For some years now, Dr Ayoub Kazim has been actively promoting sustainability and advocating the need to adopt lifestyle changes if the society is to impact any difference to mitigating energy consumption. He takes added ownership for this responsibility as a citizen of the UAE, which has been named as one of the world’s worst carbon polluters, along with Qatar.
He has published some 50 journal papers on renewable energy, energy policy and economics, besides continually seeking opportunities to address the issue on regional and global forums. More importantly, his speeches are not mere rhetoric, delivered to decorate the podium. He has tangible outcomes to substantiate his arguments with, having achieved exceptional targets with the measures he has implemented across the entities he heads.
Dr Kazim is the Managing Director of TECOM Investments’ Education Cluster that comprises Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City. An expert on energy carriers such as hydrogen and fuel cells, his priority to raise awareness from the grassroots level saw him as a faculty member on renewable energy in his alma mater - the UAE University in Al Ain. After an investment of nearly 15 years in teaching and research, an inner calling to contribute to Dubai, the emirate of his birth, prompted him to take up an assignment with Dubai Knowledge Village six years ago.
From his years of driving the issue of sustainability, Dr Ayoub says, “One of the lessons I have learnt is that it is extremely difficult to change the mindsets of decision makers. Unfortunately, it is only those with a technical background that are showing any inclination to integrate sustainability into their operations. The issue has a problem gaining wide acceptance because of the misperception that sustainability initiatives will cost an arm and a leg to implement. This is a short-sighted view and very disappointing. Just a little bit of groundwork would reveal that the initial costs are minimal while the annual returns are huge.”
Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) is a hub for training and development of human capital, domestic and regional. Currently, it hosts 450 training institutes, professional development companies, as well as assessment centres and consultancy firms. The other entity under the TECOM education cluster, Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) is home to 27 academic institutions from 11 countries. It has a student-strength of over 18,000 from over 100 nationalities.
Back in 2008, with the first and second phases at DIAC reaching full capacity, Dr Ayoub Kazim and the team ventured to launch phase-three of the academic development. And, it was at this stage that sustainability activities were first ushered in across the campus.
The first goalpost was to achieve a LEED certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) for the new set of buildings. As part of this ambition, LEED guidelines were incorporated into the design stage of phase-three. A year later, in 2009, the USGBC awarded the buildings a LEED-certification with a silver rating.
“When we were working on the design phase, people dismissed our effort as nonsense. We had to contend with comments like ‘you are dreaming’, ‘it’s going to cost you the earth’ and a lot more. With my technical background and experience on renewable energy and conservation I was aware that if you embed the guidelines in the preliminary stage, the overheads are significantly reduced. To date, it is the only core and shell academic building in the Middle East with a total built up area of 600,000 square feet that is LEED certified. Our endeavour was not only to gain the certification, but also serve as role models in the education zone and create awareness among the students, staff and faculty members. I saw it as a learning opportunity for them, where they not only could see, feel, and experience the ambience of green buildings but also engage themselves in sustainable projects and initiatives that lead to achieving the green certification.”
According to estimates, buildings account for almost one-half of the world's material and energy consumption, one-sixth of fresh water use, and a quarter of all wood harvested. Against this scenario and with the world moving towards an era of smarter technology and more expensive natural resources, green buildings are no longer considered fashion statements but more as an imperative option.
The benefits accrued by DIAC in achieving the green certification for the buildings were numerous, including tangible financial costs, extended lifecycle, and greater well-being among the occupants.
“For us at DIAC, it cost us only 0.1 percent of the total cost of the project. And, in terms of returns, we are saving 2.4 million dirhams a year on energy and water conservation. LEED-certified case studies also illustrate that the productivity of the people living or staying in these building improves by 2-16%.”
With the LEED-certification achieved, the next mandate for Dr Ayoub Kazim was to move on to other energy conservation measures. As an ideal economic and environmental solution for achieving energy saving, district cooling was adopted throughout the zone as an alternative to conventional air-conditioning systems. A solar tracker was additionally installed, which currently generates 2.9 kW of power to light 129 lamps that are used in the passage ways. This results in six tons of CO2 saving per year. De-lamping and reducing the light index from 21 watt per meter square to 10 watt per meter square was accomplished. Through this exercise, excess illumination or below normal lighting that would hurt the eyes either way is avoided. In addition, the LEED certified buildings run on intelligent lighting systems that ensure the automatic turn on and turn off of power according to occupancy.
