Khaled Tarabieh: AUC is Pioneering Green Architecture in Egypt

For Khaled Tarabieh, going green must be a part of our everyday lives
For Khaled Tarabieh, going green must be a part of our everyday lives

Sitting atop Egypt’s first green rooftop at AUC’s faculty housing building, Khaled Tarabieh, assistant professor of sustainable design in the Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering, stressed the idea that climate change cannot be addressed solely at the institutional level.

“People need to come around to the idea of green lifestyles to enact any real change,” declared Tarabieh. “Being sustainable and green is not just physical and environmental; it’s social.”

Referring to a sustainability concept called the Triple Bottom Line, Tarabieh identified three essential pillars: social, economic and environmental. Instead of organizations looking only at the traditional profit and loss formula, he explained, the other two aspects must be considered to understand the full cost of doing business. Applicable to for-profit, nonprofit and government organizations alike, this view expands and redefines the idea of how institutions must function in the modern world to be successful — by being fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible.  

Green Buildings 

While encouraging recycling or carpooling has its merits, it is critical that sustainability efforts go beyond a one-dimensional approach because the problem is so much bigger than that. Green buildings, Tarabieh noted, are the true consideration of social sustainability. Such buildings must not only exist to be environmentally friendly, but also must create high-quality, green job opportunities that are fair and take into account human rights.

“Green buildings touch upon issues of child labor, corporate responsibility, fair markets, transparency and ethics, ”Tarabieh said, adding that the green building industry must contribute to an economy that is both socially responsible and profitable. Advancements in technologies like renewable energy need to be made affordable and, therefore accessible, to the poor. “Otherwise,” he warned, “sustainability will belong to the rich.”

While green buildings may not be the ultimate solution to climate change, they bring to the forefront the idea of incorporating green concepts into our everyday life and the importance of educating others. In Egypt, where green buildings are rare, AUC has provided a model for the whole country through its faculty housing, which is currently pursuing certification as the first building in Egypt to pursue the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the United States Green Building Council. The building embeds green concepts in its design and structure including a green roof; solar water heaters that provide 100 percent domestic hot water for the whole building; environmentally friendly, non-CFC cooling refrigerants for air conditioners; a green roof that allows residents to practice rooftop farming; and LED light bulbs, which consume less electricity than regular light bulbs and last up to 10 years. 

“The faculty housing is an open classroom and educative model for us,” said Tarabieh. “When I teach sustainability and architecture design students, they visit the building, look at what’s there and see how everything has been installed. It’s valuable information for them.”

The faculty housing building serves a dual purpose, Tarabieh added. “The building provides people who live there with a greener community and healthier environment, and — at the same time — the University saves on energy,” he said. “The goal in constructing a green building is to achieve better performance not just in terms of energy and water efficiency, but to also improve the quality of life and provide more learning opportunities for the AUC community about green living.”

Challenges Facing Green Architecture

If green buildings are efficient, sustainable and environmentally responsive, why aren’t they widely adopted? For Tarabieh, the answer is twofold: education and affordability.

Tarabieh is resolute that education is the key to turning around public opinion on sustainable architecture. “People are resistant because they lack education,” he argued. “They want to do the same thing they have always done, or they don’t know about the technology or don’t think they can maintain it.”

Affordability is a prevalent argument used to dismiss green building techniques as a luxury unattainable for most. Tarabieh acknowledged that choosing green technologies is a more expensive and front-loaded investment that requires a large sum upfront. However, he quickly pointed out how you can earn that money back quickly. “Solar panels are a front-loaded premium, absolutely,” he affirmed. “But the payback is three to four years, which means you can get the money back in your pocket in a couple years and the rest of the time, it is working for you.”

Tarabieh noted that green buildings might not be that far out of reach for common people. “The increase in cost is marginal because the materials are available in the market and the technology is there,” he said. Furthermore, if utilizing green building techniques becomes mainstream, the industry will invest in developing better technologies, increase production and costs will only go down, he explained.

Sustainable AUC

Adopting a lasting approach to sustainable development, AUC is internationally recognized as a green and environmentally responsible University. It is the only higher education institution outside of North America that has been named to The Princeton Review’s 2015 Guide to Green Colleges. For two consecutive years, AUC has ranked in the top third worldwide in the University of Indonesia’s GreenMetric World University Ranking. The University was also recently featured in the United Nation’s Greening Universities Toolkit.

One of the main highlights of AUC’s sustainability efforts is the reduction of its energy use through a self-audit of its own carbon emissions. For three consecutive years, the University has measured its carbon footprint, the annual total of carbon dioxide and other significant greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere as a result of daily activities and operations at the New Cairo campus. AUC is the first higher education institution in the Middle East and North Africa to conduct such a comprehensive study of its own impact on climate change. 

“We have developed the method and are now sharing it with other institutions. The carbon footprint report helps us stay on track, with control over our data, as well as benchmark ourselves against other international and national entities,” said Tarabieh, noting that the report is the result of a collaborative effort between the Office of Sustainability, which pioneered the initiative, the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment and the School of Sciences and Engineering.

But what is the importance of tracking carbon use and comparing our programs to other institutions? “Carbon is the main indicator of your greenhouse emissions, and these are the source of the greenhouse effect,” explained Tarabieh. “Therefore, it is the yardstick by which we measure our direct contributions to the global warming crisis.”

At the University, these emissions come mainly from heating and cooling systems on campus and the transportation methods of the AUC community.

Individual Carbon Footprint

Monitoring carbon emissions is not only necessary for universities or corporations, Tarabieh declared. “You have a carbon footprint yourself,” he said. “It’s your means of transportation and your behavior. What do you do at home? Do you recycle? Do you purchase products from countries that utilize non-sustainable ways of manufacturing, or child labor?”

Viewed within the scope of worldwide events — increases in heat-related deaths around the globe, wildlife facing extinction and droughts taking a toll on agriculture and commerce — it is clear that carbon emissions are threatening every aspect of our lives, even if in indirect ways. Therefore, Tarabieh pointed out, efforts to reduce emissions must also be present in every aspect of our lives. 

Egypt's stake of carbon emissions may not be that of the United States or China. However, with 95 percent of the country’s population living along the Nile River, the risk of rising water levels are especially high. A Climate Institute report from 2009 reveals that in Alexandria, a mere one-half meter rise in sea level would land 67 percent of the population and 65.9 percent of the industrial sector below sea level. Furthermore, it would displace at least 2 million people living in the Nile Delta, not to mention the resulting loss of arable land, food insecurity and economic collapse.

As a sustainable institution, AUC has a responsibility to push this movement forward for the sake of Egypt and the entire planet, Tarabieh noted. “AUC’s initiatives have heavily encouraged ground-up tactics to minimize energy use in the community,” said Tarabieh, who anticipates that this approach, coupled with actively disseminating information on green technologies, can inspire a new approach to sustainability on a large scale. “Our aim is for these actions to be translated into government policy, then it could be a national initiative. If we do that, then we as a country are recognizing our impact and establishing ourselves globally. That’s the beauty of what we do at AUC — developing the know-how and disseminating it. That’s our goal, to be sustainability pioneers.”