Cost-Effective and Sustainable Practices in the UAE


The UAE construction industry has been on the global map for its magnificent structures that have amazed the world in the past few years. Part of the attention that has been given to the expanding construction industry is its environmental impact. This paper focuses on the UAE construction industry by analyzing sustainable construction practices and assessing the environmental impact of the UAE’s construction industry. Comprehensively, this paper establishes that the UAE has had a bad environmental record which has been informed by a strong appetite for economic success at the expense of environmental concerns. Dubai’s man-made islands are cited as an example of the poor environmental consciousness characterizing the UAE’s construction industry. However, this paper acknowledges that there is a renewed effort to change the UAE’s environmental record by adopting ‘green’ construction practices. Considering the wavering commitment of UAE authorities to reverse the poor environmental record of the Middle Eastern nation, it still remains to be seen if UAE will achieve a truly environmentally sustainable construction industry.

Cost-Effective and Sustainable Practices


The construction industry is a major sector of the economy that impacts heavily on the livelihoods of many people. UAE is a region that has witnessed tremendous growth in the construction industry. This industry employs many immigrants and makes use of resources from different parts of the world (Weber 2005). As a result, several challenges have cropped up as the industry’s growth is sustained. The most important challenges that need to be tackled are cost-effectiveness and sustainable practices (Bliss 2006). For example, the demand for construction resources has driven up the prices of construction materials and as a result, there is a strong need to use sustainable resources to prevent the sporadic hike in prices of construction materials. For example, the diagram below shows that the increase in the price of gypsum (a mineral used in construction) has created a spike in the in construction spending in the US (between 1970 – 2012).

Increase in construction spending occasioned by an increase in the price of gypsum.
Figure 1.1: Increase in construction spending occasioned by an increase in the price of gypsum.

From the graph above, we can see that the rise in gypsum prices has created a 35% hike in construction cost. Like other natural resources, the constant depletion of gypsum reserves creates a surge in construction cost. This trend is witnessed in other construction materials (not only gypsum). Therefore, there is a strong need to decrease the dependence on unsustainable construction practices. This is an important hallmark of sustainable construction. Sustainability involves analyzing several factors in the process of managing construction projects (Sassi 2006). Sustainability involves the protection of the environment through the use of different strategies that ensure the environment is protected to a great extent.

The pollution of water, air and the soil should be minimized and every project should involve a sustainability manager. Sustainability will enable the minimization of costs from different aspects such as reduced cost of energy, water use and other forms of cost savings (VanDerZanden 2011). The process of ensuring cost-effectiveness (in relation to environmental sustainability) involves minimizing construction costs. Among the best methods of minimizing costs is to ensure all the major construction activities occur at the site (Gorgenländer 2011, p. 43). Sustainability is a task that ensures minimal destruction is meted on the environment while at the same time a task/project will eventually lead to cost savings. The newest trend in construction is to ensure buildings make use of minimal energy and save a lot on waste production (Edgerton 2008). Water is a scarce resource in the UAE and therefore this resource has to be used effectively.


The main aim of the project is to find out cost-effective means and ways of minimizing costs and ensuring sustainable development in the UAE.


  • Clarify what sustainability is and its relevance and importance in the UAE construction industry.
  • Find out what sustainable measures and practices that are adopted by the UAE construction and their effectiveness in projects.
  • Judge the cost-benefit-analysis of sustainable construction and the efficiency of how such projects are run.
  • Come up with policies that ensure environmental sustainability markers are met within the construction industry in the UAE.
  • Develop and maintain standards and strategies that ensure regulation of cost in the construction industry in the UAE.


The attainment of sustainable practice in the construction companies and the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of sustainability in the construction field is possible with the adoption of the current sustainable construction practices.

Research methodology

Literature Review

The literature review will be from books, journals, reports, presentations, and websites in order to:

  • Describe the importance of sustainability
  • Discuss the environmental impacts of the current construction industry.
  • Discuss the current practices with construction in the UAE and its impact on the environment.
  • Explore cost-effective and sustainable practices with construction in the UAE.
  • Establish the relation between Sustainability and Cost benefits with construction.

Data Collection

Data for the writing of the dissertation is majorly collected from the secondary sources. In addition, the information is majorly found online through the internet apart from just a few pieces which are collected through interviews and questionnaires.

Data Analysis

After collecting all the data, it is necessary to ensure that they are analyzed using the relevant analytical tools. The quantitative data will be analyzed using online software called the SPSS. Qualitative data will be examined as well, and interpretations will be given.

Writing the research report

A conclusive report, conclusions and recommendations in line with the report will be compiled. The report can aid several departments and sectors to make decisions that are likely to register improvements in the construction sector.

Dissertation Structure

To address the objectives of this study, this paper consists of seven chapters. The first chapter describes cost-effective and sustainable practices (in construction) by providing the rationale for the study and all the objectives (plus hypothesis) of the paper. The second chapter describes sustainability and the built environment by defining the concepts of sustainability and un-sustainability. The third chapter of this dissertation focuses on the construction industry and its impact on the environment while the fourth chapter explains sustainable construction practices in the UAE. The methodologies used in arriving at the paper’s conclusions are explained in the fifth chapter, while an analysis of the findings is done in the sixth chapter. Finally, chapter seven explains the conclusion and recommendations for this paper

Sustainability and Built Environment


“With long summers, a desert environment, few days of rain a year and temperatures reaching the mid to late 40s (or more); there is a high reliance on energy in the Middle East” (AME Info 2012, p. 3). Energy is perhaps the most common concern for environmentalists around the world. UAE is known to be a big spender of energy, probably because it sits on huge oil reserves and partly because of the lavish culture that characterizes most of its population. However, the biggest problem has been the energy demand required to support such lifestyles. AME Info (2012) explains that the domestic consumption of energy is not the only energy problem in the UAE but the complementary industrial processes characterizing the Middle Eastern country also adds to its problems. For example, the high rate of economic growth has increased electricity demand to unsustainable levels, thereby forcing experts to refer to the UAE as a nuclear future (Alderman 2010). The following diagram comprehensively shows the rising demand for electricity in the UAE

Rising demand for electricity in the UAE
Figure 2.1: Rising demand for electricity in the UAE (Source: Macdonald (2009) in Natural Gas: Powering the Dubai Overshoot).

Economic growth in the UAE has been so rapid that most authorities concerned have thrown caution to the wind regarding the sustainability of the Middle Eastern economy (environmentally). For example, AME Info (2012) reports that part of the environmental problem facing the UAE has also been its growing economy and the resultant strain on the country’s sewage processing system. AME Info (2012) also explains that “Until August 2010, Dubai’s single waste treatment plant dealt with 480,000 cubic meters, or 17 million cubic feet, of sewage daily, nearly twice the 260,000-cubic-meter capacity it could properly handle” (p. 6). During the transportation of sewage waste, some of the effluents has been reported to be dumped in neighbourhoods such as the Jumeirah suburb in Dubai (Alderman 2010).

The growing level of environmental unconsciousness in the UAE has prompted many environmentalists to petition the UAE government to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices. The construction industry is one aspect of the UAE’s economy that is increasingly coming under pressure to go green. This pressure emanates from the fact that the UAE is home to some of the world’s tallest buildings, and funded by oil revenues, the region has not shied away from financing some of the most ambitious architectural projects in the world. Burj Al Arab is one such architectural piece. It is considered to be the fourth tallest hotel in the world, towering 321 meters into UAE’s skyline. The picture below shows its magnificent structure.

Burj Al Arab.
Figure 2.2 Burj Al Arab.

UAE is also home to the world’s tallest building, known as Burj Khalifa. The building is considered to be the tallest man-made structure, soaring a whopping 829.84 meters into Dubai’s skyline. The following diagram shows the building’s marvelling design.

Burj Khalifa.
Figure 2.3: Burj Khalifa.

From the structures shown above, undoubtedly, UAE not only has a vibrant UAE structure but a flashy one. However, the UAE is ranked as one of the world’s least efficient nations, based on its high use of burning applications, such as air conditioners and fuel-guzzling cars (Alderman 2010). Nonetheless, the region is finally waking up to the possibilities of adopting more environmentally friendly practices. AME Info (2012) observes that, with the oil revenues in the region and the new focus on environmentally friendly practices, there is a lot of hope for the UAE in driving a “green” agenda.

In the meantime, hundreds of skyscrapers are built daily (in the UAE) with energy use as afterthoughts. In fact, most of UAE’s skyscrapers were not built according to environmental standards (Alderman 2010). Observers say that the rapid growth of the UAE construction industry has significantly stretched the region’s natural resources (Alderman 2010). The following diagram depicts the growth forecast for the UAE construction industry

Growth forecast for the UAE construction industry.
Figure 2.4: Growth forecast for the UAE construction industry. (Source: Business Monitor International (2009) in Abu Dhabi Plans US$1 Trillion Investment in Infrastructure)

The gradual economic growth in the UAE is feared to worsen the environmental situation in the UAE. More importantly, different sub-sectors of the industry are increasingly demanding more natural resources to sustain their demand. For example, the aluminium and steel industries have been identified to significantly add to the country’s electricity demand while most of the alternative energy sources have been scarcely implemented and are far between (Alderman 2010).

However, considering the fact that the UAE’s construction industry thrives under harsh environmental conditions, observers increasingly doubt whether the UAE construction industry can go green (AME Info 2012). Based on the technicalities of the UAE construction industry and its relationship with the environment, it is first important to understand the different dynamics of sustainability and un-sustainability. This analysis will expose the concept of sustainability and its relationship with a competitive advantage. Moreover, through this understanding, we will have a better conceptualization of the guidelines of sustainability and an overview of how sustainability can be adopted in the UAE construction industry. Finally, we will be able to see the benefits of adopting sustainable construction practices in not only the UAE but other developing countries as well.

Defining Sustainability

Throughout the entire debate of whether it is possible to adopt environmentally friendly construction practices in the UAE (or not), the biggest hurdle towards the comprehension of environmentally friendly practices has been the understanding of sustainability (Brundtland 1987). Therefore, to understand the scope and impact of sustainability, it is important to dissect the concept of sustainability. ISOVER (2008) explains that the concept of sustainability (in construction) mainly refers to the push to minimize the impact of construction on the environment. This push is mainly designed to strike a balance between preserving the environment and optimizing its economic viability (Vanegas 1996). Often, the construction industry has been associated with short-term gains, which are also driven by financial gains. However, sustainable construction has a long-term consideration on quality, efficiency and affordability. These principles are mainly based on best practices in construction. However, the adoption of construction best practices is done in phases, where comfort and quality of life are improved but still, the environment is well taken care of.

Through the observation of the above principles, it becomes easy to produce environmentally sustainable projects. Environmental sustainability in construction has been closely associated with the construction of green buildings (Conjecture Corporation 2012, p. 1). The construction of green buildings is mainly informed by the need to construct architectural works that have a desirable, social, economic and environmental impact. Pollution and waste are some of the factors that are keenly considered before any construction project is approved within the entire green building paradigm. Energy efficiency and the welfare of the people (who will work in such buildings) are also considered during the construction of such buildings. Energy efficiency is of special interest to green constructors because buildings use a high amount of energy.

In the US, it is estimated that about 18% of all the energy used are directed to commercial buildings (Conjecture Corporation 2012, p. 1). In Europe, it is estimated that about 35% of the green house gas emitted comes from buildings and other construction projects (Conjecture Corporation 2012, p. 1). Indeed, buildings also occupy a lot of space and account for a vast use of resources in the manufacturing and mining sectors. From this background, it is easy to understand the goal of ‘green’ construction and more importantly, the concept of sustainability. Buildings that are designed in an environmentally-sustainable manner, therefore, have lower use of water, energy, land and raw materials because they are designed to minimize their environmental impact throughout their useful lives (Kibert 2008). The following diagram encompasses the different concepts of the green building described above.

Green Building concept.
Figure 2.5: Green Building concept.

