Certified sustainable interior design in Abu Dhabi

Swiss embassy building in the United Arab Emirates
The Swiss embassy in the United Arab Emirates is located in a small rented space in a high-rise building. © FOBL

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the highest ecological footprint in the world (along with the US) at 4.6. In other words, 4.6 planet Earths would be needed to provide the resources required to sustain the lifestyle of the UAE. Nevertheless, the Swiss embassy in Abu Dhabi is committed to sustainability.

Certified sustainable ventilation system 

The US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) label confirms that a building has been designed, planned and constructed based on a set of measurably sustainable criteria. The interior of the Swiss embassy in Abu Dhabi received a LEED silver rating in 2015. Ventilation plays a key role here: in a country where the average annual temperature is around 28°C, heating is not required but cooling is all the more important. The building has a central air conditioning system with heat recovery for inlet and exit air. 

In addition, it is fitted with devices that optimally distribute the cooling energy throughout the office space. The cooling machines are also very efficient as they use a compressor to transfer heat energy from an area to be cooled to a warmer environment, effectively carrying the heat away. The individual offices are connected so that not every room needs its own cooling system. 

In addition, energy-saving bulbs are used in the embassy, and lighting is optimised through the use of sensors or timers. The building saves not only energy but also water, using recycled water to flush the toilets and cool the air conditioning system.

Copy of the LEED Silver certification awarded to the embassy.
The Swiss embassy in Abu Dhabi received LEED Silver certification in 2015. © FDFA

The challenge of transport 

The embassy is located in a rented office in a high-rise building and therefore occupies a small space. The building is situated right next to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), which hosts many international conferences. Swiss delegations are accommodated in a hotel within walking distance of the ADNEC and the embassy, so that there is no need for additional transport. This is uncommon in Abu Dhabi, a city where people get around mainly by car. 

As well as cutting down on the use of cars, the embassy educates its drivers on fuel-saving driving techniques. In addition, fuel consumption is recorded in driver log books and discussed. 

The embassy is currently evaluating whether paying for public transport will create enough incentive for at least some of its employees to travel to work more frequently by bus rather than by private vehicle. 

Raising awareness through recycling 

Recycling is another important factor in the environmentally beneficial actions of the Swiss embassy. This everyday practice in Switzerland is relatively unknown in the UAE. It was therefore difficult initially to find any companies that could collect the recyclable materials from the Swiss embassy and guarantee that everything would be recycled properly. 

One notable example is the recycling of shredded documents. In 2017, the embassy received a certificate in recognition of its saving 53 trees. The initiative attracted a great deal of attention in Abu Dhabi and was a step towards raising awareness of sustainability issues among the population. 

A further awareness-raising initiative is planned for the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, where the key topics will be climate protection and resource conservation. 

One of the aims of the exhibition is to present Switzerland's success story in promoting sustainable, transboundary water management (Blue Peace) to a wider audience in the UAE. 

In general, the dialogue between Switzerland and the UAE on sustainability issues is good, particularly with regard to the careful management of scarce water resources and sustainable strategies for food security and climate change. 

Furthermore, the Swiss ambassador was appointed permanent representative of Switzerland to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2018.