“With regards to water conservation, we started from the outside. We use additives in the soil that improve the structure as well as reduce the irrigation requirements for the plants. We have foliage such as cacti, palm trees and ghaf that can grow with minimal water supply. Drip and time controlled irrigation system and usage of water flow restrictors have also been implemented throughout the campus. Consequently, we have achieved a reduction in water requirement for landscaping by 16 million gallons per year.
“We have also incurred 32 per cent water cost savings with the installation or retrofitting of ultra-low (0.5 GPM) flow restrictors on 800 faucets. We have installed bags in 950 WCs that utilize 20 per cent less water while flushing. Through the use of these bags, we save around 1,600 gallons of water per day and AED10,000 per month on water consumption that accumulates to a sizeable figure over a year.”
Two sewage treatment plants have also been set up at DIAC; one with a capacity of 5,000 cubic meters and the other of 1,800 cubic meters. The water obtained from the treatment is used for landscaping purposes. Furthermore, recycling programmes for paper, plastic and glass that were rolled out two years ago continue to be implemented with greater success through dedicated recycling dumping sites.
All five buildings at DIAC phase-three endorse a no smoking policy. In fact, smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of building entrances. The facilities also enjoy 30% more fresh air compared to ANSI/ASHRAE 62.1-2004: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality standard requirements, making the buildings very healthy for its occupants. During construction, an air quality management plan was implemented that ensured dust and particulate matter due to construction did not continue to reside in the air-conditioning ducts.
“Looking forward, we are considering ways to use organic waste through setting up anaerobic digesters that extract methane from waste for use as a fuel (biomass energy). From the food courts that we have at DIAC and DKV, we are working out a method to reuse the cooking oil generated in the restaurants to make soaps and creams or as a source of bio-diesel. We will be working with a vendor to achieve this objective. Hydrogen is another precious resource for producing energy. Unfortunately in the UAE, it has not gained ground unlike certain developed countries such as Germany, Spain, UK, Brazil and to some extent even China where hydrogen energy is used for mass transit transportation systems.
“I can give you 20 initiatives but at the end we might carry out one or two of these. For me, it’s not about putting things in the pipeline or about making a wish list. It’s important that we achieve what we set out to do. Over 90 per cent of my work has to do with execution.”
Having been there and achieved the credit of shaping the largest LEED certified building in the Middle East, Dr Kazim firmly hopes others will take the lead in emulating the concept. In this hope, he consciously seeks out knowledge sharing opportunities at public forums if only to remove the misconceptions surrounding sustainability.
Starting from within its own campus, DIAC hosts workshops and awareness sessions during the Week of Welcome at the start of each academic year. During these sessions, newcomers are updated on the DIAC code of conduct, as well as environment, health and safety issues.
“We not only share best practices with students but with other organizations as well. For instance, recently at Dubai Police, we provided awareness on how we achieved the green certification to help them move in the same direction. We leverage every opportunity to address an audience of key decisions makers in the field of energy to highlight these issues at conferences such as GETEX, Dubai Energy Forum, and Offshore Arabia that were held recently. We partner with Emirates Environmental Group and Dubai Municipality and mobilise our students to participate in their conservation activities. We even invite working professionals and homemakers for complementary sessions on best practices for water and energy conservation.”
With measures at DIAC firmly in place, Dr Ayoub Kazim is looking to replicate the strategy at Dubai Knowledge Village as well. “As a first step, we have started the recycling programmes and ensuring the conservation of water and electricity by any means possible. Both the measures have generated substantial savings already.”
He adds that the private sector should step up its act and contribute to this growing awareness. “As of now, its role is non-existent.”
For Dr Kazim, CSR is not about a few photo opportunities. It is about embedding the culture in his colleagues’ mind, top down, from the managing director all the way to the junior staff. “Each one needs to be educated on conservation measures, environmental impacts, and the entire value chain.”
However, it’s not just the private sector that needs to be proactive in its role, he says. “We need more number of academic institutions to come forward and offer programmes on renewable energy. Heriot-Watt University is among the few that currently deliver such courses.
“Although at the current level, the respective universities at DIAC are mandated to instill the culture of conservation among the students and their parents, in the long term we as the umbrella organization would need to take some concrete steps to engage the wider community if we are to change existing perceptions and ingrained habits.”
Credit: The feature appeared in the Friday magazine of Gulf News on June 3, 2011. (www.fridaymagazine.ae)