Through sustainable construction practices, the overall impact of the buildings on the environment is sufficiently minimized. The concept of sustainability stretches throughout a building’s lifecycle to include the buildings’ design, construction and even the demolition phase. However, in understanding the concept of sustainability, it is vital to point out that sustainability includes different concepts. Some of these concepts have been explained in the earlier section of this paper (social sustainability, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability). However, it is important to study these concepts more critically to have a fairer understanding of other issues which will be further discussed in subsequent sections of this paper. The concept of social sustainability mainly focuses on the inhabitants of the building by determining their current and future needs (and how the buildings will meet these needs). Usually, the current and future needs of the building’s inhabitants are incorporated at the design stage of the building.

Sustainable buildings not only focus on the external environment but also the internal environment (to make building habitation as pleasant as possible). For example, some sustainable buildings prefer to use natural light as opposed to artificial light to make the building’s habitation as comfortable as possible. The quality of air within the building is also another factor that is commonly incorporated in ‘green’ buildings by providing for quality ventilation, heating, and air conditioning (Paumgartten 2003, p. 26). Usually, the main ideology behind installing such features is to ensure they are as effective and efficient as possible. The materials used in buildings of such stature are also carefully selected to ensure they do not release harmful chemicals or fibres that may affect (negatively) people’s stay in the buildings.

The concept of environmental sustainability in sustainable construction has been addressed in earlier sections of this paper but it includes different aspects of construction, including making the building more energy-efficient, and less waste emitting. Different methodologies may be used to achieve the above objectives including installing water reduction measures and coming up with ways to ensure the building produces its energy (thereby reducing the reliance on external sources of power/energy) (Wilen 2008). Certain aspects of a building’s construction (such as its location or orientation) can also determine its level of energy efficiency or its standing on environmental sustainability. For example, buildings that are constructed far way from human populations will likely have a stronger environmental impact because people will use more energy to travel to such locations. Therefore, such buildings have a stronger environmental impact on the environment. However, buildings that are seamlessly integrated into existing infrastructure are likely to have a lesser environmental impact because they easily fit into the environment. The concept of environmental sustainability also spreads into the use of green materials because using green materials in construction is a critical part of sustainable construction.

In conventional construction projects, green materials are used to improve building efficiency (like plastics may be used to insulate a building because it requires less energy to make). Similarly, plastics require less energy to cool or heat a building because they are poor conductors of heat (Adejunti 2003). The use of locally available materials is also another way of promoting environmental sustainability because it not only saves the energy used to transport such materials to the site but also reduces the level of pollution that may be realized if such an undertaking were to be done.

Finally, the concept of economic sustainability focuses on the amount of money that can be saved when adopting sustainable construction practices in the short term and long term. For example, the use of local materials is an economically sustainable venture because it uses less energy in transportation. Similarly, using easily installable materials is a sure way of reducing construction costs. Water efficiency is also another critical component of economic sustainability because, just as buildings use energy, they also use a lot of water. The concept of sustainable construction mainly focuses on how water use can be minimized and if it is impossible, it focuses on how water can be recycled or reused.

Apart from the above dynamics, economic sustainability can also include the observation of building codes and standards, and energy efficiency. Comprehensively, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability constitute the entire concept of sustainability in construction.

Impacts of Un-Sustainability

In the 21st century, the impact of un-sustainability is very high. ISOVER (2008) explains that the concept of adopting sustainable construction practices is here to stay and all developers who do not acknowledge this fact, set to lose from the growing push towards adopting environmentally friendly practices. Among the greatest impacts of un-sustainability is the soaring relation between developers and the community. In recent years, companies and developers who have consistently defied the push to adopt environmentally acceptable practices have received poor publicity and are increasingly facing condemnation from all quarters of the society, including the media (ISOVER 2008). For businesses that intend to develop a good relationship with other stakeholders, it is crucial to adopt sustainable construction practices.

Another disastrous impact associated with un-sustainability is the rise in energy costs and other materials associated with construction. The failure to adopt best practices in construction increases the reliance on traditional construction materials, which use a lot of energy. The heavy reliance on traditional energy increases its demand and consequently, there is bound to be a surge in energy costs. These costs are not only experienced from a rise in energy costs but also an increase in energy disposal costs and an increase in construction inefficiencies. By extension, such eventualities may lead to increased construction costs and ultimately, the construction of very expensive buildings and infrastructure (ISOVER 2008). This impact is not good for the economy.

Concepts of Sustainability

“Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (International Institute for Sustainable Development 2012, p. 1). From the above statement, it is easy to draw the similarity between sustainable development and sustainable construction. Evidently, the concept of sustainability has been defined in many ways, but the common understanding behind the concept is the preservation of our future. From this analysis alone, it is easy to analyze the concept of sustainability from only two main concepts. The first concept is the concept of needs. Sustainability has a keen regard for our human needs and more importantly, the needs of the poor in society. The concept, therefore, tries to draw a close relation between how the environment can address these needs in a long-term way (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2009). The second concept of sustainability is built around the concept of limitations. Here, the concept of limitation is often addressed by the state of technology and the impact it has on enabling the environment to meet the needs of the people (in the short-term and long-term).

The two concepts of sustainability described above are very cognizant of the fact that the world is a system that tries to bridge the divide between space and time (International Institute for Sustainable Development 2012, p. 1). This system is characterized by the interaction between the social, economic, and political aspects of society. The following diagram shows that a sound interaction among the social, economic and environmental aspects of the society makes our activities bearable, equitable and viable in the long-run. These three elements define sustainability.

Figure 2.6: Sustainability.

Therefore, from the understanding that the world is a system, it is easy to conceptualize the fact that unsustainable environmental practices in the Middle East could affect the environment in Africa and Asia. Similarly, it would be easier to understand how the use of pesticides in South America can affect the quality of life in Australia’s shores. Through the same understanding, it is easier to understand how ancient farming practices affect our environment today and how we will continue to perpetuate the same practices (generations to come) if we continue doing what our ancestors did (Pushkar 2005). By extension, we can also be able to understand how the economic policies we adopt today will have an impact on the urban development statistics in the future and how future generations will be affected. Comprehensively, the concept of sustainability enables us to understand how the world works as a system and how it can be improved over time.

Relationship between Sustainability and Competitive Advantage

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2012) explains that among the greatest advantages of adopting environmentally sustainable practices is the creation of competitive advantages. Already, we have established that the trend towards adopting environmentally sustainable practices in the construction industry is here to stay and there is very little that can be done to reverse the trend. This development has never been more profound than in the corporate scene (International Institute for Sustainable Development 2012, p. 1).

The public sector has been more vibrant in observing environmental guidelines because most governments are now required by law to enter into contracts to minimize environmental damage (International Institute for Sustainable Development 2012). This provision, therefore, specifies that organizations that do not meet this environmental standard will be automatically disqualified from the tendering project. On the other hand, organizations that observe best practices are assumed to have better health safety standards and comply better with building and environmental safety standards (International Institute for Sustainable Development 2012). Consequently, such companies have a better competitive advantage than companies, which do not have a good environmental record. The relationship between competitive advantage and environmental compliance is henceforth easily established because the world is now an environmentally conscious community and all preferences are given to organizations that adapt well to this new paradigm.

Guidelines for Achieving Sustainability

Even though there is a lot of talk regarding the importance of sustainability, minimal effort has been put towards explaining how we can incorporate the concept of sustainability in the construction industry. Kight (2012) answers this question by stating that, adopting environmentally-friendly guidelines in the construction industry mainly entails the use of scientific methods in construction. This practice also entails a reshape or our thoughts, ideas and practices. Through this understanding, the proper achievement of environmental sustainability transcends different disciplines including sociology, economics and philosophy.

However, Kight (2012) explains that the guidelines for achieving sustainability mainly depend on five priority themes. The first theme focuses on reforming social institutions because “institutions are the underlying rules and structures that shape the social, economic, and political transactions within society” (Kight 2012, p. 5). Therefore transforming social institutions will have an impact on how construction rules are made and enforced within the community. Through the same framework, it is easy to integrate environmentally friendly practices in a country’s industrial sector to ensure sustainable practices are observed (Khalfan 2002).

The second theme mainly discusses the input of the community in building an environmentally friendly society. This theme is mainly informed by the fact that people manage institutions and there is a strong need to reform people, alongside reforming institutions. Regarding this observation, Kight (2012) explains that “Institutions are often focused on traditional imperatives that are not easily married with sustainability. For instance, businesses want to make money, but green practices sometimes require large financial investments” (p. 5). Comparatively, people do not share the same limitations as organizations and therefore, they can work together towards building an environmentally friendly society (Panagiotakopoulos 2004).

The third theme is centred on limiting consumption and checking population growth to reduce the dependence on natural resources. Here, the focus is especially drawn to inconspicuous consumption as the single most common factor leading to the depletion of natural resources. To reduce the environmental impact of our activities, it is therefore important to minimize unnecessary operations and only focus on those activities, which we cannot do without (Yan 2006). The fourth theme is based on the principles of equality and justice. Proponents of this theme highlight that science and technology have greatly undermined these themes and it is important to bring them back (in the wake of environmental conservation). The main reasoning behind this concept is that it is important to make people accountable for their actions, and more importantly, for environmental destruction. For instance, waste disposal should be a task given to a specific entity and if there are any concerns regarding the task, the appointed entity should be answerable (Kight 2012). The last theme centres on value and belief systems because these principles are known to heavily affect the activities of all the previously mentioned themes. Proponents of this theme often acknowledge that our values and belief systems are determined by societal variations like age and social class (but they hope that even within this dynamism, we should find our inspiration to adopt environmentally sustainable practices) (Kight 2012). These are the main guidelines informing the achievement of sustainable practices.

Sustainable Construction – An Overview

Guidelines for achieving sustainability in the construction industry mainly depend on the amalgamation of best business practices and best construction practices (Dresner 2002). The following diagram shows different tenets that highlight the process of realizing sustainable construction practices.

Different tenets that highlight the process towards realizing sustainable construction practices.
Figure 2.7: Different tenets that highlight the process towards realizing sustainable construction practices. (Source: CIB (2012) In Sustainable Construction).

Indeed, the most important guidelines in achieving sustainability in the construction industry are phasing in sustainable construction methods. Phasing in sustainable construction methods may involve the introduction of low-cost construction methods and adopting easily accomplishable environmentally friendly methods of construction. Among other strategies that can be adopted in the introduction of sustainable construction methods is “reducing construction, demolition and excavation waste to landfill, reducing carbon emissions from construction processes and associated transport and responsibly sourcing construction materials from recognized schemes” (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012, p. 1). Additionally, a construction company can “reduce water usage in manufacturing and construction and carry out biodiversity surveys and conservation for expensive construction projects” (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012, p. 1).

Another important guideline for achieving sustainability is using environmental impact assessment tools (Fedrizzi 2012). These tools are often important when developing environmentally friendly construction processes. Environmentally friendly designs can also be developed using such tools so that upon the completion or refurbishment of a building, it may have a good environmental or sustainability ratings.

Benefits of Sustainable Construction

Some of the benefits of sustainable construction have been highlighted in earlier sections of this paper. For example, the realization of competitive advantage is a key advantage enjoyed by construction companies that adopt environmentally sustainable practices (Al Marashi 2006). However, there are other advantages enjoyed by construction companies, which adopt best practices in construction. Among these advantages is a significant reduction in construction costs. For example, waste disposal costs can be significantly reduced through the adoption of best practices in construction (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012). Another platform for cost reduction is realized from increased resource efficiency and improved energy use.

Construction companies that adopt environmentally friendly practices also have a better compliance record to “building, environmental and health and safety regulations” (Al Marashi 2006, p. 4). Better compliance amounts to improved certification and more business for such companies. By extension, compliance with best practices in construction also improves the relationship between the company and all its stakeholders. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2012) explains that companies that adopt environmentally friendly practices in the construction industry have a better relationship with their employees because the employees feel well catered for. Therefore, employees who work in such companies feel more valued and motivated by the adoption of best practice.

