ON BEIRUT: A STEP FURTHER TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE URBANISM
Green energy has been on the rise in developed countries for more than a decade now. And though it has been gaining ground in Lebanon, much effort still needs to be exerted to improve people’s awareness and attitudes. The Ekaruna team caught up with some of the actors working for a greener, more eco-friendly Beirut, and asked them about their contribution to the betterment of Lebanon’s carbon footprint.
It does not take long for any stranger walking through the streets of Beirut to notice the huge amount of buildings and towers being constructed in almost every neighbourhood. Many of these developments look futuristic, but some of them - if not enough yet - share an interesting and vital aspect; they are made to be ‘green’ and eco-friendly.
The 20| 30 towers, developed by Jamil Saab & Co in Achrafieh, are undoubtedly amongst them. 20| 30 was launched at the beginning of 2011 says Adel Imad, Project Manager at Jamil Saab & Co. “Many green technologies were adopted in these towers, specifically the curved photovoltaic arrays that cover around 1700sqm of the south façade. These solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, serving as an eco-power generator for the building’s common services. In addition, the introduction of the ‘Net Metering’, a new service from EDL, allows us to sell the excess generated power to the public network, which is directly translated into a considerable reduction of the building electricity charges, as well a reduction in CO² emission on the city level. This does certainly make the 20| 30 project the first residential building to provide that in Lebanon.” Developing such technology does not come cheap, but “Jamil Saab & Co aims to be the pioneer in providing new and green technologies for residential buildings,” says Imad. In that context, it is well known that intelligent building envelope is a major cornerstone in the world of ‘Green Building.’ The 20| 30 project was conceived using only the latest and smartest envelope material, and the first element of this envelope is the Zinc shell - an environmentally friendly material that is 100 percent recyclable, very resistant to weather inclement, with a very long lifespan and that is maintenance free. The underlay of the Zinc cladding system consists of layers of wood, rock wool, and fibre nets, thus ensuring a highly efficient thermal and sound insulation.
The second essential element of this intelligent building envelope is the glazed aluminium system, the latest technology in this field. It is comprised of a minimal aluminium system, including two thermal breaks, framing a low E - a surface condition that emits low levels of radiant thermal energy - along with superb solar factor high-performance double-glazing.
The combination of these two elements provides high levels of performance throughout the year in terms of both thermal insulation and solar control, thus saving heat energy in the winter and attenuating the heat transfer in summer. Hence, translating in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and cutting the occupant’s electricity bill in half.
“For further contribution in reducing power consumption, and consequently the carbon emissions, we have installed a Heat recovery VRV Air conditioning system, allowing for substantial energy savings. While the AC unit is running, heat dissipation of the outdoor compressor is being collected by the system, and serves to generate hot water for domestic use - therefore eliminating the need for traditional diesel hot water boilers,” Imad adds.
But, the 20| 30 project is not merely about green technology. More than 2000 square metres of ground floor landscaped areas include water features, green lawn and vegetation embodies the building, making it unique in its surrounding.
Speaking of green technology and its various advantages when it comes to efficiency, let’s discuss costs. The government is providing a green loan at a very low-interest rate for buildings with green technologies through the Central Bank, a good incentive for developers throughout the country.
Not withstanding that more action still needs to be taken in view of transforming the city into a sustainable one, the first and foremost thing that Lebanon is in dire need of, is the implementation of an urban plan for the entire country. “In the meantime, Jamil Saab & Co will keep developing projects in line with its new strategy, and we can assure you that we will make them as green as possible, and seek the rating of the US Green Building Council,” says Imad.
The US Green City Council specialises in green building education and developed a 100 points standardisation system to judge the green ratio of newly built towers, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). These points cover a wide range of initiatives, from solar panels, greenery, rainwater recycling systems to double-glazing. If a score of 40 points or higher is achieved, a building is considered green. There are three different levels to describe their carbon emissions and overall ecologic aspects, silver, gold and platinum. Of course, inspections are put in place to prove and certify the grade of each building, and make sure they deserve the appellation.
How Green is the Future of Beirut?
