Schaduf – the company behind Cairo’s first integrated conference on eco-building solutions – has hopes to bring sustainable building to the Middle East’s fast-growing cities. Sherif Hosny, the CEO behind the urban farming-turned-sustainable-living-solutions company promises that Design Build Breathe is the first of many events that the company is organizing to promote eco-building and sustainability.

“We didn’t want to have people working in silo, so we decided to bring governments, the private sector, and entrepreneurs together to have a discussion and to showcase existing initiatives,” he said. “One of the things that we find challenging is that people talk about sustainable building as if it’s a luxury, but that’s not the case at all. When you build something the right way, you save energy, you save money, and you create new green jobs in green fields.”

The daylong conference brought policy-makers, urban planners, architects, and property developers together to discuss international and regional sustainability models as well as local challenges and opportunities. Organized under the patronage of the Egyptian Ministry of Environment with support from the European Commission and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, the conference included participants from Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, the US, Italy, and Germany.

“We hope to inspire real estate developers to start realizing that there is a benefit for them in terms of aesthetics, cost, and energy savings in eco-building. We hope to create some kind of transformation in that field. We’d also like to create a network so that the different speakers and participants can exchange ideas from the region,” said Hosny. He added that the team intends to follow up with a series of events and workshops later this year to help the idea get some traction locally.


Sustainable Urbanization & Home-Grown Regulations

In his talk on sustainable urban planning principles, Director of UN-Habitat Regional Office Dyfed Aubrey noted that the Arab world has witnessed 400% urban growth since the 1960s, and that, with the region’s cities continuing to grow, the need to focus on sustainable urbanization is more pressing than ever. Drawing on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Aubrey stressed the importance of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and noted that sustainable urbanization would be an important force for development in the coming years.

Aubrey also noted that smaller, denser cities that were well planned tended to have lower CO2 emissions than those that had urban sprawl, making it important for cities to be well-planned and to accommodate different income groups.

In a panel discussion on local and regional regulatory frameworks, President of the Egypt Green Building Council Salah El Haggar announced that the council has developed green building regulations for Egypt and that the guidelines – TARSHEED – would be publicized by mid-May. He noted that one of Egypt’s major sustainability challenges was the prevalence of slums and informal settlements, which are generally built with no regulatory oversight, and that addressing environmental challenges in marginalized areas was key to sustainability in mega-cities like Cairo.

Khaled Bushnaq, Vice Chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) in the UAE, emphasized that sustainability would come not only from creating regulations for eco-building, but that retrofitting old buildings to the guidelines would play an equally important role in reducing CO2 emissions. He explained how, over the past 10 years, the EGBC has gone about developing green building regulations and rating systems for the UAE, in addition to developing its own guidelines for retrofitting.

Bushnaq, El Haggar and Qatar Green Building Council’s Hamoda Youssef – who delivered a workshop on green sustainable materials – all agreed that regional cooperation between the different councils would help foster an environment for sustainability and allow for knowledge exchange.


A Changing Mindset

A panel discussion between Senior Advisor to the Egyptian Minister of Environment Hussein Abaza and Executive Director of the Central Unit of Sustainable Cities and Renewable Energy at the Egyptian Ministry of Housing Hend Farouh indicated that sustainability as a mindset has become more streamlined among governments across the region. “Egypt no longer has the luxury of choice when it comes to green housing,” explained Abaza, noting that real civic engagement was key to ensuring that the government was not just paying “lip service” to the issue. Abaza expressed that environment and sustainability must be perceived as opportunities rather than an obstacles to development, and that it was necessary for the environment to be part of Egypt’s holistic vision for sustainable development in order for the enabling conditions to be put in place.

Farouh, on the other hand, explained that the Ministry of Housing is currently planning 24 new cities, and that a new way of thinking about planning was reflected in each of those cities. She noted that the new cities each accounted for: 1) power efficiency and renewables, with 14 solar plants being developed for them; 2) water efficiency and greywater reusage at schools; 3) sustainable transport; and 4) solid waste management and recycling of waste generated by demolitions and building. She noted that the ministry has implemented a series of short term action plans on the ground and that they were now monitoring and evaluating the processes to create a long-term plan.

Chairwoman of Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) Habiba El Marashy confirmed that governments across the region have increasingly adopted sustainability into their policy, citing the UAE as an example. El Marashy, who founded EEG in 1991, explained that one of the most important indicators of the changing mindset was the integration of environment into national curricula, which has resulted in making environmental issues a question of culture and lifestyle among children and youth in the UAE. She also noted that feeling the effects of climate change brought the issue of sustainability home to many Emiratis.

She noted that it was perhaps the integration of environmental issues into the government’s national strategy and vision for development that bore the most tangible results. “EXPO 2020 was one of the things that made a huge difference in the Emirates’ vision of sustainability,” she explained. “Because they integrated sustainability into the design of their proposal and created such a strong marketing tool out of it in order to win the bid, they had to deliver – especially with the whole world looking on.”


Other speakers at the conference included Executive Director at the US Forestry Services in California Ramiro Villalvazo, who spoke about nature-inspired site planning and design; Partner at Italian architecture firm 5+1 AA Gianluca Peluffo, who presented his firm’s design of Il Monte Galala resort on the Red Sea as an example of sustainable ecological design; Partner at the Milan-based Stefano Boeri Architetti Stefano Boeri, who demonstrated how his firm’s design of the vertical forest project on skyscrapers in Milan helped to reduce the urban heat island effect; and Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (LAVA) Architect Ismail Khater, who presented his firm’s in designing for human well-being and sustainability.

The conference concluded with a workshop by the Qatar Green Building Council’s Hamoda Youssef on green sustainable materials, and another on waste management by the Research Institute for Sustainable Development at the American University in Cairo.