In the long-term, the adoption of best practices has a positive impact on the sustainability of buildings because they will have lesser energy requirements and lower maintenance costs. The adoption of environmentally friendly practices therefore acts as a future-proofing mechanism that businesses adopt to better insulate themselves from rising maintenance and operational costs.

Necessity for Sustainability in Developing Countries, Including the UAE

Already, we have understood the importance of sustainability in the construction industry. However, different regions of the world have implemented sustainable construction practices at varying levels. Based on this understanding, the level of development in the construction industry (in developing countries) is relatively low (Green Innovators in Business Network 2012). Therefore, the developing world is set to take a huge share of most construction projects that are to be undertaken in the next few decades. This construction opportunity also opens another window for changing the traditional construction paradigm to more environmentally friendly practices. Therefore, going forward, there should be a renewed focus on integrating environmentally friendly construction practices in the developing world as a platform for changing the traditional model of construction.

Additionally, it is estimated that in the coming decades, the developing world is going to form a large consumer group that is going to add to the already overstretched demand for natural resources (WBDG Sustainable Committee 2009). Already the Middle East accounts for this growing demand and there is no better place to highlight this fact than through the numerous ambitious construction projects currently being undertaken in the UAE. In fact, it is already determined that there is a bulging middle-income population currently growing in the Middle East and other developing countries in the world (Green Innovators in Business Network 2012). The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2012) explains that the key to sustainable development (here) is to decrease the impact of consumerism. There is no better way to decrease this surging demand than through the adoption of sustainable construction practices in the coming decades.


Traditional construction methods are known to have a negative environmental impact. They amount to high-energy costs, increased use of raw materials, high maintenance costs (among others). These costs increase the environmental strain on natural resources and in the long-term, it becomes unsustainable. There is therefore a strong need to adopt better construction practices in the long-term to improve the sustainability of the construction industry. Considering the fact that developed nations have a rather mature construction industry, the potential to change the construction paradigm exists in developing nations. The Middle East is of special focus because its construction industry is very vibrant (funded by the oil revenues).

Going forward, the construction industry needs to adopt newer methods of operation because the current operational methods are short-term in nature and unsustainable in the future. There are numerous advantages to be enjoyed by firms that adopt the new approach. Among the most common advantages highlighted in this study include increased competitive advantage, lower construction costs, and better relationships with existing stakeholders. The guidelines for achieving sustainability have highlighted these advantages and will steer most economies into realizing the advantages of sustainable construction practices and how they can be achieved. These guidelines centre around five themes of institutional change, people change, community involvement, consumption minimization, population growth minimization, and the observation of the principles of equity and justice. Considering the context of this study, following these five themes will revolutionize the UAE construction industry.

Construction Industry and Its Impact on the Environment


Increased human activity on the planet has brought numerous environmental disasters like tsunamis, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and the likes. Many losses have therefore been realized from these disasters including the loss of human life and animals. The following diagram shows the extreme impact of global warming in Africa.

Global warming in Africa.
Figure 3.1: Global warming in Africa.

Science shows that the construction industry has had a huge role in contributing to global warming and the creation of the above natural disasters (Keeping 1996). As will be explained in later sections of this study, the intensive use of construction materials has drawn the link between environmental degradation and the construction industry.

About 20% of the eco-footprint in the world today is associated with the construction industry (Green Innovators in Business Network 2012). The impact of the construction industry on the environment can be felt either directly or indirectly. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2012) explains that built infrastructure is the most common evidence of how the construction industry affects the environment. It highlights that such built infrastructure includes “homes, offices, factories, roads, airports, railways, water treatment works, power stations, retail complexes” (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012). Directly, materials have been consumed in the construction industry to produce such architectural works and these materials have had a profound impact on the environment. The environmental impact of such construction activities can be felt in many construction processes including the extraction of raw materials, industrial processing, manufacture, haulage, packaging and the likes.

For example, across the world, it has been seen that construction materials produce a lot of hazardous waste yearly (Crowther 2006). Moreover, such construction materials need highly embodied energy, which results in the production of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. For example, the Scientific and Industrial Research Foundation (cited in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2012) explains that, “The embodied energy of steel is about 32 MJ/Kg and for cement is about 7.8 MJ/Kg” (p. 4). Cement is identified to contain the highest amount of carbon dioxide.

This product equally produces a lot of carbon dioxide when it is used to produce other construction materials and when it is transported from its extraction process to its consumption point. However, cement transportation is just one aspect of the construction industry that produces harmful gas; there are also other activities in the construction industry that have the same impact. Changing consumer patterns and lifestyle demands have also seen many buildings renovated and demolished, thereby creating a surge in construction activities. Cumulatively, it is feared that if these construction practices go on without a careful analysis of their impact of the environment (which supports it), the construction industry will be unsustainable in the future (California Sustainability Alliance 2010).

Impact of the Construction industry on the Environment

The environmental impact of the construction industry in the UAE has been identified to be among the worst causes of environmental degradation (Rao 1991). This impact has not only been witnessed in the UAE but also other parts of the world such as the UK and the US (Carter 2007). The construction industry is cited among the most aggressive users of energy around the world and accounts for most of the CO2 emissions in the UAE (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012). Environmental pollution has also been associated with the UAE construction industry and the production of hazardous waste has been traced to the same industry (Rajagopalan 2005).

The strong link between environmental degradation and the construction industry is associated with the different activities that characterize the construction industry. For example, mining, transportation and manufacturing processes are only some of the energy-consuming activities that characterize the industry (US Green Building Council 2002). More concern is further expressed by the growing industrialization in developing countries because more agricultural land is quickly being reverted into industrial land. Similarly, more natural resources are being destroyed to support construction activities (Maheshwara 2006). For instance, it is common to hear cases where river courses have been diverted to give way to construction projects, or forest covers have been significantly diminished to produce raw materials for construction (timber) (Chatwal 2004).

Some of these environmental impacts are known to be irreversible while others have a direct impact on wildlife, aquatic life and even human populations. Considering the strong link between environmental degradation and the construction industry, experts have tried to get a clearer conceptual understanding of the impact that the construction industry has on the environment (Nayar 2002). Several environmental characteristics have been studied in this regard. Some of them include the level of CO2 emission (that is directly associated with construction activities), the amount of energy consumed by the construction industry, the level of material used in the construction industry and the amount of waste generated by the construction industry (Anjaneyulu 2002). These issues will be further analyzed in subsequent sections of this chapter.

Energy Use In the Construction industry and CO2 Emissions

Already, we have established that the construction industry uses a lot of energy in various processes like mining, production, manufacturing, and transportation. These processes have been identified to consume a lot of energy. The cement industry for example has been identified for the high CO2 emissions it produces in the construction industry. Similar to its heavy CO2 emission, cement-manufacturing processes consume a lot of energy. However, other subsectors such as the glass industry, aluminium industry, and steel industries also account for a significant usage of the energy consumption in the construction sector (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2010). Referring to the steel industry, Unruh (2002) explains that, “Delivered energy consumption in the steel sector was 1,590 trillion Btu in 1998. Coal and natural gases are the main fuels consumed in the steel industry (of these, 94 per cent of the energy is used for process and assembly)” (p. 4).

The high energy levels in the construction subsectors also account for the high CO2 emissions associated with the sector. This observation is based on the common philosophy underlying the production of CO2 emissions from high-energy use. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003) explains that the construction industry (in isolation) only produces a relatively small amount of greenhouse gases but buildings and other forms of construction are known to produce high levels of greenhouse gases. Comparing the greenhouse gas emissions from the construction industry and household subsector, Unruh (2002) explains that, “The direct greenhouse gas emissions from the construction industry were 4,958 Gg CO2-e in 1997-98, compared with the total emissions of all industries and direct emissions by households 339,597 Gg CO2-e” (p. 28). Comprehensively, the construction industry (and its subsectors account for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, thereby adding to the global carbon footprint. The following diagram shows the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions among different sectors of the construction industry

The distribution of greenhouse gas emissions among different sectors of the construction industry.
Figure 3.2: The distribution of greenhouse gas emissions among different sectors of the construction industry. (Source: HSBC Global Research (2008) in Dubai opens the gateway for regional investments).

Material used in Construction Industry and CO2 Emissions

Among the most common impacts of the construction industry on the environment is the use of material resources. Different materials, however, have different impacts, depending on the quantity used. In the last five decades, it is reported that the amount of resources used in the construction industry has significantly increased. In fact, after the Second World War, a construction boom that lasted for close to half a century took up most of the construction materials available then (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012). Australia alone produced about 98 million tones of construction materials and other developing countries around the world produced close to similar numbers of construction materials. The construction industry is probably the greatest consumer of construction materials. It is reported that about 55% of all timber products in the world are consumed in the construction industry (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012). It is also estimated that the construction industry consumes about 30% of all plastic products in the world and about 13% of all iron and steel products globally (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2012).

Perhaps the greatest catalysts for the increase in material use (in the construction industry) are the increase in the number and size of buildings and infrastructure projects around the world. Within the last decade alone, there has been a significant rise in the number of approved buildings in the UAE alone. For example, there have been about 717, 000 residential dwellings approvals in the UAE (representing an almost 10% increase in the number of residential approvals within the studied period (Allen 2008).

As mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, the types of materials used in construction determine the degree of the environmental impact of such construction materials on the environment. More importantly, the source of the raw materials and their processing techniques significantly determine the environmental impact of the raw materials (Allen 2008).

Apart from the CO2 emissions produced from the use of such raw materials, the extraction and processing of such products also lead to the destruction of habitat, extinction of species and the fragmentation of surviving populations (living in the natural habitats). For example, many extractors rarely perceive timber harvesting as possible danger of the environment, but it is proved that this activity reduces the natural habitat of animals living in such areas (Allen 2008). Comprehensively, the material used in the construction industry is estimated to account for about 10% of all CO2 gas emissions (Allen 2008). However, CO2 is just one by-product of material used in the construction industry; waste is also another environmentally degrading agent of the construction industry

Waste Generation

Carbon emissions are not the only environmental problem experienced in the construction industry; hazardous wastes are also environmentally unfriendly. In the UAE, it is estimated that about a third of all the wastes are produced by the material used in the construction industry (Allen 2008). A significant proportion of all new materials in the construction industry are also simply thrown away once the construction process is completed. This adds to the volume of wastes produced in the construction industry. Figuratively, it is estimated that about 13 million tones of waste are produced from the discard of new materials in the construction industry (Seager 2007). Comparatively, this waste is equivalent to about 88 Giza pyramids in Egypt, thereby diminishing the fast-shrinking space and time in landfill (Seager 2007). The following picture shows the environmental pollution of the UAE’s construction industry arising from the construction industry.

Waste generation in the UAE.
Figure 3.3: Waste generation in the UAE.

From the picture above, we can see that tones of waste are spread across virgin land, thereby choking the environment. Some of these wastes are non-biodegradable.

According to DEFRA (cited in Seager 2007), “the waste going to landfill from the construction industry in 2004 was about 100 million tones” (Seager 2007, p. 4). The amount of domestic waste collected in many households is hardly a fraction of this figure (the amount of domestic waste collected is only about 28 million tons). Landfill waste has significantly increased from about only 70 million in the year 2000 (equivalently, this figure implies that for every three houses built, one house is buried in the ground) (Seager 2007). This comparison is especially important when the energy costs for running a building are considered. Often, about 25% of all the waste accumulated from such construction projects are exempted from calculations ascertaining the environmental impact of constructing new buildings. Seager (2007) explains that the above calculations are “obviously more serious for higher embodied energy products than low embodied energy products” (p. 5).

From the high volumes of waste products seen in the construction industry, there has been a surge in the number of regulations governing the disposal of waste products from the construction industry. Natural Building technologies (2012) explain that “even common products like gypsum plasterboard and mineral wool insulation are now labelled as hazardous and require special disposal” (p. 3).

