Estidama Sustainability Program

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Abu Dhabi

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, Private Sector, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, other

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2007/01

In one of the world’s most rapidly growing cities, a new government-mandated program – Estidama (Arabic for “sustainable”) - aims at making all new buildings in the United Arab Emirates more environmentally responsible and sustainable.

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has created a vision through its ‘Plan 2030’ urban structure framework plan, which establishes sustainability principles as the foundation of any new development. Estidama is a holistic framework that enables the implementation of these sustainability principles to all scales of development.

Estidama introduces a mandatory audit procedure for each construction project. The rules ran into initial resistance from industry groups that feared increased costs and more difficult project approval. But independent analysis has confirmed that cost increases are negligible. By working closely with all stakeholders, Estidama has already changed the mind-set and implementation practices of the construction industry.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Guangzhou Award

This project was shortlisted for the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2014.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Size and population development
Rapid development and population growth: 2,657,026 inhabitants in mid-2014; average annual population growth of 9.5% between 1960 and 2014

Population composition
About 80% of the population in Abu Dhabi are expatriate; Islam is the official state religion

Main functions
Capital city and second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates; political, industrial, commercial and cultural centre in the UAE

Main industries / business
The energy sector dominates the economy of Abu Dhabi that holds 9% of the world’s proven oil reserves. Abu Dhabi's government has been diversifying its economic plans through investments in the industry, real estate, tourism and retail sectors

Political structure
The Department of Municipal Affairs supervises Abu Dhabi Central Capital District whose members are selected by the Emir

Administrative structure
Abu Dhabi is divided into 39 neighbourhoods

Abu Dhabi Emirate is located in a desert environment and experiences a climate that is extremely hot, and simultaneously humid and arid, for much of the year. Temperatures range from 10-48 degrees Celsius, summer humidity levels are near 100% and average rainfall is less than 100mm/year. Water scarcity is severe – virtually all potable water is desalinated from the Arabian Gulf – and the challenge of providing human comfort, both within buildings and for pedestrians, is extensive. Lack of resource management, from individuals to businesses, resulted in the UAE having one of the largest carbon footprints internationally.

The goal of Estidama is to preserve and enrich Abu Dhabi's physical and cultural heritage, while creating a better quality of life for its residents. The program targets energy use reduction of 31 percent, water use saving of 37 percent, and 65 percent construction waste diverted from landfill. 

Primary stakeholders include the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi and the Urban Planning Council. Additional stakeholders include all government agencies and private industry who participate in the development of the program and ensure that its implementation is managed responsibly. Estidama has strong links with other parties committed to sustainability globally and in the Middle East and North Africa region, including the Emirates Green Building Council and World Green Building Council.

To support and to accelerate the implementation of sustainability principles, a key component of the Estidama program is the Pearl Rating System (PRS) which received government mandate in July 2010; adherence is therefore compulsory to ensure all new projects are included and supported. Training is also actively provided to raise awareness among people working in the construction industry and the general public.

The Pearl Rating System is flexible, allowing it to be applied across all building typologies and scales. Trained consultants, or Pearl Qualified Professionals (PQPs), guide projects through the Rating System from the early concept stage through to construction. Ratings range from 1 to 5 Pearls; with 1 Pearl being the minimum required for non-government buildings and 2 Pearls for government buildings.

The Government of Abu Dhabi is also committed to improving the management of services through its E-Governance Program. Estidama and the Pearl Rating System are in the process of migrating to this online platform that will integrate other government services for improved performance and customer service.

Besides calculation tools, multiple training, support and submission documentation has been developed by Estidama for the industry sector and made available at no cost. Free training is provided and introduces even non-technical individuals to sustainability principles and the way Estidama will improve the built environment. An extensive website, which provides all information required, encourages communication between Estidama and urban design teams. As Estidama develops in line with Abu Dhabi’s E-Government initiative, it will become even easier for project teams to submit projects for approval and to share knowledge for facilitating continual improvement.

