Case study: The Sustainable City
SEE Institute, Diamond Developers
The Sustainable City
- Type: mixed-use and residential
- Area: 46,000 square meters
- One Click LCA Expert: SEE Institute, Diamond Developers
- One Click LCA used for: Net Zero, embodied carbon
Introduction to the project
SEE Institute is a research and development (R&D) arm of Diamond Developers, a well-established developer in the UAE. Diamond Developers is the mastermind behind The Sustainable City in Dubai, a successful project which is being replicated in other Emirates – Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, as well as a country – Oman.
The Sustainable City is an award-winning mixed-use and residential project which was designed to become the first operational Net Zero Energy city in Dubai. Established in 2015, The Sustainable City spans 46,000 square meters and is home to nearly 3,000 residents.
The City was built with a three-tiered approach to sustainability, accounting for social, environmental, and economic sustainability. The City’s developers aim to create a self-sustaining community and promote conscious living.
The institute’s purpose is to accelerate climate action through education, R&D, business incubation, events and conferences. Through targeted collaborations with partners, academic and government entities, we aim to inspire others by sharing knowledge and expertise to ensure a better tomorrow for generations to come.
SEE Institute is the embodiment of our mission to spearhead the global movement towards sustainable knowledge and learning advancement, in line with the aspirations of the Paris Climate Agreement and the urgency of worldwide climate action. It also paves the way for bringing the UN 2050 targets forward and achieving a net zero carbon future today.
What were the project goals?
On a global scale, according to multiple reports by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the built environment is responsible for the alarming 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Yet the industry has been slow in responding to this message and not taking adequate meaningful action. Many building codes currently address operational energy and neglect emissions associated with building products and construction processes. There is a lack of policies enforcing certain measures, too.
Now that new buildings are becoming more energy-efficient, priorities have shifted and embodied carbon receives its recognition and attention.
We registered the SEE Institute building under the ILFI Zero Carbon certification program a couple of years ago when it was still in a design development stage.
This certification program addresses both embodied and operational carbon and calls for reduction and offsetting emissions associated with materials and construction, and energy consumption, respectively.
We’ve implemented various strategies to reduce embodied carbon of the institute (compared to a conventional method of design and construction) through structural design and use of low-carbon materials (concrete, façade, rebar), and the use of modular elements.
Currently, international best practice for embodied carbon is capped at 500 kgCO2e/m2 for a built-up area. This target is also articulated by the above mentioned Zero Carbon certification.
To keep the SEE Institute’s embodied carbon below the recommended value, we conducted a life cycle assessment of the building using One Click LCA and implemented various strategies for reduction.
- The structural design of the building was optimized to use fewer materials where possible.
- All the major structural elements, such as beams and slabs, were prefabricated to eliminate waste and make the construction process more efficient.
- All the construction materials were sourced locally to minimize transportation emissions.
- Concrete is one of the biggest contributors to worldwide CO2 emissions. The concrete used for the project was selected on the basis of its embodied carbon. It contains up to 60% of Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag (GGBS) that has the same properties as cement yet causes much lower embodied emissions. As it doesn’t require quarrying of virgin materials, is less energy-intensive, and diverts waste from landfill.
- Steel, another important engineering and construction material, is also a substantial producer of emissions. The steel for the project was sourced from a local plant and has 97% recycled content.
- A comparative analysis of several building systems was performed to select the best performing structure in terms of embodied carbon, insulation, and acoustics. Light-weight façade was found to be the finest option among the studied other six variants as it met all the considered criteria.
- Most significant constructions materials used in the SEE Institute building have Environmental Product Declarations which means that their embodied carbon arising from manufacturing was carefully calculated and externally verified.
Such measures allowed us to arrive at 450 kgCO2e/m2, including emissions from machinery fuel use onsite. This is a provisional value that will be finalized once the building is fully complete.
To make this building net zero carbon, we will disclose and offset emissions associated with materials and construction, through a credible source.
What challenges did you face?
The biggest challenge is the ability to measure the positive impact you’re creating.
There were such obstacles as a lack of robust data from EPDs and LCA tools, inadequate understanding of EC and LCA across the industry, and a lack of regional policy regulations, as well as insufficient applied research in the field. All of those represent difficulties in setting targets and benchmarking and developing the right roadmap to emissions reduction.
EPD availability is an important criterion in our selection of building materials – it enables us to compare products ‘apples to apples’: beyond their specific properties, performance, and price.
At a high level, the biggest challenge around embodied carbon calculation is that the building and construction industry requires a true collective effort, close collaboration, and disclosure. However, we do believe this is within reach.
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
One Click LCA’s name speaks for itself – it allows you to run an assessment within a few hours (depending on the bill of materials) whether it’s a particular structural element or a whole building.
Access to the biggest and up to date EPDs database is an exceptional feature that allows us to identify manufacturers disclosing their products instantly instead of spending time on an online search and ensures accuracy of calculations. Another great factor is the availability of regional industry-average data which means that even a lack of environmental declarations does not impede the embodied carbon analysis.
I could quickly see how materials compare against one another within their supply region, making it simple to distinguish between several identical-looking items.
Having such a database facilitates conducting a lifecycle assessment regardless of where our projects are located.
In addition to that, One Click LCA provides great customer support.
Using One Click LCA helped me to not only perform a life cycle assessment of the whole building in a very short time and identify the hotspots in which we needed to take an action; it also enabled us to carry out quick studies of the building’s parts and systems when we needed to select between various options.
Its convenient and user-friendly interface is certainly the most useful feature.
You can quickly add and remove construction materials, you are not limited to using a certain unit of measure (m2, m3 or kg) plus those can be easily converted, and you can instantly see which items contribute to higher embodied carbon. Generating a report is also easy, and it comes with charts and graphs which you can easily switch between.
Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?
Manufacturers need to realize that carbon disclosure will soon become mandatory as we are already witnessing changes on a state level in some cities and countries.
Publishing an EPD has a strong business case – it allows companies to optimize production processes and reduce costs within the company, it also provides a competitive advantage and improves reputation among stakeholders, as well as improving supply chain management and demonstrates commitment to the climate agenda.
The list could go on and on, but there is one certain commercial advantage that I would highlight – publishing an EPD is the way for manufacturers to future-proof their construction and building materials.
About the author
Saniya Zarmukhambetova is a sustainability data manager at the SEE Institute. Her area of expertise includes data management and reporting, carbon accounting, research and analysis, and life cycle assessment.