UAE Construction Industry Current Strategies on Environmental Impact

As observed in previous sections of this study, the UAE has been home to some of the world’s most ambitious construction projects. However, with the surge in these construction projects, there has been a huge environmental impact. Some construction projects such as the artificial refrigeration of hotel beaches and pools are outright outrageous and they significantly add to the growing energy demand in the UAE. Huffington Post (2012) explains that UAE’s energy demand is expected to sharply increase with the operation of the country’s energy-intensive projects.

The Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai expects to refrigerate its beaches by sucking most of the heat from its sandy beaches so that its visitors can be able to lie down on the beaches without burning from the extreme Dubai heat. This ambitious plan is part of Dubai’s commitment to making hundreds of high-end resorts in the emirate to fit the needs of high-end visitors. The system is expected to significantly increase UAE’s energy demand because the model is expected to be emulated by other emirates in the country (Huffington Post 2012). The refrigerator model works by setting underground pipes that will absorb heat from the sand. Additionally, huge electric-powered fans are expected to be set up on the beach to cool the visitors from the searing Dubai heat.

Over the last few years, environmentalists have been infuriated by the project for its potential impact on climate change. Complimentarily, Natural Building technologies (2012) explain that “Dubai is like a bubble world where the things that are worrying the rest of the world, like climate change, are simply ignored so people can continue destructive lifestyles” (p. 7). The construction of refrigerated beaches and pools is expected to add to UAE’s carbon footprint which is already estimated at 44 tons per year for every UAE citizen (Huffington Post 2012).

The refrigeration of sandy beaches in Dubai is only one example of the ambitious construction projects in the Emirates that come at a huge cost. Another project is the construction of a snow ski in Dubai (which maintains below zero degrees while the outside temperatures are about 60 degrees) (Green Answers 2012). The maintenance of the indoor ski has been perceived by many observers as a project that comes with a huge environmental impact (Green Answers 2012). The entire notion of building a ski resort in Dubai is perceived to be environmentally wrong in the first place because it takes a lot of energy to maintain these low temperatures throughout the year. The disparity in temperatures makes the entire project even more outrageous for environmentalist because they note that it takes more energy to reduce the temperatures from very high temperatures to extremely low temperatures (Green Answers 2012).

The UAE construction industry has therefore come under intense scrutiny to improve its environmental strategies, in line with the global environmental goals. From this push, the region is in the process of reducing its carbon footprint and adopting greener construction practices. The low carbon green growth strategy is therefore an important hallmark of UAE’s environmental strategy. This strategy is cognizant of the climate change talks that have taken place in most parts of the world. Recently most UAE construction companies have tried to integrate environmental issues into their corporate strategies “in response to the external business atmosphere such as the gradual expansion of new Environmental Sound and Sustainable Development paradigms, climate change issues, and the introduction of the nation’s low carbon green growth vision” (Green Answers 2012, p. 4).

Based on the poor rankings of environmental consciousness (in the UAE construction industry) the UAE government has tried to drive new environmental management paradigms into its industrial sector. This new push for environmental consciousness was informed by the poor rankings of the UAE in the 2010 environmental performance index where the state got a score of 40.7 out of 100 (Green Answers 2012). This ranking placed the UAE in the 152nd position out of 163 (in terms of environmental conservation) (Green Answers 2012).

The UAE government has especially changed its governance policies to reflect its new commitment to ensure there is better environmental management, even as the country continues to enjoy a period of economic boom. There have been environmental committees formed to analyze how better construction methods can be adopted to reduce the environmental impact in the UAE. Abu Dhabi has been on the forefront in formulating different recommendations (from such committees) to improve its construction industry (Green Answers 2012).


The construction industry has a negative impact on the environment because of the waste and CO2 emissions it produces. This chapter shows that the construction industry has been consuming more materials over the decades because of changing lifestyle patterns and building designs. This change in construction design has had a profound impact on the environment because it has significantly increased the UAE’s energy demand and increased the rate of energy emissions.

Nonetheless, mining, extraction and industrial processing activities are the biggest construction activities that account for the high material use in the industry. This material usage accounts for the high CO2 emissions associated with the construction industry. The construction industry is hereby seen to produce many greenhouse gases that are three times more than the volume of CO2 attributed to household consumption. The high-energy use in the construction industry accounts for the high greenhouse gas emissions but the material usage in the industry accounts for the direct environmental destruction that the construction industry impacts on the environment. The waste generated from the construction activities also chokes the environment severely because it leads to soil contamination and the disruption of the ecosystem.

In light of the above environmental impacts, UAE has embarked on an ambitious plan to change its environmental record by formulating new environmental policies to govern its construction industry. This chapter identifies Abu Dhabi as an example in the UAE that has been at the forefront in charting new strategies for environmental conservation. This initiative has been seen through the introduction of environmental commissions to formulate new policies for environmental management. It is therefore anticipated that the UAE environmental record will improve in the coming years.

Sustainable Construction Practices in the UAE


Green Answers (2012) explains that the UAE is the second country in the wider MENA region that has the second-highest number of construction projects (in value). Green Answers (2012) further explains that as Emirate’s construction market transforms from a buyer to seller market, it boasts of about 1,248 projects which worth about US$931 billion. However, at the heart of this impressive expansion (of the construction industry), there is a strong desire among most stakeholders for the UAE to adopt more sustainable construction practices.

Sustainability in the construction industry is however not a new concept, environmental concerns were registered right at the onset of fossil fuel use (United Nations, General Assembly 1987). Sustainable construction, therefore, evolved from the need to see more environmentally friendly practices in the construction industry. The strongest desire here was to see more energy-efficient methods being used and the adoption of environmentally-conscious practices in construction. The range of benefits for adopting sustainable construction is, however, immense (ranging from environmental, economic and community benefits) (WRAP 2010). However, modern construction practices are all aimed at integrating traditional and modern building techniques for a perfect merge between consumer needs and environmental needs. Therefore, the building lifecycle and environmentally friendly practices are all merged to create a perfect blend of all the synergies incorporated in the industry.

Sustainable construction is synonymous to the amalgamation of different techniques, practices and skills to reduce or eliminate the environmental impact of the construction industry. Renewable resources are often used to drive this agenda. For example, “using sunlight through passive solar, active solar and photovoltaic techniques and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and reduction of rainwater run-off” (WRAP 2010, p. 4) are some of the common techniques used to incorporate renewable energy into modern construction practices. The following diagram depicts how renewable energy is used in the construction industry.

How to make Green Buildings.
Figure 4.1: How to make Green Buildings.

Other building practices such as the use of wood as a raw material for building and the use of packed gravel, instead of conventional cement are also some other green methods, which are slowly being incorporated in the construction industry. However, the fundamental practices used in sustainable construction differ from one region to the other and they keep evolving by the year. Nonetheless, the main principles surrounding sustainable construction are to construct buildings that blend well with the natural attributes of the environment.

Sustainable construction practices are not only encouraged by the public sector but also by the private sector. The push to adopt sustainable construction practices is informed by the fact that sustainability not only benefits owners but also operators. In addition, as mentioned in earlier chapters of this paper, the adoption of sustainable construction practices not only benefits the environment but also creates sound relationships between all the stakeholders involved (WRAP 2010). The following diagram shows this relationship

Relationship between Private and Public Sectors in Sustainable Construction.
Figure 4.2: Relationship between Private and Public Sectors in Sustainable Construction.

In the construction industry, sustainability is often understood within the context of introducing sustainable activities in construction. Several governments have worked towards reforming their construction and industrial sectors to reflect sustainability principles. The UK government is one such example because, in 2008, it launched the strategy for sustainable construction, which was designed to bring the country closer to its sustainability goals (WRAP 2010). In the US, the emergence of the green building movement is also another example of how western governments have tried to change their construction practices to be cognizant of the global push for more environmentally friendly practices in the construction industry (WRAP 2010).

Basically, sustainable construction practices are aimed at adopting energy-efficient methods of construction (that should reflect throughout an entire building’s lifecycle), adopting new technology to improve current construction practices and being more environmentally responsible (especially regarding waste disposal).

Regional Geology of the UAE

UAE is located towards the Northern side of the Arabian Peninsula. Four major tectonic features characterize this region including the red sea and the Dead Sea rift system, the thrust zone from the Alpine Orogeny, the mobile belt of Zagros and Oman Mountains and the wrench fault (associated with Owen Fracture zone) (Angelfire 2012). The geology of the UAE is characteristic of the rocks, soil, gemstones and other natural resources surrounding the Middle East. However, the geology of the Middle East can be analyzed from two parts: the desert floor and the coastal plains (Compare Infobase Limited 2012).

The desert floor is mainly comprised of the coastal plains and the Aeolian sands while the coastal plains are mainly characterized by the Oman Mountains. As seen from the association between the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE is part of the Arabian Gulf. The geography of the UAE is mainly characterized by land and water (because of the Arabian Peninsula). Salt encrusted flats (infamously known as coastal sabakhas) characterize the Southern part of the UAE (Abu Dhabi and its environs). The UAE soil is mainly characterized by a rich range of minerals and salts but Angelfire (2012) explains that “The principal resources are hard, ophiolite-derived aggregate, limestone of cement, chromite, gypsum and construction sand. These are extremely useful and fulfil the modern needs” (p. 4).

Considering the contribution of the UAE to global oil production, it is crucial to highlight that UAE’s geology is also characterized by extensive oil fields. Oil is obviously the country’s biggest income earner and it is found in plenty throughout the UAE. The oil fields, therefore, form a crucial part of the country’s geology and the oil is exported to other countries around the world.

Current Practices with Construction in the UAE

Like most developing nations in the world, most of UAE construction practices are based on traditional approval processes (Oxford Business Group 2010). The traditional approval process is one among two construction approval processes which are centred between economic and environmental balances. In the UAE, a small elite population usually oversees the construction approval processes (Oxford Business Group 2010). This small elite group usually has a keen economic interest which overshadows environmental concerns. Partially, the economic motivation is usually informed by the growing push to transition the UAE from a largely sedentary economy to a more vibrant and dynamic economic powerhouse. For example, there has been a strong push among UAE technocrats to divest the economy from being an oil-centred economy to a tourism powerhouse (Brebbia 2010). The following pie chart shows that the tourism industry now accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP (the contribution of the oil sectors is a shadow of this percentage)

Economic Sectors in Dubai.
Figure 4.3: Economic Sectors in Dubai.

The vision to transform UAE to a tourist power-house has seen the construction of the world’s tallest building, man-made islands and other ambitious projects (Schulte-Peevers 2010). Unfortunately, the commitment towards this vision has greatly trampled upon environmental concerns.

However, like other regions of the world, the Middle East has experienced several construction disputes arising from its construction practices. The construction disputes in Dubai alone are estimated to be about $6 billion (Oxford Business Group 2010). In the year 2008 alone, it is reported that the Dubai Arbitration centre heard about 100 cases involving construction disputes (Oxford Business Group 2010). In 2004, the Dubai Arbitration centre had in excess of 230 cases (involving construction disputes). The main assumption underlying the surge in disputed cases is the existing changes and opportunities characterizing the UAE construction sector.

The contracting environment has been a significant feature of the UAE construction industry and over the last few years, it has been highly competitive (owing to the ambitious construction projects being undertaken in the country). Private sector participation has also been vibrant but its peak (now) has not been as high as the level witnessed before the 2008 global financial crisis (WBDG Sustainable Committee 2009). Government spending has however been relatively steady over the years because it has tried to buoy the flagging economy (Oxford Business Group 2008).

However, the global push for clean energy and environmental best practices has seen an emergence of new gas and renewable energy investments across the emirates.

Infrastructure investments have been a key characteristic of construction activities within the UAE because the government believes that infrastructure development is a key engine for growth (Terterov 2006). However, with the immense opportunities for growth, the real impediments to a vibrant construction industry have been the high number of disputes within the sector. More so, the country’s procurement regime has come under increased pressure to change its operations to reflect a fair and competitive platform where all stakeholders can participate freely (Terterov 2006).

Nonetheless, owing to the poor environmental record of the UAE, there is a strong need to overhaul completely the country’s construction practices to be more environmentally friendly. This goal can only be achieved through the collaborative effort of the public and private sectors.