Early empirical studies were commissioned by Estidama to understand the cost implications and to support industry in the early implementation stages of Estidama. Multiple tools developed by Estidama help measuring resource use in the design process. These include MS Excel based Energy Model Template, Water Calculator, Waste Calculator and U-value (thermal performance) Calculator. All design data is logged by Estidama so resource use can be pre-determined. 

Pearl Qualified Professionals are responsible for submitting calculations and specifications during the design process. Pearl Qualified Professionals are individuals who have passed official exams that test their administrative and technical knowledge of the Pearl Rating System.

In the past 4 years Estidama has evolved from a vision to an accepted sustainability framework. The Pearl Rating System provides regulatory guidance on design, construction and operational performance. Sustainability principles are also embedded in new planning documents through Estidama’s continual improvement and participation in policy development.  

Estidama buildings have designed energy use reduction of 31% and designed water use reduction of 37%. More impressively, 65% of construction waste has been diverted from landfill. There are other unquantifiable impacts such as improved health of buildings and quality of life for residents due to mandatory reduction of unhealthy materials and the encouragement of passive design measures. These and many other improvements occur at all scales from single homes to whole communities through the Pearl Rating Systems for Villa, Building and Communities.

Challenges were identified during the initial role out of policies and regulation in the first 2 years of implementation. Early resistance came from the industry sector who believed that new sustainability requirements would increase costs and make approval for developments more challenging. Estidama extensively supported new developments to facilitate compliance and demonstrated through independent empirical analysis that increased costs were negligible. Early resistance has given way to acceptance and support for the program and benefits can be demonstrated through evidence of resource savings and improved design.

A unique and innovative feature of Estidama is the Construction Audit Protocol, a mandatory element of the Pearl Rating System. To ensure technical compliance with original design intent during the construction stage, construction audits are carried out at five key stages.

These are:

  • Site set-up and Substructure
  • Superstructure and Building Envelope
  • Internal Fit-out and Services
  • Commissioning & Documentation
  • Final site visit & sign off

The technical features of sustainable buildings are increasingly complex. The design and construction process requires systems of verification to ensure the design intent is realised during the operation of buildings. On-site audits of the construction process reduce defects and liability issues and removes instances of non-compliance. This in turn improves the efficiency of the construction process and reduces maintenance and operational costs.

The Pearl Operational Rating System (PORS) is another unique element to Estidama and the Pearl Rating System. Resource use during buildings operation far outweighs that during the design and construction phases. The continual efficient operation of building systems is critical to ensure that the resource savings calculated during the design process become real.

The Pearl Operational Rating System set out policies and procedures for the building owners and operators. Guidance is also provided for facilities management teams and building users to undertake tasks on a regular basis throughout the lifetime of the building. These include continual monitoring of building performance through mandatory operational maintenance protocols and procedures for remedial works. All building performance data is supplied to Estidama for monitoring purposes and is fed back into the application of the design tools to ensure continual optimization of the design, construction and operation processes.

There are sustainability rating systems implemented all over the globe that Estidama was able to learn from. Estidama is the only sustainability program designed and implemented in the middle east. As a holistic sustainability program, Estidama requires innovation in government strategy and policy and also in the planning, design and implementation of all development projects. The Operational Rating System implemented by Estidama will require innovative technology and behavioral change.

As Estidama becomes more recognised, it is also being implemented in other Emirates and countries in the region including Bahrain and the Seychelles.

Abu Dhabi: Estidama, Urban Innovation Database, (accessed 24 Mai 2016)

- Abu Dhabi,United Arab Emirates: Estidama Program, Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation, (accessed 24 Mai 2016)

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Guangzhou Award
Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou Award

Institution | Urban Award

Miranda Gardiner
New York City, United States

Miranda Gardiner

Individual | Director, Strategic Planning and Partnerships

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