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As a response to a millennial scarcity of water that characterises the new world as impacted by climate change, the author proposes that Blue is the new Green.

With its dominant ochre colour and millennial water scarcity, the water situation in the MENA region would not require specific down-to-earth Blue vs Green solutions for all water, energy, and food security key to MENA stability are getting rarer by the day. Anyway, here is Adam Smith, the managing director at Polypipe Middle East.

Blue is the new green

“We must come together as an industry to actively encourage the design and installation of safe and reliable water management systems”

Sustainable water management is both an art and a science. It is a practice that involves using the Earth’s most precious resource – water – in a way that safely meets current social, economic and environmental needs without compromising the ability to meet those needs in the future. Essentially, it means ensuring that supply of clean water is meeting demand, using a water delivery process that is as efficient as possible.

It allows for a ‘source control’ water strategy – capture, store, treat and re-use – rather than a traditional linear system, in which water is treated as a waste product. This multifunctional approach supports the creation of Green Infrastructure.

The process of sustainable water management can have a deep impact in society on so many levels, helping to address sustainability initiatives on a global scale. For example, the UN has outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, seeks to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable through measures that include improving water quality and quantity. Sustainable water management systems can play a key role in this transformation.

In fact, given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of sustainable water management has become more important than ever before. Perspectives on urban life are shifting from a traditional view towards smarter cities that place wellbeing and sustainability at their core. A more circular economy, that prioritises urban resilience, allows for the creation of safe and reliable public health systems. These systems can actually reduce the indoor transmission risk of diseases and eliminate leaks and toxic odours that can be harmful to human health.

Adam Smith, the managing director at Polypipe Middle East

So, what makes a water management system ‘sustainable’? First and foremost, it’s important to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I believe that we must come together as an industry to actively encourage the design and installation of safe and reliable water management systems, based on the specific needs of the project or location. In my experience with Polypipe Middle East, the key is early-stage engagement, working collaboratively along the supply chain from conception to delivery to understand the unique needs of each project.

However, there are some basic principles of sustainable water management that pertain across applications. The basic tenet is using methods to safely capture, store and reuse water. The process of capturing water and then reusing it allows us to save on our usage of potable water, instead of wasting it. This is the sustainable water management cycle – a process that more closely mimics the natural water cycle of the Earth’s ecosystem.

Systems that function based on our natural water cycles are called Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS). These systems are integrated into our buildings and infrastructure to capture storm, surface or AC condensate water, and use it passively to irrigate surrounding areas. These systems are capable of collecting stormwater runoff at the source for filtration or reuse, removing the need for traditional long drainage networks.

They are also effective at coping with water stress. Many cities in the region do not possess the necessary infrastructure to cope with increased rainfall. Stormwater travels fast, causing high volumes to flow into urban areas in a short space of time, potentially overwhelming drainage systems or collecting in puddles and becoming stagnant, which can create public health issues.

Flooding is not only an inconvenience but a serious danger to human life. For property planners, architects, developers, contractors and local municipalities involved in urban development, it is essential to ensure that infrastructure is becoming better equipped for rainfall.

This is where SuDS come in – they are effective at maximising sustainability and profitability of projects. They play a key role in creating greener infrastructure and supporting a circular economy model by helping to better manage resources, reduce wastewater and offering innovative ways to encourage biodiversity and enhance water management in urban spaces.

Another global trend that enables sustainable water management is the creation of green or blue roofs. Green or blue roofs are starting to be incorporated into the region as not only a sustainable way to manage water, but as positive urban ‘green spaces’ that can offer social and economic benefits.

By adding these to the empty roofs of buildings, we can convert an unused rooftop into a multifunctional space that supports health, wellbeing and sustainability.

First and foremost, they can reduce the risk of flooding by 80%. They also help to combat another challenge in the region which is Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. This is a phenomenon that causes cities to have warmer temperatures due to dense concentrations of concrete and increased human and industrial activities.

By using green spaces that absorb heat, green roofs can directly reduce cooling loads and costs, potentially reducing AC energy usage by up to 75%.

These spaces can become green sanctuaries in the urban jungle that are our cities. They can be integrated with health and wellness amenities as well as spaces for urban farming to increase biodiversity. All in all, they can impact a building’s carbon footprint, moving us closer towards making our spaces zero net carbon and also helping us to increase LEED ratings and even property value.

For businesses operating in the construction industry in the Middle East today, it is clear that a genuine commitment to sustainability is becoming essential. There is knowledge and intent to increase sustainability, however, often the mechanism to implement it lacks. This, fortunately, is changing, as we see the emergence of more robust legislation and regulation, in line with national and global goals for sustainable development.

The key aspect of supporting sustainability is implementing solutions that safely addresses challenges in the region and help us create resilient cities.

The future of our industry is not just product driven. The barriers we must overcome are not in innovation, technology or product manufacturing. The solution is collaboration.

I believe industry leaders must come together to encourage collaboration in the construction industry by promoting good practices and educating communities on the importance of safe and sustainable systems.

We must look beyond our current economic model to redefine growth. Why is this change necessary?

As societies globally move towards a more circular economy, we too must start to build for the future needs of our planet and our people by helping to close the gap between production processes and the Earth’s natural ecosystems.

By embracing sustainable systems, we can create smarter, greener cities. Implementing sustainable systems, not just for water management, but across our cities is what will enable us to make an impact on our communities, one building at a time.