Environmental Impact Due to Construction

“Manmade lakes and islands, air-conditioned malls and an indoor ski slope pepper Dubai’s desert. Constant irrigation keeps gardens green but the growing population is now among the world’s most wasteful” (Saadeh 2007, p. 1). The above statement was made in reference to the challenges facing Dubai’s flourishing economy. The same environmental challenges facing the growth of Dubai’s economy are mirrored as the key challenges facing the UAE’s construction industry. Even though most parts of the UAE have transformed from desert backwaters to beautiful and flourishing tourist and recreational centres, the UAE is only just starting to suffer the environmental impact associated with such an economic boom.

The worsening environmental impact of construction in the UAE is further compounded by the fact that the industry operates around the clock. Consequently, the carbon footprint of the UAE is reported to be “44 times more than India and 5 times more than China” (Brebbia 2011, p. 31). The following graph shows the increasing CO2 emissions in the UAE.

CO2 emissions in the UAE.
Figure 4.4: CO2 emissions in the UAE. (Source: CIB (2012) In Sustainable Construction).

However, the heavy carbon footprint witnessed in the UAE is more than the increase in construction activities in the country; it digs into the wasteful culture that is quickly becoming a characteristic of UAE citizens (Saadeh 2007, p. 1). For example, it is reported that for every 1000 citizens in the UAE, there are 600 cars (Saadeh 2007, p. 1). For any developing nation, this represents a wasteful culture. Compare Infobase Limited (2012) explains that “One watchdog in Dubai, home to more than one million people and one of the seven emirates comprising the UAE, says the country has the second-highest level of domestic waste per capita after the United States” (p. 4). The construction industry is not exempt from UAE’s wasteful culture because the construction industry is deemed the single most common contributor of solid waste in the Middle Eastern Nation (Salama 2009, p. 959). Dubai is home to most of the construction projects in the UAE. Unfortunately few people in the UAE take a keen interest in the environmental disasters left behind by the growing construction industry.

Adding to the UAE’s poor environmental record is its high accumulation of environmental waste. It is not clear how the UAE gets to dispose of its construction waste but researchers have not shied away from reporting the tones of environmental waste accrued from construction and household operations. For example, Compare Infobase Limited (2012) reports that “household waste per head has reached an average of 730 kg per year in Abu Dhabi and 725 kg in Dubai” (p. 5).

As highlighted in earlier sections of this report, the governments of UAE have woken up to the environmental impact of the construction industry and formulated new regulations governing the same. For example, in the last four years, there has been an impressive repeal of environmental waste management laws to make them more eco-friendly (Compare Infobase Limited 2012). Through this initiative, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been able to set up recycling plants for glass, aluminium plastic and other materials which can be recycled.

Sustainable Practices in Construction to Reduce CO2 Emissions

The reduction of CO2 levels in the UAE has been a multidisciplinary approach. The UAE government has tried to approach this issue on different levels but the most visible approach has been the criteria for funding. This approach has been hailed to be among the most effective sustainable practices to reduce CO2 emissions (Huovila 1998). The approval for funding is mainly undertaken through the observation of the Equator principles. The equator principles are run by an amalgamation of different banks that finance most investment activities within the UAE. The main aim of these banks is to ensure that the companies seeking funds (from them) adhere to sound environmental practices and adopt socially acceptable construction principles.

Fundamentally, Equator principles do not allow any of the financing banks to fund a company that does not agree with its principles. The Equator Principles agreement basically guarantees that any company seeking funding must provide an environmental sustainability report that stipulates the environmental impact of the project and any alternative proposal for undertaking the project in a different way (or not undertaking the project at all) (Huovila 1998). The equator principles are ordinarily strict because, in addition to ensuring that all the companies seeking funds are environmentally compliant, they need to also adhere to the laid down national and regional laws governing environmental conservation. The Equator principles also outline that the companies seeking funding are required to consult with all the stakeholders involved and a stakeholder report is submitted as well.

The introduction of the Equator principles is only one strategy that has been introduced in the UAE to act as security for practising sustainable construction practices. This financing system is mainly aimed at ensuring that the UAE construction industry operates in a sustainable manner. The observation of sound environmental management plans is therefore also encouraged within this framework and by doing so, it is expected that the negative impacts of the construction industry will be minimized or eliminated altogether. Within the preamble governing the activities of the financial institutions practising the equator principles, there is a common assertion by the financial institutions that the financial initiative was undertaken within the framework of the equator principles will benefit all parties (who intend to gain economically and environmentally).

Research Design and Methods


The research methodology for this paper seeks to gather relevant data and compile different databases to have a deeper conceptual understanding of the research problem and arrive at a realistic and factual understanding of the research problem. In addition, this research methodology aims to shed light on different aspects of the research problem including explaining the concept of sustainable construction practices and how it is relevant to the UAE construction industry, identifying any sustainable construction practices in the UAE and evaluating their effectiveness in transforming the construction industry to be more environmentally friendly. These insights will provide a deeper understanding of the potential costs and benefits associated with adopting sustainable environmental practices in the UAE construction industry. Furthermore, these insights will show how environmental sustainability markers can be easily achieved within the UAE construction industry. Finally, the methodology of this study will highlight how the development and maintenance of high environmental standards in the construction industry can be maintained.

Research Strategy

The methodology for this study is mainly based on a qualitative research design. The qualitative research design will be used as a precursor to quantitative research design, which may form the basis for future studies on cost-effective and sustainable practices in the UAE. The usefulness of the qualitative research design will therefore be limited to getting a comprehensive conceptualization of the cost-effective and sustainable practices in the UAE (based on the backdrop of environmental issues in the UAE construction industry). The use of the qualitative research design is also supported by the fact that this research methodology is flexible and supports the inclusion of case study research information. As will be evident in further sections of this paper, information from case studies is highly relied on to develop a framework for the development of the study’ findings.

The inclusion of such data is supported by the qualitative research design. The nature of the research topic is also too complex to be answered by a “yes” or “no” response and therefore the use of the qualitative research design will be able to expose the underlying dynamics of the research topic. The simplicity of undertaking the qualitative research design is also a huge attraction for this research because it minimizes the cost of undertaking the research. Therefore, research costs associated with travelling, seeking appointments, developing questionnaires (and the likes) are minimized in this regard. This advantage is not only mirrored as a cost advantage but also as a functional advantage. For example, the use of secondary research gives researchers more time to focus on the important parts of the research as opposed to spending a lot of time sourcing for the research information. Instances of burnout and exhaustion are also minimized in this regard. Furthermore, considering this paper focuses on the use of secondary research information as the main form of data collection, the dependence on the population sample will not be as important as it is for quantitative research. Therefore, meaningful research can still be obtained with a small case study or a collection of relevant cases.

Methodology – Data Collection

As mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, this study will use secondary research sources as the main data collection tool. In addition, the concept of environmentally sustainable practices has been investigated but few studies have investigated the localized impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment. For example, numerous pieces of literature study the environmental impact of the construction industry on developed economies like the US and the UK but few studies investigate sustainable construction practices in developing economies. More so, even fewer studies investigate sustainable environmental practices in the UAE.

Based on this understanding, this study focuses on introducing a new analysis of the impact of the construction industry (in developing countries) on the environment and more so, the impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment. Furthermore, since sustainable environmental practices in developing countries are rarely addressed, the use of secondary research data provides a broader understanding of the research problem. Even though secondary research is mainly classified into internal and external sources, this study will mainly rely on external sources of data because there is no specific organization that this research seeks to address.

The main types of secondary research data to be used in this paper will be environmental journals and publications. These research sources will be relied on because of their relevance to the research topic and their high credibility and validity (Rachels, 1986, p. 56). Furthermore, the reliance on environmental journals and related studies will strive to ensure the findings of the study remain within the confines of the environmental field because the research problem is equally environmental. This principle methodology will ensure that the research study is relevant to the research problem. The outcomes of the study are therefore expected to highlight sustainable environmental practices in the UAE, based on an empirical understanding of the research problem. Furthermore, the outcomes of the study are expected to be peer-reviewed because the sources obtained will be peer-reviewed too. Therefore, the credibility and validity of the researcher’s outcomes are expected to be high.

Furthermore, as mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, there is a great need to provide holistic information regarding the research problem by highlighting sustainable and unsustainable environmental practices in the UAE. These two aspects will be comprehensively analyzed to provide a holistic understanding of the research problem. The study’s outcomes will therefore be fair to the understanding of cost-effective and sustainable practices in UAE because it will encompass all relevant dynamics of the research topic. Through this understanding, the research objectives will be objective and direct to answer the research questions. Therefore, there will be no hidden motives or malicious practices in the formulation of the research’s findings (like trying to advance a western agenda or engaging in the politics of developing and developed economies). These attributes show one aspect of quality control that will be applied in the formulation of the research’s findings. Nonetheless, the accuracy of the findings will be guaranteed by the credibility of the information sources because this paper mainly relies on credible sources of information.

Books will also rely on reliable sources of research information because they contain published texts. Their level of reliability and validity are also assumed to match to journals and publications on environmental studies. Finally, as the last type of secondary research data, this paper will source information from online sources of research apart from just a few pieces, which are collected through interviews and questionnaires. The main advantage associated with the online data collection tool is its easy availability. However, emphasis will be made to rely on online data sources such as environmental sites.

Expert views were sought to counter the findings of this report (from the secondary data sources). In this regard, there was widespread consultation of professionals who have knowledge about cost-effective and sustainable practices in the UAE construction industry. This analysis includes interviews from environmental professionals and practitioners from the construction industry. The two groups of experts constituted the population sample. Including environmental experts and construction experts in the study was a deliberate move to incorporate the views of all stakeholders in analyzing the research problem.

Based on these technicalities, this paper is inclined to seek sociological and expert views on the topic. In the same regard, the inclusion of professional views is a good countermeasure to verify the information collected from existing secondary data sources. Therefore, the inclusion of professional views provides a suitable ground for the comparison and verification of secondary data (viz-a-viz professional views) on the subject matter. Through this comparison, we can find a suitable ground for obtaining information about the effects of the UAE construction industry on the environment and cost-effective measures that can be taken to transform the entire construction paradigm (to be more environmentally friendly). Mainly, the professional views sought will be used to verify data obtained from historical databases, environmental reports and the likes.

However, in the process of collecting professional data, semi-structured interviews were used as the main data collection technique. However, the interviews were first done by asking unstructured questions to have background information about the research topic. Six interviews were done on six environmental and construction agencies. Three of these agencies were environmental agencies, while the rest were different agencies engaged in the UAE construction industry. This research was done to gather information about the influence of the UAE construction industry on the environment and what measures can be taken to mitigate the effects of the expanding and vibrant construction industry on the environment. The focus was made on the future of the environment and the construction industry in equal measure. These interviews were qualitative interviews.

The above research sources will provide the groundwork for a meta-analysis, which will combine the findings from all data sources to form the framework for the research findings. Therefore, the true “effect size” of the data collected from the secondary research sources will be estimated by the meta-analysis. Comprehensively, we will be able to come up with a systematic review of the research problem by eliminating the size of the less-precise effect of the research information collected from the secondary research sources.

There are several advantages to be realized from the above meta-analysis. For instance, it would be easy to establish the diversity of the researches obtained from the different types of information sources highlighted in the secondary research information. This diversity is likely to be realized from the inclusion of diverse professional views in the surveys and questionnaires. Through the meta-analysis, it is equally easy to derive the statistical testing for all the factors involved throughout the progress of the research. Even though the concept of generalizing findings is highlighted as a limitation for this study, the meta-analysis helps to generalize the findings of this research to different but related contexts.

Methodology – Data Analysis

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) technique will be the main data analysis tool. This technique will be used for its easy predictability of the research information so that it can be easy to make smarter decisions when formulating the researcher’s findings. Mainly, the SPSS technique acts like a computer program that is “used for survey authoring and deployment (IBM SPSS Data Collection), data mining (IBM SPSS Modeler), text analytics, statistical analysis, and collaboration and deployment (batch and automated scoring services)”. The SPSS technique has been proved to have a high level of efficacy for organizations, governments, educational researchers and other organizations or individuals with similar interest.

