We have various other suppliers and subcontractors working on different aspects of the project, and all of them are working around the clock to deliver Sharjah Sustainable City.
They all utilise the latest technology, tailor-made to our sustainability needs, and are the team best suited to deliver the first fully sustainable residential community in Sharjah.
How are you going about making sure that the construction process is sustainable and environmentally friendly?
This is a great question, because many developments are only concerned with the sustainability elements of the finished project, however there is of course a carbon footprint to the actual building process as well.
We are building Sharjah Sustainable City with the highest standards of sustainable products and materials, following the footsteps of The Sustainable City in Dubai but with the latest best practices.
For example, our building envelope uses Precast Wall Panels, reducing construction waste volume compared to cast-in-situ, and lowers the total Embodied Carbon. Also, the villa orientation avoids the sun and maximises shading, while most south-facing facades are closed to reduce heat gains.
We had no real logistical challenges, only a few understandable delays due to the global pandemic. Despite these challenging times our priority has always been focused on the safety of our employees whilst minimising the impact on our construction milestones and timelines.
What is in the project pipeline for the remainder of the year and beyond?
We are currently focused on delivering Phase I of the project, and that is due to be handed over later this year. We have already sold over 60% of the first phase and completed over 70% of its construction, which puts us in good stead to launch Phase II in the near future, so we have an exciting period ahead.
Can you outline some of the technologies and methodologies being deployed on the project to ensure reduced carbon emissions and wastage during the operational phase (i.e.: renewable energy usage, water recycling, etc)
As mentioned, the project has been designed with the aim of reducing the carbon footprint in the emirate and will be fully powered by renewable energy that is produced by solar panels, while recycling water and waste. Most of the agricultural products will be grown in it using modern technology such as vertical farming in green houses, helping to create a self-sustainable community.
There will also be an extensive network of walking and cycling paths to promote an active lifestyle and clean mobility, thereby reducing emissions. This includes 11.8 km of rubberised jogging tracks, 1.6 km cycling tracks, 8.4 kms of pedestrian sikkas.
The city features electric mobility solutions, including charging stations for electric vehicles and 2.4 kms dedicated to electric autonomous vehicles. We aim to improve the quality of life for residents without compromising the requirements of future generations, as well as providing opportunities for research on how residential communities can reduce carbon emissions.
Even waste is utilised in order to create a circular economy. A biogas plant treats organic waste (food waste, green waste, and sludge) and converts a waste problem into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy). Residues from the biogas plant will be dried and used as fertiliser for landscaping, while a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to treat wastewater will produce Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) for landscape irrigation, achieving 100% water recycling, and avoiding emissions associated with tankers.
How will this project impact the future of real estate development in the UAE and wider region?
Projects like Sharjah Sustainable City will act as pioneers for the industry to showcase how you can build sustainably without compromising on lifestyle. A sustainable city improves the environment, ensures rich biodiversity, reduces air pollution, helps water storage, dampens noise and help cooling down in warm periods. All real estate developments can benefit from these best practices even if they are not fully sustainable, as they can still have sustainable elements within them.
In addition, the UAE government has been keen to encourage opportunities for investment in green projects by creating an attractive investment environment, legislation, regulation, and management, as well as by promoting partnership initiatives between the public and private sectors and relevant international organisations.