Green Buildings Codes & regulations: why and what’s its importance

Dr. Mark Evans
United Kingdom
Dr Mark Evans is a freelance Chartered Building Consultant and Environmentalist with experience of delivering major sustainable designs in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Mark has a BSc in Building Surveying, an MSc in Inclusive Design, a Doctorate in Sustainable Design and an MBA in Real Estate and Construction Management.

General building codes and regulations are intended to make sure the safety, health, welfare and convenience of people in and around buildings, and are legal requirements intended to achieve a minimum standard for building work. Buildings also have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. During their construction, occupancy, renovation, repurposing, and demolition, buildings use energy, water, and raw materials, generate waste, and emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions. These facts have prompted the creation of green building standards, codes, certifications, and rating systems aimed at mitigating the impact of buildings on the natural environment through sustainable design.

The push toward sustainable design increased in the 1990s with the creation of the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), the first green building rating system in the U.K. In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) followed suit and developed and released criteria also aimed at improving the environmental performance of buildings through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new construction. BREEAM and LEED tend to be the global headline systems but additional rating systems have been developed that were influenced by these early programmes but are tailored to their own national priorities, and include Estidama and the Pearl Rating system, for example.

All metrics have continued to grow in prominence and have expanded their rating systems coverage to include existing buildings and entire neighbourhoods

(masterplanning), for example. Inclusion of ‘existing buildings’ in green assessment makes perfect sense when it is considered that the average life span of a building is over 50 years and that a complete renewal of the existing building stock would take about 100 years. Investing in building refurbishment is crucial to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissionsi.

Figure 1: The perception of green buildings

While metrics seek to improve green building performance (see table 1 below), they are voluntary. While many developers see green metric adoption as achieving competitive advantage, others point to the lack of clear regulations as a challenge facing the implementation of green systems.ii It has been arguediii that the significantly high level of governments’ involvement in the Middle East (62%, compared to Africa [45%], Latin America [43%],

Main objectives of voluntary green building metrics

  • To provide market recognition of buildings with a low environmental impact
  • To ensure best environmental practice is incorporated in building planning, design, construction and operation.
  • To define a robust, cost-effective performance standard surpassing that required by regulations.
  • To challenge the market to provide innovative, cost effective solutions that minimise the environmental impact of buildings.
  • To raise the awareness amongst owners, occupants, designers and operators of the benefits of buildings with a reduced life cycle impact on the environment.
  • To allow organisations to demonstrate progress towards corporate environmental objectives

Table 1 - Main objectives of voluntary green building metrics

and Europe [20%]) raises the question whether this extensive reliance on government might limit the private sector role and can therefore result in less coordination and development.

Figure 2: The reality of green buildings. The Hurst Tower, New York (LEED Gold)

Dubai Green Building Regulations was planned to be phased in.iv The first set of regulations planned to be issued in January 2009 were delayed – with a claimed cautious attitude due to the anticipated increase in cost (about 5% compared to the traditional building approach, despite the identified long term savings ranging from 30% to 40%v). Delicate market conditions, following the global recession of 2008, saw the Regulations delayed in 2011 until 2014.

The Regulations owners clearly have some way to go then in communicating this important initiative to the construction and property industries –and it is understood that the more stakeholders are experienced in green building, for example, the more they understand the relevant regulationsvi. It is also claimedvii that there is currently a lack of experience amongst project stakeholders, particularly the regulatory personnel, compared to the advanced techniques in the market and that this can be an obstacle to the efficient implementation of the imposed regulations.

The perceived higher cost was identified by almost all stakeholder groups to be a barrier for implementing green building regulations in the Salama and AlSaber study. The author has experienced some wild claims on the ‘green premium’ while implementing sustainability practices in Europe, Asia and the Middle East – many cost implication headline percentages are put out as a scare tactic to maintain the status quo and make life ‘easier’ for the delivery stakeholders. One can understand the genuine fears regarding any regulation that increase costs, especially after the worst global recession that the world has experienced. The disconnect on costs of course is the initial capital costs of construction and the costs in use of operation, whether that be in the commercial or residential sector – the disconnect being that developers invariably are not operators and have no vested interest in the building once it is constructed. Clients however are latching on to the significant savings on the lifetime operation of

building compared to the smaller, but immediate, cost of construction. More and more client demand will colour market delivery in this respect, all regulation is doing is speeding that process a little. In any event, there have been numerous global cost studies that clearly indicate that if sustainability is considered early enough in a project, cost increases can be kept to a minimum, and even negated entirely – you simply have to understand the relationship between time, quality (specification) and cost. It is true that GCC countries are in a unique and enviable position in terms of their low energy tariffs. That will not last forever however, and future generations will be left to pick up the bill should energy-hungry buildings be built now. Equally, multi-national organisations that invest in the GCC will have their own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets, on carbon emissions and such like, that they cannot simply turn off at will. Their strategies take a global perspective.

The impact of regulation is not insignificant and will affect three markets; the construction market, the market of building materials and the real estate market. Support and education is essential – and, as highlighted above, that includes existing buildings. Any new initiative sparks concerns about the ability to deliver, but this initiative is to be applauded as brave and farsighted. One area that will undermine it however is if the regulations are not enforced, in such circumstances credibility will soon be lost, and this of course requires sufficient resourcing and education.

In conclusion, Regulation introduction is supported by the relevant stakeholders in Dubai. In the Salama and AlSaber study, a direct question to all stakeholders regarding their preferences for regulations against a voluntary system, saw the results indicate that 71% were in favour of imposing regulations against 19% who preferred voluntary systems, and 10% who were neutral.


  • How to Refurbish All Buildings by 2050 Final Report,June 2012 – applicable to Europe but similar comparisons can be drawn for any country with an established infrastructure.
  • Papargyropoulou, E., Padfield, R. Harrison, O. &Preece C. (2012) The rise of sustainability services for the built environment in Malaysia, Sustainable Cities and Society, (5),pp.44-51.
  • Iwaro, J. &Mwasha, A. (2010), A review of building energy regulation and policy for energyconservation in developing countries, Energy Policy, (38), pp. 7744-7755.
  • Roberts, J. (2010) Building for the local environment, MEED: Middle East EconomicDigest, 16 July, pp.35-37.
  • Remo-Listana, K. (2010) Green code for building utilities from April, emirates247 [online], 10 March. Available from: (Accessed 9 Nov 2014)
  • Zikmund, W, Babin, B., Carr, J. & Griffin, M. (2010) Business Research Methodology, pp.61-559, Canada: Cengage Learning vii. Beerepoot, M. &Beerepoot, N. (2007), Government regulation as an impetus for innovation: Evidence from energy performance regulation in the Dutch residential building sector, Energy Policy, October, pp 4812-4825.
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