Apart from the SPSS technique, auxiliary data analysis techniques will also be applied in the research study. These auxiliary data analysis methods will use four tools. These tools will mainly be used because of the reliance on secondary data as the main form of data collection tool. The interpretive technique is the first type of data analysis tool used in this study. The interpretive technique will be adopted within the framework of observer impression because the secondary data collected will be analyzed from an analytical and professional view to come up with a structured impression of the study’s findings. By extension, this data analysis tool will include the input of experts and professionals in analyzing the data collected. An analytical eye will also be included to sort pertinent issues regarding the research problem and eliminate any information that may not be of use when answering the research problem or meeting the objectives of the study.

The second data analysis tool to be used will be the coding technique. The coding technique shares many similarities with the other data analysis tools used in this study because it is mainly interpretive (Rachels, 1986). Mainly, the coding technique will be used to organize the huge volumes of research data collected. The data will be analyzed and segmented into different groups, which are identified by unique codes. These codes are usually words that show the link between the information obtained and the research objectives. The different research contents represented by the unique codes will thereafter be compared to one another to expose their similarities and differences. Advanced coding techniques use integrated computer software such as the Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software which does little to supplement the interpretative nature of the exercise but improves the efficiency of the process altogether. The increased efficiency of the integrated computer software also allows for work-sharing, peer-review, and easy examination of the information obtained (Rachels, 1986).

To establish the validity of the research information obtained, the member check technique will be adopted. This technique will not only be used to check the validity of the research information obtained because it will also evaluate the accuracy, credibility and transferability of the research information obtained. The member check technique works by submitting the research findings to the sources or sample sources. In this study, the research information will be compared to the existing pool of research sources and any distinctions checked to report on the accuracy or validity of the findings. Highly accurate and valid research information should reflect the views, feelings and experiences of the authors who developed the previous research (which is relied on in the study). However, this is not to mean that the findings of this paper will reproduce information from other studies because it will go beyond that to conceptualize the research problem (from a holistic perspective) and provide a framework for future studies.


The above research methodology is unique to most research studies done to analyze the impact of the construction industry on the environment because it is specific to understanding the impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment. Therefore, as opposed to several research studies done to explain the relationship between the construction industry and the environment, this paper was specifically designed to expose modern-day influences of the UAE construction industry on the environment. In addition, contrary to most research studies which have strived to explain the role of the ever-expanding construction industry on environmental degradation; this paper strived to explain the role of the UAE construction industry, based on the new economic drive to transform the economy from a middle-income country to a developed economy. Moreover, this paper was specific to explain the role of the UAE construction industry on the Middle Eastern ecosystem and more importantly, the environmental sustainability of the region.

The methodological approach for this study is also more comprehensive and broader than the methodological approaches used by many researchers in the past. This methodology is skewed to collect data from all stakeholders in the environmental and construction industries. Furthermore, it is not biased in estimating the relevance of information according to specific periods. Historical and current information is collected and analyzed according to how it affects the interpretation of the research problem. This information is obtained from analyzing published materials from national libraries and making use of historical and current perspectives, to have a proper understanding of how the UAE construction industry exerts pressure on the environment that supports it. From the above information, it is, therefore, crucial to note that the methodological approach for this study is poised to give credible, relevant and reliable information.

The main ethical concern experienced in this study was obtaining consent from research participants (when taking part in the study). Consent was however obtained freely. Nonetheless, confidentiality issues also surfaced as part of the ethical issues considered in the study. To ensure the confidentiality of the information given in this study, the researcher and the participants had to sign a confidentiality document stipulating that all information obtained from the participants will strictly be used for purposes of the study alone. Moreover, the names of the participants were not disclosed during the research.

Research Data Analysis and Discussion


As mentioned in the previous chapter, this paper incorporated expert views and previously researched data to formulate the research findings. However, mainly, the type of information relied on to provide the main framework for the research information was secondary research sources. In the past, the availability of data was a big shortcoming in research. It was impossible for researchers to get relevant data from any source unless through the library or undertaking an independent study. However, with the growth of the virtual sphere, the convenience of obtaining secondary data has improved and it is now very easy to get factual and reliable information from online sources and other credible sources of secondary data. The process of obtaining secondary research data has been further simplified by the low-cost nature of the research information because unlike traditional data sources like primary sources of data, it is relatively cheaper to obtain credible information from secondary data. The conveniences created by secondary research data only mirror the ease in conducting the research data analysis and subsequent discussions on the same.

The most helpful advantage for using the methodology described above is its ability to clarify information regarding the research problem. Therefore, before undertaking a comprehensive research analysis of the findings obtained from questionnaires and online surveys, the information obtained from the secondary research sources helps to clarify what is to be learned. Therefore, even in the formulation of the research findings, it is important to adopt secondary research data to avoid analyzing research information which has been already discussed in previous studies. This advantage was also useful in the formulation of the research questionnaires because the questionnaires were designed to answer specific questions, which were not comprehensively addressed (from the secondary research sources obtained). Similarly, from the secondary research sources, it was easy to identify specific areas of ambiguity and seek further clarification from questionnaires and interviews.

Results: Online Survey Questionnaires

Rachels (1986) observes that the greatest advantage associated with online surveys is the high level of responsiveness. In this study, online surveys provided a fertile ground to promptly answer questions regarding sustainability and the impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment. As mentioned in previous sections of this paper, the main aim of this paper was to get a better conceptualization of the concept of sustainability, analyze the current environmental impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment and evaluate current construction practices in the UAE (and evaluate their impact on the environment). Other aims for this paper were to explore cost-effective and sustainable practices of construction in the UAE and establish the relation between cost-effective and sustainable practices in the UAE construction sector.

Based on the above aims, the online survey questionnaires were tailored to address the aims of the study. Therefore the main questions were: why is sustainability important in the UAE? What is the environmental impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment? What are the current construction practices in the UAE and their impact on the environment? What cost-effective and sustainable practices (in the UAE) can be adopted to minimize the environmental impact of the construction industry? And what is your understanding of the relationship between cost-benefits and sustainability in the UAE construction industry? Comprehensively, the questionnaire included five simple to answer questions. The questionnaire included only five questions because it was done online and it was designed to quickly grasp the respondent’s attention without seeming boring or time-consuming.

However, after analyzing the responses from the online survey questionnaires, it was evident that most of the respondents affirmed information obtained from secondary research data. Here, there were little to no contradictions regarding the information obtained from the secondary research sources and the findings from the online surveys. For example, when the respondents were asked to define sustainable construction, many explained that it involved the adoption of environmentally friendly construction practices. Mainly, the respondents assumed that the concept of sustainability had to do with the use of oil to run machine and high maintenance buildings that required a lot of energy. According to conventional literature, this assumption is not wrong but it only scratches the surface of the extent that construction practices can have on the environment.

When the respondents were asked to state their understanding of the environmental impact of the construction industry, there was a general agreement that the construction industry has a devastating impact on natural resources (through depletion). For example, the cutting of trees was identified as the single most notable impact of the construction industry on the environment because it had a direct impact on the reduction in forest cover. This opinion was however not expressed within the context of the UAE but within a wider context of the impact of the construction industry on the environment (globally).

In addition, as explained by secondary data sources, most of the respondents interviewed agreed that the construction industry (like other industrial sectors) produced a lot of waste which was dumped on the environment thereby choking the natural ecosystems. Finally, there was a wider consensus that the construction industry added to the national carbon footprint arising from the emission of greenhouse gases. Experts noted that carbon dioxide (among other natural gases) were the most common contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation was singled out as the most prominent construction activity that led to the production of greenhouse gases. Mining was identified as the second most prominent activity in the construction industry that contributed to the production of greenhouse gases. This assumption was made because mining involved the use of heavy machinery which produced a lot of greenhouse gases.

When the respondents were asked to identify current practices in the UAE which contributed to environmental degradation, many respondents identified the lack of environmental consciousness among authorities for the increased insensitivity to environmental awareness. Here, many respondents identified that the current poor record of the UAE concerning environmental consciousness was largely a policy problem which was consistently being ignored by policymakers.

Economic benefits were equally identified to overshadow environmental concerns and conclusively, there was a general agreement among all the respondents that the UAE’s policymakers were largely driven by economic success at the expense of environmental success. This view mirrored earlier assertions made by WRAP (2010) regarding the traditional model of construction practices which were currently being adopted in the UAE. This view explained that the UAE construction industry was largely driven by economic gains at the expense of the environment. The main preoccupation of relevant authorities was therefore to see the Middle Eastern economy transition from a middle-income state to a developed state without properly factoring the environmental impact of such a transition.

When the respondents were asked to give their views on cost-effective and sustainable practices that can be adopted in the UAE, many identified the use of alternative energy sources. Some proposed the use of cheaper sources of energy to power buildings (such as solar power). Renewable energy sources were also identified to be a sustainable source of energy because it was easy to identify how such energy sources can be used severally. However, there was no clear identification of which types of renewable energy sources to adopt, or which cheaper sources of energy to use in the construction industry.

Finally, when the respondents were asked to identify the relationship between sustainability and cost-effectiveness, there was a common agreement that current energy sources (such as fossil fuel) were unsustainable in the long run because there is a growing demand of energy around the world and the available oil reserves are quickly diminishing. This phenomenon was seen to create a surge in oil prices, thereby increasing the cost of energy in the long-run. Similarly, building and construction ventures were expected to be increasingly expensive and out of the reach for ordinary citizens. Many respondents, therefore, identified that sustainability mainly depended on the cost-effectiveness of construction practices. The future of the construction industry was therefore sealed in finding alternative and cheaper sources of energy.

Case Study Analysis

Some of UAE’s major cities are considered among the wealthiest in the world (owing to the immense oil wealth in the region) (Butler 2005). UAE has tried to improve its standing in the world (and among its neighbours) by building some of the world’s magnificent buildings, hotels and now, man-made islands. These magnificent architectural works inform UAE’s penchant for acquiring a stake in the Guinness book of world records for building some of the most astonishing architectural works (Butler 2005). The push to transform UAE’s economy to a world-class tourist destination has however informed the decision to make man-made islands off Dubai’s coastline. These islands are expected to host several hotels, luxury villas, world-class shopping malls, and other infrastructural works that are designed for the high-end market. It is estimated that each island sells for about $8 million to $36 million (Govers 2009).

Several islands are currently being constructed, but the first major man-made island project was the palm tree island which was completed in 2006. The following picture shows an aerial depiction of the island.

 The Palm Jumeirah.
Figure 6.1: The Palm Jumeirah. (Source: Ten real estate (2006) in Property Developments: Dubai).

This island sold off in just a few months and owing to the success of the first project, the UAE government decided to build several other man-made islands resembling an even bigger palm tree and the map of the world off Dubai’s coast (Govers 2009). Butler (2005) explains that there are three palm-tree islands that have been built already and the last main venture is the Dubai waterfront and the $14 billion man-made island project which is expected to mimic the shape of the world’s landmasses. These landmasses are expected to take the shape of every continent of the world. Moreover, these landmasses are expected to be comprised of about 300 islands (each going to be constructed with vast natural resources) (Lück 2008). On average, it is projected that each island will be about 20 acres with each island separated by about 50 to 100 meters of water. Underwater, it is expected that several wrecks will be set up to provide tourists with an enriching diving experience (Govers 2009).

This diving experience is expected to be part of the plans to set up an artificial diving park where tourists are expected to sample the local marine life. The artificial wrecks put at sea are expected to attract fish and marine life because it is anticipated that they will provide shelter to marine life. The optimistic prospects aside, one of Dubai’s man-made islands (Palm Jebel Ali) was set up on a marine reserve named Jebel Ali marine reserve (Stewart 2008). Upon the completion of plans to build the island, the reserve was taken away from the Dubai municipal council and transferred to the developers who set up an island on it. Some environmentalists say that the substitute effect of the island’s foundation on the natural marine is impressive but some ecologists warn that destroying the natural landscape is likely to kill native species of marine life and introduce new and destructive species to the environment (Stewart 2008). The entire project is expected to be set up about two and a half miles of Dubai’s coast.

