Abu Dhabi's Masdar City looks to stay ahead of the sustainability curve

Net-zero push will help Masdar City continue to be innovative, director of growth says

Steve Severance, director of growth at Masdar City, says sustainability projects must tick environmental, social and economic boxes. AP
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Masdar City will pivot more into the realm of net-zero projects in the coming years, its director of growth has said.

“If we didn’t see imitators, that would be a bad thing,” Steve Severance told The National in an interview at Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, referring to the UAE’s sustainable community, business free zone and technology hub, which was first announced in 2007.

Fast-forward to 2023, Mr Severance noted that many new communities and building projects often tout their green credentials. However, Masdar City was among the first to walk the walk in terms of making it happen, he said.

From net-zero buildings springing up to solar and geothermal projects generating power, Masdar City, part of Abu Dhabi's clean energy company Masdar, has seen many of the sustainability developments that led to its creation.

“How do we stay at the forefront?” Mr Severance asked during an interview for The National’s Business Extra podcast.

“We’re going from reducing consumption and showcasing those buildings to emphasising net zero and saying we are at the point where we can achieve widespread, wide-scale net zero,” he said, referring to Masdar City already housing the world’s largest collection of LEED Platinum buildings, the highest certification provided by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design programme.

During the UN summit, Masdar City also announced plans for a net-zero mosque, said to be a first for the region, that will have a capacity for 1,300 worshippers and run on 100 per cent solar energy.

“We’re not just doing residences or offices … we’re doing a place of worship because of the importance they play globally,” Mr Severance said.

For Masdar City, sustainability projects must tick environmental, social and economic boxes, he said.

“It’s key to what our mission is," Mr Severance said, referring to the net-zero mosque. "We need to be sustainable in all areas and that's what this will do."

Last November, Gems Education, one of the UAE’s prominent education groups, announced plans to launch a net-zero school in Masdar City as well.

In 2021, the UAE announced its Net Zero by 2050 plan outlining Dh600 billion ($163.38 billion) worth of investment in clean and renewable energy sources in the next three decades.

Net zero refers to a way of potentially limiting environmental damage by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal, or by eliminating emissions.

The UAE's Net Zero drive made it the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to make a public commitment towards becoming carbon neutral by the middle of the century.

Whether that goal is achievable remains to be seen but Masdar City and the UAE are on the right path, Mr Severance said.

"I've seen the UAE make significant strides in the 14 years that I've been here and I've seen a huge mindset shift, especially in the business community," he said, referring to entrepreneurs who now see sustainability as an opportunity rather than a cost.

"Globally, we still have some work to do."

Updated: December 13, 2023, 6:06 AM