Commissioned by the Qatarbased GORD, VITO/EnergyVille developed a software platform for GORD’s green building and infrastructure certification framework called GSAS, which collects evidence for the sustainability credentials of projects during design, construction and operations phases. VITO/EnergyVille has fully digitalized GSAS through an online platform called GSASgate that proactively keeps all project stakeholders informed.

Sustainable construction in the Middle East and North Africa

In 2015, a delegation from the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD), a non-profit organization from Qatar with a very strong focus on sustainability, travelled to VITO/EnergyVille in Belgium with a concrete desire: the development of a software platform to fully digitalize GORD’s green building framework called the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) that determines the sustainability of construction projects objectively, accurately and efficiently – from the planning phase prior to construction up to the use of the building. GSAS is MENA’s (Middle East and North Africa) first performance-based green building certification system that adopts an integrated lifecycle approach to evaluate the sustainability of building and infrastructure projects. Representing green building regulations within Qatar Construction Specifications, GSAS is aimed at improving the design, construction and operations of buildings while also identifying sustainability challenges specific to MENA’s built environment. Based on technical audits investigating the green building features of projects, GORD awards certificates to projects. Essentially, GSAS is intended to encourage building owners and project developers, as well as architects, contractors and suppliers, to work as sustainably as possible in the MENA region.

Software tool assesses energy consumption to indoor air quality and solar reflection

GORD’s GSAS framework encompasses a very broad scope as it is not just applied to individual homes and buildings, but to entire neighbourhoods and city districts too. Moreover, the tool assesses all the aspects that are remotely related to sustainability; from the most obvious aspects, such as efficient energy consumption, share of renewable sources, minimal water consumption, waste management and greenhouse gas emissions (including during construction), through more environment-related aspects such as biodiversity and light (and air) pollution, to health aspects such as indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Even the minimum solar reflection in the street scene is taken into account – although in sun-drenched Qatar, that may not be an unnecessary aspect. Understandably, digitalizing a framework as comprehensive as GSAS was no simple task. ‘We started from a blank sheet, with the data that we had at the time and that we received from GORD,’ says Karel Styns from VITO. ‘Over the past few years, the scope has broadened  and our digital platform – which fully supports GSAS tools – has become increasingly sophisticated.’ In 2020, after about five years of development, that assessment platform was ready and completely transferred to GORD’s servers in Qatar. This completes the project, as the organisation now manages the platform itself. ‘GORD has its own team of IT people, who we have co-trained.’

Streamlined information gathering throughout the construction project

The strength of the GSAS assessment method optimised by its digital platform – which differs from other, more European ‘competitors’ such as BREEAM – is that the assessment takes place simultaneously with the evolution of a building project, from basic design to completion. ‘During design, planning and construction, all those involved can upload the required documentation to demonstrate a particular sustainability aspect (an invoice, a certificate, a life cycle analysis, etc.) to the platform,’ says Pieter Van Den Steen of VITO/EnergyVille. The platform facilitates and even stimulates this collection of information. ‘It brings everyone together and ensures co-ordinated and streamlined communication. That saves a lot of e-mail traffic.’ A virtual dashboard continuously monitors the progress of the collection of sustainability data, thus keeping all those involved in the loop. ‘The process flow is clearly synchronised, with notifications, reminders, overviews ... In short, everyone knows what data to upload and when to do so.’

Dr. Yousef Alhorr, Founding Chairmain of GORD: ‘Organizations across the world are leveraging latest technologies to achieve their existing and emerging business goals. As an entity driving sustainability in the MENA region, GORD needed a state-of-the-art solution to support advanced tools prescribed within GSAS. To this end, we are pleased to have worked with VITO/EnergyVille in developing the GSASgate platform that provides an all-in-one project management software for all concerned parties working on various green building projects targeting GSAS certifications.’

Fast and comprehensive assessment and certification method

The fact that the assessment is carried out simultaneously with the development of the construction project also ensures that it is finalised by the time of completion. This eliminates the long administrative tailback that delays the final assessment by months or even years – a shortcoming other assessment methods suffer from. The fully digital (‘paperless’) platform also lends itself perfectly to clarifying visualisations of projects whose assessment has already been completed. ‘Now you can use digital interactive maps of the region to see how well a lot of buildings and neighbourhoods score in terms of sustainability,’ says Van den Steen. And there are many of those, even though the digital platform has only been up and running recently. ‘GORD has already assessed more than a thousand projects this way. So the method is being used very intensively.’

The Qatari research organisation soon plans to offer the assessment platform in neighbouring countries and other states in the Gulf. Due to GORD’s broad approach and the high demands placed on the platform by the Qatari authorities, in recent years VITO has been able to significantly expand its knowledge and expertise in the field of assessment and certification methods for buildings. ‘In the case of GSAS, it was much broader than in many European assessment methods, which often focus on the energy aspect,’ says Styns. ‘We think this can be done much more widely here too. That would allow different assessments and certifications to be merged. In any case, we now have the people and the resources to develop such future assessment methods and platforms.’


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