Dubai: The making of the greenest expo ever


Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times
Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times

Dubai - Dina Storey, who drives Expo 2020 Dubai’s sustainability vision, says sustainability has been integrated into the planning, design, construction and operational process.

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 10:43 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 10:44 PM

In a few months, Dubai will play host to the first world Expo held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. While bringing a pandemic-hit world together, Expo is striving to be the most sustainable in the 170-year history of the world exposition.

Dina Storey, who drives Expo 2020 Dubai’s sustainability vision, says sustainability has been integrated into the planning, design, construction and operational process.

“When we say the most sustainable Expo in history, we have broken it down into key objectives that include building sustainable infrastructure, finding scalable solutions for future, integrating economic value into sustainability and engaging with the community. All of these are what makes an Expo the most sustainable Expo,” Storey told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

When Dubai won the bid to host the mega event, it was also seen as an opportunity to bring ideas and people together for a better future — finding solutions for greener future was at the heart of that vision.

Hence, Sustainability is one its three central themes — the other two being Mobility and Opportunity. The design and infrastructure of the site incorporates ‘the environmental, economic and social dimensions’ of sustainability, and seeks to build awareness about a gamut of issues, including climate change, resources and natural eco-systems.

Sustainability is at the core of all aspects of construction at Expo 2020 Dubai, whether it is using environment-friendly building materials or using energy and water conservation on-site, said Storey.

With innovative building solutions and energy-efficient techniques, the site’s energy consumption will be reduced by more than 30 per cent.

Storey said one of the key elements of the sustainability framework at Expo is leaving a sustainable infrastructure behind.

“All our permanent structures are equipped with photovoltaic plates that reduces our dependence on regular energy. It also provides the legacy of Expo to leave renewable energy footprint.”

The Sustainability Pavilion, which has the highest sustainability certification called LEED, is one the highlights. Designed by Grimshaw Architects, the pavilion has redefined eco-friendly building design by achieving net-zero energy in terms of external water and energy consumption.

The 130-metre-wide canopy features more than 1,055 solar panels that use solar energy to generate electricity. The energy trees fitted with solar panels follow the sun. The building’s innovative design can produce water from atmospheric humidity.

“We are trying not just to have clean energy but the design, materials, and buildings we are using are also efficient. This helps reduce our energy consumption by around 33 per cent and that is a massive amount of energy.

“If you look at it monetarily, that is thousands of dirhams saved. Due to the way buildings are designed and maintained, our water footprint is 40 per cent lesser than the standard footprint.”

In 2019 alone, Expo achieved a 52.4 per cent reduction of water demand in their buildings, compared to the water requirement baseline of the Dubai Electric and Water Authority (Dewa). This amounts to 102,835,000 litres per year and is equivalent to roughly 41 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

She said they work with environmentally and socially responsible suppliers to use sustainable materials during construction. For instance, the wood used on-site carry sustainable forestry certification and 90 per cent of key materials used are procured by adhering to sustainable practices.

Turning trash into treasure

Being the most sustainable Expo means setting the best example of how a circular economy works. Storey says recycling and waste management are crucial in reducing the environmental impacts of hosting such a large-scale event.

Expo has created a RISE Operations guidebook that sets clear sustainable strategies, and recycling is a big part of it.

“We have a clear policy that what comes into the site should go out. When comes in include plastic cups, straws, napkins.”

Expo 2020 has also made it mandatory for participating retail outlets to minimise packaging and single-use materials. Packaging refers to any material or container used to wrap or contain food or other products (for example, bags, wrappers and boxes).

Through recycling bins and waste segregation throughout the site, Storey said the idea is to empower visitors to recycle better.

Expo’s waste management partner, Dulsco, is helping turn trash into treasure. Dulsco’s purpose-built Waste2Resource plant will recycle paper and cardboard to produce useful items such as cup holders, seed pots and gift boxes or Expo-branded mementos.

When a massive site is built from scratch, one of the biggest challenges is waste management. Storey says one of the sustainability KPI for Expo is 85 per cent waste diversion to avoid filling up of landfills.

“I can tell you that as of May, our waste diversion from the site is 92 per cent, even though our KPI mandates 85 per cent. This means the waste will not go into the big landfills and that in itself creates a challenge on how we repurpose, reuse all of these different materials.”

As an example, she pointed out that parking lots at Expo are using recycled tires within the asphalt. Similarly, crushed concrete is used to build the walkways.

“There are innovations like waste energy composters that will take away the waste. Our strategy to achieve this is very thorough and we want others to learn from this work with us and expand what we are doing beyond the site and to the rest of the world because I believe it is unique,” said Storey.

Anjana Sankar

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