Opportunities often come to us when we least expect them and so I welcomed the chance at the end of November, as President of Euro-Mat, to join a small delegation from The Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Lithuania and Czech Republic to visit the postponed World Expo 2020 in Dubai, to explore not only the huge exhibition but also the new purpose built, Sustainable City.
On arrival in Dubai our first visit day included a visit to the Sustainable City which is a large 46-hectare housing and property development about 30 minutes away from the coastal area of Dubai.
Surrounded by desert and ringed and shaded from the blistering sun by carefully planted trees that also keep out both noise and dust pollution, it stands out as a welcoming green oasis.
It is the first net-zero energy development in the Emirate of Dubai. The development includes 500 villas, 89 apartments and a mixed-use area consisting of Offices, Retail, Healthcare Facilities, Equestrian Centre, School, Nursery and Food and Beverage Outlets.
It was built in 2015 for $354 million US dollars and it has now reached 99% residential occupancy and is home to over 2,700 people. The development has been widely promoted as a gateway to a green future and residents who live there manage to reduce their carbon footprint by virtue of living in a place that has been very efficiently planned and enjoy high levels of community interaction and togetherness.
In 2018, the Sustainable City received the “Happiest Community” award by the Gulf Real Estate Awards.
The city is mostly pedestrian as cars are relegated to parking lots and roads that wrap around the development. As a result, people are free to walk, run, and play in the streets without fear of cars and there are biking and shaded jogging trails. Residents are only permitted to take public transport (electric buses), drive electric-powered golf carts, or take horse-drawn buggies around the site.
The parking areas include multiple charging stations for electric cars and are topped by solar shading, featuring solar panels that are connected to an electrical grid to supply energy into different sections of the city.
The Houses are carefully designed to be windowless or shaded where they face the sun and have UV reflective paint to reduce the thermal heat gain inside the homes. To help with cooling, solar water and PV panels are also placed on the roofs of the houses and buildings, with even solar units that can generate drinking water from the atmosphere.
The properties make good use of wastewater recycling, with segregated drainage for greywater and blackwater using papyrus as a biofilter.
Most of the positive lifestyle changes residents make are related to the infrastructure that the sustainable city has to offer, where recycling is made easy. Locally grown food is supported by 11 futuristic biodome greenhouses, organic garden farms that are located along the middle of the development, which grow both vegetables and herbs throughout the year. Residents have first choice of any produce with any surplus being sold to local restaurants and shops. The Biodomes operate by using a passive cooling method with fans and pads powered by solar panels.
The city has a visitor centre with a scale model of the whole development and has a very knowledgeable support team and researchers, who explain to visitors how the project works and displays key information and statistics on how well it meets its Environmental, Social and Economic goals, that are intrinsic to its culture.
The Sustainable City is well worth a visit and offers an inspiration of what can be achieved by practical measures on sustainable living in even the most hostile of environments, especially when compared to the coastal Dubai city which is a place better known for extremely resource- and carbon-intensive high-rise developments and projects such as the indoor ski slope.
Whilst this gated community development is not necessarily scalable to the masses, the development demonstrates the real opportunities from effective building design and good use of energy saving devices and building materials which hopefully can serve as an example of what can be achieved in the built environment to help reduce our carbon footprint and achieve net zero climate goals.
On the second day we embarked on our journey to the World Expo 2020. Originally planned to run from October 2020 to March 2021, it was postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic and is now running until the 31st March 2022.
On arrival at the Expo you cannot help but be amazed by the sheer scale of the development, with some of the larger exhibits being similar to small stadiums in their own right.
The main site of Expo 2020 Dubai is a 438-hectare area (1083 acres) located between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and is organised around a central plaza, entitled Al Wasl, enclosed by three large thematic districts. The theme of the Expo is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”. And each of the three districts is dedicated to one of the sub-themes of Expo 2020 – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.
192 Countries are exhibiting across the 3 districts of the Expo, each seeking to promote their achievements and the opportunities from locating your business in their country.
Euro-Mat delegates had been invited to attend the Dutch Pavilion and a Symposium on “Circularity & Profitability in Construction” and as President of Euro-Mat I was asked to give a short speech on how our merchant members understand their responsibility for building a better world and believe they are ideally placed to make a real difference to achieving climate change targets and contributing to attaining net zero emissions by 2050.
Presentations also followed by the CCO of Wienerberger and CEO of Kingspan and both identified the positive changes they were already making in reducing their carbon emissions and providing sustainable products for the future.
The symposium finished with the launch of a new sustainable product Leadax “Roov” the worlds’ first sustainable roofing membrane, made from recycled plastic waste and has an up to 85% lower CO2 footprint compared to other flat roofing membranes in the market. Leadax Roov is a circular product, specially made for flat and slightly sloping roofs and can be recycled again at the end of its lifecycle. Leadax Roov is off-white, which gives it a substantial reflection value.
We also witnessed the signing of an agreement by the CCO of Wienerberger Solveig Menard-Galli and CEO of Leadax Roeland van Delden, for the European distribution of Leadax Roov, which will be made available in the Netherlands from the beginning of 2022, and other European countries will follow subsequently.
It was great to see a few of the NMBS merchant members and distributors from the UK at the event and it just demonstrates the interest an event like the Expo has to draw delegates from across the globe.
After the symposium we spent the rest of the day visiting as many exhibits as possible and my best advice would be to give yourself a few days to really do it justice.
It would be almost impossible to give a write up on all the exhibits I attended as the World Expo is experiential in nature and is all about immersing yourself in the visual and sounds, of the almost Disney like interactive stage shows and exhibits, that both dazzle and fill you with wonder at the same time.
Robot assistants even roam the park offering advice and there are lots of places to try the many delights of local delicacies from around the world. My favourite exhibits included those from UAE, Thailand, Lithuania, Spain, Belgium, Singapore and Russia all of which made you think about the 3 key Expo themes of Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility but also how you could engage and learn from the many innovative ideas on show.
I would recommend attending the Expo for anyone interested in exploring the many innovative ideas from around the world in the space of a few days and for those interested in seeing the future now and the many opportunities that lie ahead for us all.
Chris Hayward Managing Director of NMBS & President of Euro-Mat.