It does not seem that everyone is confident about the future standing of Beirut as a green city. “Green building in Lebanon was almost unheard of when we started in 2009,” admits Nader Nakib, president of ‘G’, an association that promotes sustainable development. ‘G’ is responsible for the decree that allowed developers to benefit from a close-to-0% loan for green technologies. “More people are turning to green options
each year, trying to get the LEED certification for example, but it is mostly luxurious buildings that are beneficiating from these technologies since the direct cost is too high for the majority of small developers. It is a shame since on the long run the savings outweighs the original price, but this concerns the inhabitants of the building, not necessarily the company that developed it.” Gilbert Tegho, CEO of e-Ecosolution, a sustainability-consulting organisation, adds “Ironically, today, some developers will choose to ‘go green’ for financial reasons rather than environmental ones, which does not matter for the ultimate outcome. And, even though, green buildings are still scarce in Beirut. When considering the country’s economic and political situation and the absence of laws on the matter, it appears to be going rather well. There are not much green building per say, but you can find many green features in some of them.”
The ultimate goal of building green is undoubtedly the creation of sustainable cities. But, what does it mean for a city to go green? According to Gilbert Tegho, “it is a very complex concept with parameters having to do with everything from ecology, transport, management of space, quality of life, health to education. It is all about improving life through the human, ecologic and social aspects of a city.” No city has achieved that stage yet, but some are on the way. “The Masdar City project, in Abu Dhabi, is supposed to be entirely eco-friendly, but there is still a lot to be done, and giving that much of the technology needed is recent and costly, it needs enormous investments,” says Nader Nakib. “But you can find projects of sustainable communities in Lebanon since it is easier to work on smaller level areas.”
These communities, a neighbourhood in Downtown Beirut and Waterfront City in Dbayeh have started to develop themselves with that goal in mind. They are working on having as many commodities available as possible such as schools, nurseries, and playgrounds, so as to reduce the need for transportation, and thus use less energy.
Throughout Beirut, a few projects are underway to initiate the transformation such as the creation of pedestrian-friendly areas, the up and coming hype in bicycle transportation, the opening of Horsh Beirut to the public, among others. However, all this is still not enough.
“There are fewer and fewer trees, when planting more trees should be one of the main objectives of a sustainable city,” affirms Nader Nakib. Indeed, more trees mean a smaller carbon footprint, and Beirut has very few parks when taking its size into consideration. This is why people like Gilbert Tegho are pushing for the support of sustainable communities and districts first. “You start with a district like it’s the case in several places already, and hopefully the other ones surrounding it will slowly begin to imitate it. In this way, you start to tend towards an actual sustainable city.”
Slowly but Surely?
Advocates and campaigners of a greener tomorrow seem to agree that the overall situation is improving, but slowly. Without further implication from the government, it is hard to foresee an entirely green Beirut in the coming years, but the evolution of eco-friendly technologies and the sensible education of the public will surely promote the idea and work at keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds. “The technology is getting better, cheaper and more available. They are now working on some windows that work in the same way as photovoltaic panels. That would mean that every building could produce its electricity all year long. Of course we will have to wait until they find a way to make these windows affordable,” Gilbert Tegho says. But once this type of window is available at an affordable price, the ways in which towers are built will change, and the life of their inhabitants will find itself considerably enhanced. This is, of course, particularly true in Lebanon, where electricity is a huge problem for the majority of the population. The rainwater recycling technology would also, if improved, considerably alter people’s lives. The notion of green technologies behind buildings changing our way of life has a bit of a science fiction feel to it, but it is already occurring in some parts of Beirut and beyond. The 20| 30 and other towers, the few experimentations of sustainable communities or districts, and the determination of people from NGOs and in development companies to make green buildings the norm are a good sign which one should hold on to. One of the reasons for this is that, in the words of e-Ecosolution, “true sustainability revolves around three key aspects: economics (profit), environment (planet), and social responsibility (people), known as the triple-bottom-line or the 3Ps.” If one can create eco-friendly towers, develop a sustainable neighbourhood and improve the life of the inhabitants while generating profit, there is no reason to think that it will be a temporary trend that will be forgotten eventually. The more the population gets in the know on these new ways to both save money and enhance their lifestyle, the more they will fight to make them natural and accepted.
20|30 Towers - Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Design