Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to make the country an oasis of sustainable development through a combination of purposeful policies and prudent practices.
This drive for sustainability can also be clearly seen in the Kingdom’s construction sector, given its vital standing as an economic pillar.
There has been a visible shift toward sustainable methods and greener practices in the industry, and we can expect it to only gain further momentum with time.
What is Sustainable Building?
Also known as green building or high-performance building, this method entails using recyclable and renewable materials, cutting down energy consumption, and reducing construction waste.
For instance, it incorporates energy-saving roof vents, green roofs, solar panels, and insulation systems to regulate internal temperatures and prevent moisture build-up.
Sustainable building combines concepts of architecture and design with environmentally responsible and resource-efficient construction methods.
It is not just about building materials, but the long-term impacts on the environment and human health.
A 2021 analysis by the United Nations Environment Program and International Energy Agency found that the construction sector accounts for 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 36% of worldwide energy consumption.
Such findings serve to drive home the importance of sustainable practices in construction, which can significantly reduce the industry’s global carbon footprint and overall environmental impact.
- Improved indoor environments as sustainable building lays emphasis on interior design elements like better lighting, temperature controls, ergonomic features, and improved air quality.
- Preserving and recycling resources by reusing materials at different stages of the production cycle, cutting down both costs and waste.
- Protect biodiversity and our ecosystem by using energy-efficient systems and lowering reliance on non-renewable resources.
- Reduced costs as green buildings use less water and energy resources, while also slashing construction waste and reducing disposal costs.
- Greater profits and enhanced value as assets because sustainable buildings are an emerging trend with immense potential for future demand.
- Improved economic feasibility as spending on maintenance and upkeep, as well as utility bills, is much lower than traditional buildings.
- Faster completion of projects, in particular due to the use of modular construction techniques, reduces project delivery time and lowers operation costs.
- Increased comfort and more emphasis on human health by incorporating features to ensure better quality of life, such as cutting out harmful volatile organic compounds or plastic by-products.
- Sustainable buildings use fewer resources and churn out less waste, relieving pressure on local infrastructure and utilities such as energy, water, and waste management agencies.
- Greater durability ensures longer endurance of structures and, overall, more value over time.
Materials for Sustainable Construction
- Clay or Mud Bricks: They are made from a mix of soil or loam with water, cement, and straw. It is a recyclable product that does not contain any toxic materials, acts as a natural insulator, and is fire-resistant.
- Timber: A material that has the least impact on the environment, it also prevents carbon dioxide emissions and is known for its durability and strength.
- Concrete: One of the best building materials for thermal mass in buildings, which helps keep interiors warm during the winter and mild in the summer.
It is also known for its durability and malleability during the production phase for complex designs and shapes. Concrete is also fire-resistant and can be completely recycled.
The types of concrete suitable for sustainable construction are:
- Green Concrete: It is made by recycling factory and mine waste, glass waste, and sawdust, as well as reusing wastewater, making it an economically and environmentally friendly option.
- Wood Concrete: It is made from a mixture of sawdust and concrete, making it lighter in weight but better at insulation.
- Prefabricated Walls: They are sections of wall produced in controlled environments off-site using various materials such as fiberglass, waterproof gypsum, and others.
They are designed with internal sections for easy installation of electrical and sanitary connections, which are then filled with concrete or thermal insulation materials.
They can also have resistance to fire, but often to a lesser degree.
- Solar Panels: They are one of the most popular sources of renewable energy, installed on roofs and facades of buildings to generate clean energy that can be used both during and after construction.
Challenges of Sustainable Building
- Concrete manufacturing leads to additional costs.
- Buildings made with wood concrete have a shorter lifespan than their counterparts with traditional concrete.
- Clay bricks are prone to wear and tear by the elements, particularly rain and wind. They are also heavier and lack thermal insulation capacity. The latter issue can be addressed by adding insulating materials to walls made of clay bricks.
Digital Technologies in Sustainable Building
- Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is used in all stages of sustainable construction. Its benefits include:
- BIM offers a complete simulation of the project’s life cycle, from design to actual operations, which helps to identify and avoid any potential problems. It also gives engineers and suppliers critical insights before making agreements, providing perfect support for project planning.
- BIM provides quantitative measurements to help reduce the environmental impact of a building during all stages of its life cycle.
- 3D Printing
A technology in focus in the Kingdom, 3D printers bring digital files to life as real and tangible objects. Its benefits include:
- Designs and specifications of projects can be visualized in full detail in a matter of hours to make necessary adjustments.
- 3D printing offers an alternative in the design finalizing stage that greatly reduces risks and speeds up delivery to the point where it can help construct a house within a matter of days or less.
- It is also suitable for off-site work and cuts down on costs and material waste, as it makes sure that required materials are used in precise amounts.
Sustainable Construction: The Kingdom’s Initiatives
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Housing has launched Mostadam, a national green building rating and evaluation platform that covers various key areas from construction quality control to sustainability assessment.
The platform’s services contribute to:
• Increasing the reliability of real estate products.
• Documenting the examination and results through electronic archiving.
• Helping stakeholders, whether real estate developers or individuals, verify the quality and safety of construction operations through examinations by specialized engineers.
The platform’s real estate registration service can be accessed here.
Sustainable Construction: The Kingdom’s Achievements
Several buildings in Saudi Arabia have been awarded the prestigious LEED Certificate of Leadership in Technology, Energy and Design, the most widely recognized and used green building rating system in the world.
These projects are:
- King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST): Located in northern Jeddah, it is the first project in the Kingdom to receive a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate.
- King Abdullah Financial District: It is situated in the capital Riyadh and also won the Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate.
- Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University: Another project in Riyadh, its sports club building and main library building won the Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate.
- King Salman Energy Park: It is the first industrial city in the world to obtain a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate. It also holds the distinction of being the first project in Saudi Arabia to use green concrete.
Red Sea Project: One of the most ambitious renewable tourism projects in the world, it has fulfilled the Phase 1 criteria for a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.