From space, the man-made islands look magnificent because they truly emphasize Dubai’s coastline. These man-made islands have amazed the world but few works of literature have focused on their environmental impact. Underneath the magnificent man-made islands lies an environmental scar that is slowly developing with every tone of rock and sand that is slowly being deposited at sea (Tomlinson 2010). For example, the crystalline waters of the gulf have increasingly been characterized high volumes of silt and there have been a lot of underwater changes that are only matched by the intensity of the project’s vision (Butler 2005).

Dubai’s man-made islands have therefore caused uproar among environmentalists because they believe the construction of these ambitious projects have a devastating impact on the local marine life and the local marine ecology (Badescu 2011). More importantly, the impacts of the islands on reshaping the sea and local landscape have been more worrying. However, the dying ecological system off Dubai’s coast is not a new phenomenon because, in the last five decades, there has been a significant decline in the ecological wellbeing of the region (Stewart 2008).

For example, coral reefs have been suffering under intense human activity and increased pollution. It is estimated that the environmental destruction of Dubai’s marine life was about 35% (Stewart 2008). Most of this destruction has been attributed to extremely high temperatures and increased levels of salinity. However, the development of artificial islands has further acted as a catalytic component of environmental destruction. For example, the construction company undertaking the development of the man-made islands has conceded that the development of the man-made islands has buried coral reefs and changed the natural landscape of the area (Stewart 2008). However, to remedy these changes, the company says that it will try to rebuild the natural habitat by building artificial reefs (United States of America Congress 2011).

The coral reefs and the complementary mangrove plants and seagrass have a huge role to play in the stability of the ecological system because they provide food and shelter to several marine species. Similarly, these plants have sheltered the surrounding environment from sea storms and intense erosion. Furthermore, the coral reefs have provided a good ground for recreational activities and facilitated the viability of commercial fishing.

Even more worrying is the growing trend to build more islands off the Dubai coast without taking into consideration the supply of raw materials and energy that is being taken to run such massive projects. However, based on the palm-tree island project that was completed in 2006, this chapter seeks to evaluate the impact of the project on the environment and the future sustainability of such ventures. The 2006 Palm-tree island project provides a good case study for this paper because the project has been completed and now houses several high-end houses, villas, and hotels. Similar projects which are currently being undertaken off Dubai’s coast are ongoing and their full impact on the environment has not been studied yet.

Indeed, the Palm-tree island project is a perfect example of the devastating environmental impact that the UAE construction industry has left on the environment. Indeed, it is almost impossible to undertake such a massive construction project on an established ecosystem without interfering with the marine and aquatic life of the region. Different environmental changes have been reported as an aftermath of the palm-tree island construction project (United States of America Congress 2011). Some of them include the change in wave patterns, fragmentation of wildlife population, increased erosion (off the coast of Dubai), reduced sunlight to undersea vegetation, injuring of local sea fauna (among other environmental damages). Another impact of the construction of the islands is the lack of proper water circulation at sea. The red parts in the following diagram show areas where there is no proper water circulation within the islands

Water circulation at Palm Tree Islands.
Figure 6.2: Water circulation at Palm Tree Islands.

Google Inc. (2012) explains that going, forward, the UAE government needs to be wary of the long-term sustainability of its projects because scientists warn that because of climate change, there will be rising sea levels which may erode the multimillion-dollar investments put out at sea. Furthermore, scientists and engineers also warn that the palm-tree islands are very close to a major earthquake zone (off Iran’s coast) which may ultimately affect the luxury investments in the long-run (Google Inc. 2012). It is even more ironic that UAE (which has been identified to contribute to climate change) is going to be among the first countries that are going to experience the extreme effects of climate change (rising sea levels).

However, planners and designers of the Palm-tree Island project claim they have foreseen the impact of climate change on the islands and taken contingency measures to protect the island from such devastating impacts of the environment (Google Inc. 2012). One such measure was building the island on a shallow sea bed such that it would take few resources to make the island rise above the sea level. Moreover, the erosion caused by the rising sea level is expected to be mitigated by the replenishment of sand from the sea bed. Alternatively, it is expected that the ring-like wall surrounding the palm tree island is expected to shield the island from the harsh effects of the weather and more importantly, the effects of the rising sea levels. Engineers say that this wall can be increased or strengthened in a moments’ notice (Google Inc. 2012).

Even though there are several contingency measures put in place, the overall message put across (in this example) is that it is going to be very expensive and tedious to maintain the islands. Indeed, the islands stand on the sea in defiance of nature. The more massive the projects are; the stronger nature is going to fight to erode them away. Basically, Google Inc. (2012) explains that it is going to be a fight between nature and man but man has to use a lot of resources to maintain such an establishment at sea. Obviously, maintaining a metropolis at sea is no easy fete. The maintenance costs and the sheer environmental impact that the island has already had on the environment is enough to cause for concern to environmentalists (Hornstein 2011).

From the above environmental changes, it is therefore unsurprising to see that many environmentalists such as Green pace movement have criticized Dubai’s expanding construction industry (based on its poor environmental record). However, Green pace movement is not the only organization that has criticized the palm-tree island project, other environmental bodies such as the World Wildlife fund have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the entire project, based on the premise that the UAE’s population is among the world’s most environmentally unconscious people because they exert a lot of pressure on the environment (purely based on their ambitious construction projects) (Dodds 2008). From this assertion, Google Inc. (2012) observes that the country is among the most unsustainable nations in the world (five times more unsustainable than any country in the world). Even though the completion of the islands may put a stop to the environmental changes and destruction that the projects have caused, it still remains to be seen if people can be able to recognize what is left of the marine life that the islands sit on.


After weighing the findings of this chapter, we can affirm that UAE’s construction industry has a huge role to play in the destruction of the environment. This sentiment is expressed by different stakeholders and respondents sampled in this chapter. Experts also agree with the fact that there needs to be a long-term thought regarding how the UAE intends to make its projects sustainable in the future. Undoubtedly, we can affirm that part of the environmental problem caused by UAE’s construction industry is entrenched in UAE’s lavish culture and the government’s conviction to transform the economy into a world-class tourist destination. The man-made islands sampled above are a true testament to the unlimited extent that the UAE government intends to go to transform the economy to an ideal world-class destination.

The respondents sampled in this paper observe that there is a strong economic drive prevailing in the UAE construction industry which significantly undermines environmental concerns. This view is also expressed by other stakeholders in the UAE environmental sector but most importantly, it mirrors the assertion of many others sampled in this report. For example, earlier assertions explain that the UAE construction model is based on a traditional understanding of construction which is mainly characterized by economic concerns.

The environment has paid a huge cost in sustaining the UAE construction industry. The respondents sampled stated that mining, pollution and industrial processes have greatly contributed to the increase in carbon emissions of the UAE. Similarly, many respondents have advocated for the use of alternative energy as the main form of alternative energy that can be used to propel the engine of economic growth. Environmentalists are however reserved about the growth of the UAE construction industry and suggest that the government should mainly tone-down its construction projects because they are truly unconventional and stir a lot of fear regarding the future of UAE’s environment and indeed, the entire debate regarding climate change.

The UAE, however, seems relentless in pursuing an economic dream and environmental concerns are an after-thought. This attitude has been expressed by project managers undertaking the construction of several man-made islands at sea. The general belief within government is that let the construction go on and the environmental destruction will be mitigated through remedial actions undertaken after the projects are completed. Such is the attitude expressed by the UAE government regarding the destruction of coral reefs underneath the islands.

Nonetheless, it is important to also note the environmental gains made by some of UAE’s construction engineers. Particularly, the construction of the islands and the sinking of huge rocks on the sea bed have provided shelter to fish and other marine life. This development has been used by proponents supporting the construction of the man-made islands as a counter-argument to the criticisms levelled against the construction of the islands. However, to the extent that existing literature shows, this is the most notable and positive environmental gain that has been observed from the construction of the islands. In other words, there is more environmental destruction (than gains) made from the construction projects in the UAE. More importantly, it is important to highlight the huge maintenance cost expected to maintain the islands and the growing construction projects around the UAE because they significantly add to the country’s energy bill. Basically, a lot of energy is used to sustain the UAE’s ambitious projects. The growth in such construction projects is therefore adding to global warming and the growing fears regarding environmental sustainability.

Now, it is very important to revive the debate regarding the use of alternative energy should the UAE continue to ignore the environmental costs of its construction industry. This recommendation is in line with the recommendations gathered from the respondents sampled. Nuclear energy is the only source of energy which has been of interest to UAE’s government. So far, there are plans to set up nuclear power plants in the UAE to complement its current supply of energy but it is important to highlight that this is a long-short. Already, there are a lot of political barriers surrounding the prospects of investing in nuclear energy especially in Middle Eastern states owing to Washington’s concerns regarding the development of nuclear weapons. For example, Iran’s nuclear plan has come under increased criticism from the west regarding its potential to develop nuclear weapons. Iran is the UAE’s neighbour to the North.

Other alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power have not been properly explored in the UAE but it is time that such energy sources are properly considered (especially considering UAE is geographically placed to receive a lot of sunlight). Going forward, it is very important to explore the use of alternative energy to support the UAE’s construction industry.

Conclusions and Recommendations


The analysis of environmental issues in construction is an amalgamation of different operations in the construction sector. When analyzing the impact of the construction industry, it is therefore important to look at different issues, including the use of sustainable energy, incorporating ‘green’ designs and the creation of products and systems that have a very little impact on the environment. Similarly, when analyzing the impact of the construction industry on the environment, it is important to evaluate the lifecycle of the construction projects. Therefore, every architectural work should be analyzed from the perspective of the resources used during construction, production, transportation, installation and other auxiliary construction ventures. From this understanding, the concept of sustainable energy should be thought of as a process and not a goal. Therefore, throughout a project’s lifecycle, careful evaluation should be made to understand the environmental, economic and societal impact of the entire project. As shown from the diagram below, environmental considerations should be given to different stages of the construction project lifecycle including the planning, tendering, contract award, buying and construction stages.

 The Construction Project Lifecycle.
Figure 7.1: The Construction Project Lifecycle.

A systems approach to understanding the impact of the construction industry on the environment provides a good platform for the determination of a product’s impact on the environment. It is through such a systems approach that this paper analyzes the environmental impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment. Obviously, the UAE’s economic growth has been significantly hampered by the environmental concerns surrounding its massive construction projects. However, contrary to the popular opinion expressed in this paper, Google Inc. (2012) explains that the UAE government is firmly committed to changing its environmental record. Between the domestic energy consumption and the industrial energy consumption, there is a growing sense of worry that UAE may retract on the gains it has made economically if it fails to find sustainable energy to run its economy. Indeed, UAE government officials have risen up to this challenge and are looking up to tourism to be the next frontier for economic growth. With this new realization comes new responsibility.


Every time the UAE launches a new construction project, the world holds its breath for a minute. This is because the UAE is known to undertake massive construction projects that take the world in awe. Already, we have seen that UAE does not shy away from constructing any project. From the ski domes in the desert to the numerous man-made islands set out at sea, the UAE is poised to run the world’s hyperbole dry (Google Inc. 2012). To many people, UAE’s projects seem short-sighted because the country continues to undertake massive investments at a time when the global economy is in a lump and the environment chokes from the excesses of man’s activities (Google Inc. 2012). These concerns beg the question regarding whether it is even wise to construct at all. Worse off, the United Nations (UN) refers to the UAE as being among the world’s most water-impoverished nation but ironically, the water per capita use in this region is far more excessive than the global average (Google Inc. 2012).

The excesses of UAE’s construction industry not only makes environmentalists hold their heads in their hands, but it also poses a big ethical question considering the fact that some of the world’s population is suffering in starvation and disease while the world rich deem it okay to spend millions of dollars in energy to refrigerate beaches and swimming pools. As Robin Oakely reports, such massive construction ventures are pointless (Google Inc. 2012). Google Inc. (2012) observes that even though the UAE government is convinced that the next economic era will be driven by green technology (like America and the Obama administration); the country’s economy is still driven by the 80s mentality of energy use which causes environmental destruction).

There is now a strong need to see UAE’s government embark on the action as opposed to open talks regarding how they are committed to improve sustainability and develop green energy. Some of the statements made by some of UAE’s government officials like Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, seem committal towards improving the environmental paradigm. For example, in a recent address, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum stated that he understood the impact that fossil fuels have on the environment and because of this realization, his government decided to invest in other economic pursuits (Google Inc. 2012). Consequently, the oil industry contributes only to 3%of the country’s GDP. The following graphs show the decline in the contribution of the oil sector to UAE’s GDP and the projected growth of the non-oil sector in the coming years.

Decline in the contribution of the oil sector to UAE's GDP and the projected growth of the non-oil sector in the coming years.
Figure 7.2: Decline in the contribution of the oil sector to UAE’s GDP and the projected growth of the non-oil sector in the coming years. (Source: HSBC Global Research (2008) in Dubai opens the gateway for regional investments).

From the increased expansion of the non-oil sector, almost every new project in Dubai has a paragraph stating an environmental analysis of the project. However, these new initiatives are best explained in the paper but owing to the continued expansion of construction projects, there is no real commitment to mitigate the environmental destruction that the UAE construction industry is causing. Indeed, UAE’s economic success and the consequent success of its construction industry have been powered by the ideology of cheap oil inflows and massive oil revenues.

In fact, the next frontier of economic growth that the UAE banks on is based on the principle that people will travel very long distances to access world-class tourist facilities (thereby increasing the world’s carbon footprint, owing to increased transportation). Some airline companies have regarded Dubai as a long short-haul holiday destination and in the coming years, Dubai is expected to host about 120 million tourists every year (Google Inc. 2012). Airports and other transports hubs are being constructed to facilitate the movement of these tourists.

The expansion of the UAE economy from being predominantly oil-based is a good idea but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the environmental impact that the construction industry is having on the economy. More peculiar is the fact that there is very little voice being heard from environmentalists in the UAE. Most of the criticisms made against the excesses of the UAE construction industry are basically from foreign environmentalists. Google Inc. (2012) answers this question by stating that the UAE government rarely condones environmental bodies and other non-governmental organizations. This situation casts more doubt regarding the UAE government’s commitment to adopting sustainable environmental practices in not only its construction industry but other industries as well. In fact, Google Inc. (2012) reports that very few people or environmentalists in the UAE would like to go on record to state the environmental impact that the UAE construction industry is having on the economy. There is too much fear among environmentalists in the UAE because the government does not tolerate such negative criticisms of their activities. This situation boils down to the call for democracy in the UAE and the wider Middle East. However, the pursuit of democracy in the Middle East is not the main focus of this study. Perhaps, going forward, it is important to introduce new paradigms in environmental management.


Based on the findings of this study, we can see the importance of adopting green building strategies in the growth of the construction sector. Similarly, we can attest to the importance of incorporating sustainable construction projects in the early stages of a product’s development so that possible environmental impacts are effectively addressed. However, since this study identifies that sustainable construction practices are mainly characterized by reduced energy consumption and keen regard for the environment, it is equally important to base the recommendations of this paper on the same principles.

Therefore, to ensure sustainability in the UAE construction sector is effectively adhered to, it is very crucial to address environmental considerations and the importance of developing energy-efficient buildings right at the onset of the construction plan (design stage) (American Chemistry Council 2012, p. 4). However, there needs to be a careful balance between the environmental concerns and the economic concerns (which centre on issues such as safety, price and performance). However, as mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, striking a careful balance between environmental and economic concerns needs to be done with a systems approach in mind. The emphasis here should be given to how the environment interacts with the construction product and how such a balance can be best used to man’s advantage. After undertaking such an analysis, energy efficiency and environmental performance should be easy to determine (and such an analysis should be used to inform the decision regarding whether to undertake the project or not. Nonetheless, any project that is to be subjected through any of the above criteria should be scientifically analyzed. The process should equally be transparent, open and free for all the stakeholders involved to participate freely. Any new and significant information can be easily identified in this manner.

In a different front, it is important to increase the level of environmental responsibility among UAE citizens so that they can pile up more pressure to authorities to eliminate unsustainable and unfriendly environmental practices in the construction industry. American Chemistry Council (2012) explains that the main reason UAE citizens have not been vocal about the environmental destruction caused by their construction industry is the fact that the industry is mainly run by expatriates and the general feeling is that such professionals should be wary of the impact of their activities on the environment. Ironically, people from countries where such professionals come from would be very surprised about the levels of environmental unawareness among UAE citizens. Some environmental initiatives are undertaken by the UAE government (like the rebuilding of coral reefs) are commendable but it is equally important for UAE citizens to take individual responsibility for their environmental and demand better practices in the construction sector. Nonetheless, even though there need to be more proactive measures to be taken by UAE citizens it is equally important to commend the level of uptake of recycling as a green initiative among UAE citizens.


The limitations of this research paper are mainly two-fold. The first limitation is founded on the research methodology. In fact, the biggest limitation of this study rests on the nature of the research methodology. The research methodology mainly uses secondary research, which is limited to the objectives and aims of the initial researchers. In addition, secondary information may contain bias (on the part of the researcher), thereby reducing the credibility of subsequent research information which may be obtained from the same (secondary research information). Primary research would however not contain this bias.

Another limitation of this study is the context in which the research findings have been obtained. It is a well-accepted phenomenon that practices in the construction industry keep changing (mostly for the better) and therefore some of the recommendations and findings derived from this study specifically apply to the period of conducting the research. For example, some of the poor construction practices cited in this paper may change in subsequent years and later portray an environmentally sound construction industry. Therefore, the findings of this paper are strictly limited to the period of research,

Varying standards of environmental safety and practices within different regions of the world also poses a great limitation for this study because it is difficult to compare construction practices within different regions of the world on the same platform. For example, the environmental standards expected of construction companies in America and Europe may vary with the construction practices observed in the UAE. It is therefore difficult to undertake an objective comparison between construction practices in the UAE and other parts of the world. Indeed, it is similarly difficult to ascertain if the UAE construction industry is operating within the precincts of environmentally sound industry.

Future Research Recommendations

This paper has highlighted different aspects and activities of the UAE construction industry which account for its environmentally sound practices. Already we have established that there is a vibrant construction industry that is hungry for resources and little attention is being given to the environmental impact that the extraction, manufacture and use of such resources are having on the environment. Similarly, we have also established that there is a stronger economic drive among UAE authorities to transform the economy from predominantly an oil-reliant economy to a tourism-centred economy. A myriad of reasons have been given for the occurrence of the above transformation but existing literature focuses less on the top reasons for the poor environmental record of the UAE (and in particular its construction industry). A few reasons have however been highlighted in this study including poor education among UAE citizens, too much focus on economic gains, poor policy frameworks to govern the construction industry and a lack of commitment among authorities to reverse the environmental record which is currently being witnessed in the Arab nation.

Knowing these reasons is not enough to reverse the trend of environmental degradation in the UAE and its construction industry; it is important to prioritize the above reasons into three categories stipulating the top reasons for a lack of environmental consciousness in the UAE. The three categories for understanding the top reasons for environmental degradation in the UAE construction industry should be categorized into varying levels of significance. The first level should constitute the most significant reasons for environmental degradation, while the second level should include reasons which are moderately significant. Lastly, the third level should include the least significant levels which account for the poor environmental record in the UAE.

Identifying the top reasons for the poor environmental record in the UAE should be the first step in reversing the poor environmental record in the UAE construction industry (and by extension, the economy). The focus should therefore be given to the most significant reasons for the poor environmental record as the primary base for changing UAE’s poor environmental record.

Going forward, it is however important to draw a strong comparison between the UAE tourism industry and its poor environmental record. Future research should therefore focus on understanding the impact of the UAE tourism industry on its poor environmental record. This assertion mainly stems from the findings of this study which suggest that the ambitious UAE tourism sector accounts for most of the enormous construction projects in the country (such as the construction of the palm tree island and the construction of refrigerated beaches). In the UAE, there seems to be a strong relationship between the growth of the tourism sector and the growth of the construction industry. More importantly, there seems to be a strong relationship between the growth of the tourism industry and the decline of environmental standards in the construction industry. This phenomenon needs to be further investigated with a special focus to ascertain the extent that the growth of the tourism industry has on the poor record of the construction industry. Other researchers have undertaken similar studies to ascertain the impact of the UAE oil industry on the environment.

The same analysis should also be undertaken to investigate the impact of the UAE real estate industry on the country’s environmental record. This analysis is informed by the fact that (alongside the tourism industry), the UAE real estate sector is also fast-growing and accounts for a significant part of the poor environmental record within the UAE construction industry. In fact, the construction of tall skyscrapers within the UAE business hub (and more specifically, Dubai) is mainly informed by a growing real estate sector. Assessing the contribution of the real estate sector in fast-tracking the growth of the construction industry will therefore provide a more critical impact on the UAE construction industry on the environment. Comprehensively, it is important to acknowledge that the transition from traditional construction practices to environmentally-conscious construction practices in the UAE is a work-in-progress. Many examples are given of construction projects that have a poor environmental record but some of the projects undertaken in the UAE are environmentally conscious. For example, the diagram below shows the Masdar building in Abu Dhabi, which is a green building.

Masdar building.
Figure 7.3: Masdar building.

Comprehensively, it is important to fast track the development of ‘green’ buildings in the UAE to drive the environmental agenda in the construction industry.


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Appendix One: Questionnaire

Questionnaire for the Construction Experts

Dear respondent,

I am a student of  ****** University carrying out an academic research on the topicthe impact of the UAE construction industry on the environment.” You have been selected to participate in the study and are therefore kindly requested to provide an appropriate answer by either ticking the best option or give an explanation where applicable. The answers provided will only be used for academic purposes and will be treated with utmost confidentiality.

NB: do not write your name anywhere on this paper.


Why is environmental sustainability important in the UAE? ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Importance of sustainable construction

How would you rate the importance of environmental sustainability in the UAE construction industry?

  • Very high
  • High
  • Mild
  • Low

How would you rate its level of implementation?

  • Very high
  • High
  • Mild
  • Low

Current Construction Practices in UAE

What are the current construction practices in the UAE and their impact on the environment? ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Cost-effective and sustainable Practices

What cost-effective and sustainable practices (in the UAE) can be adopted to minimize the environmental impact of the construction industry? ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

How do you think the above recommendations can be put into effective use? ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

What role do you think the UAE government should play in ensuring that these recommendations are implemented and that they yield good results? ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Cost Effectiveness and Sustainability

What is your understanding of the relationship between cost-benefits and sustainability in the UAE construction industry? …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Interview Guide for the Construction Experts

  1. What areas of construction does your company engage in?
  2. For how many years has the company been in operation?
  3. What do you understand by the term sustainable construction?
  4. What benefits do you think sustainable construction has both to the owner of the construction and to the environment?
  5. Does your company have a department in charge of environmental management?
  6. How would you rate your clients’ priority and demand for sustainable constructions?
  7. Does the implementation of sustainable construction have any drawbacks, if yes which ones?
  8. Do you advice your clients on the importance of, and ways of promoting, construction sustainability?
  9. Does your firm use any form of environmental friendly practices during construction, if yes which ones?
  10. What has been the reaction of the public towards your advice towards them ensuring sustainable constructions?
  11. What reasons would you give for the various sustainable construction inadequacies?
  12. What advice would you give to willing builders in terms of construction sustainability during this recession?
  13. Is the government playing enough roles in promoting construction sustainability that is affordable for all, if not, what more should be done?
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