Article: Gaining Accreditation for Sustainability

Oman Botanic Garden and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
Craig Tucker, Sarah Kneebone and Mark Richardson

Oman Botanic Garden

Situated about 20 km from Oman’s capital city of Muscat, the now fast-developing Oman Botanic Garden will be the first major botanic garden in the Sultanate of Oman and one of the few in the Middle East.

Location of the Oman Botanic Garden

Originally proposed by Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Oman Botanic Garden concept has been developed by the Office for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court and remains to be its responsibility. The botanic garden will feature the flora of Oman in a series of naturally occurring and re-created habitats on a site of approximately 420 hectares. The habitats to be featured will include the northern mountains, seasonal rainforest, gravel and sand deserts and wadi ecosystems. Despite its largely arid landscape, Oman has an impressive number of indigenous plant species.  In fact, in a review of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, southern and central Oman were added to the ‘Horn of Africa’ hotspot, which includes threatened and degraded areas of high plant endemism.

Focusing on the native flora of Oman and the Omani culture, the Oman Botanic Garden will illustrate the linkages between plant diversity, culture and traditional knowledge through displays on a wide range of plant uses, from food to medicine to cosmetics to clothing, and their traditional management systems.

The new on-site nursery is already operational and construction of the visitor orientation, research and education centres and heritage village has commenced. The garden is expected to open in 2012.

Main sustainability issues to be faced

Oman’s climate is hot and dry with an average annual rainfall of less than 100 mm. This aridity means that maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is Oman’s most pressing environmental problem. Both the limited average rainfall and occasional droughts contribute to shortages in the nation’s water supply and this will impact strongly on the future management of the Oman Botanic Garden.

The arid and fragile site of the new Oman Botanic Garden. Great care is
being taken to limit disturbance. (Mark Richardson)

In addition, the OBG will be displaying the striking unique woodland and succulent plant communities from Dhofar, southern Oman. The south-west monsoon results in seasonal dense mists and rainfall in this area.  Maintaining such flora, which will be displayed in a large conservatory, will put yet further pressure on the OBG in relation to water use.

Policy regarding sustainable practices

One of the goals of the Oman Botanic Garden will be to assist in changing both national and global approaches to the sustainability.  To achieve this, Oman Botanic Garden will be built and managed using the latest environmentally-friendly technologies wherever possible.  Much of the water required will be from rain-replenished bores and recycled waste–water, treated via a series of reedbeds.  In addition, energy requirements are planned to be met in part from renewable sources, primarily solar power.

However, even if sustainability is accepted as being a premium principle underlying the development of a new or existing institution, the question remains, How can the institution’s success be measured?  To try to address this, it was decided early in the planning phase that all of the Oman Botanic Garden, or a sizeable part of it, will achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

LEED is a “green building” accreditation program, established in 1998 by the United States Green Building Council which provides projects with a Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum accreditation status. (

LEED was initially established to accredit sustainable building design, construction and operation for office and retail facilities in the United States. Although the program suits conventional buildings in metropolitan areas rather than broad-scale botanical reserves it was still seen to be appropriate for specific buildings planned to be built within the Oman Botanic Garden.  These are, namely, the Orientation, Field Study and Research Centres. Whilst only these buildings are specifically identified for LEED accreditation, the principle of sustainability in design and construction is being developed and used throughout the Oman Botanic Garden.

As the LEED program was initially based on office and commercial buildings in the US there has been some interesting challenges in adopting it to a relatively remote botanic garden project in the Middle East. None the less, innovative design and ongoing cooperation with the construction contractor has allowed for the project to be aiming for the Gold LEED Accreditation status. Although the Oman Botanic Garden will be the first in the region to seek LEED accreditation several have already done so in North America, These include the National Tropical Botanical Garden Botanical Research Center at the Kalaheo headquarters, Kaua’i, Hawaii which achieved Gold and the Queens Botanical Garden Visitor & Administration Center in New York which achieved Platinum. The new Californian Academy of Science is promoting itself as the ‘greenest museum in the world’ through achievement of its platinum certificate, and includes details on a comprehensive website.

The project embraces sustainability over a wide range of design parameters covering site selection, energy and water efficient processes, selection of materials and resources as well as catering for the personal environmental quality of the building for its occupants,

This ranges from car park design that promotes car pooling and fuel-efficient vehicles to the selection of water efficient plants in landscaping and the use of recycled water for irrigation and toilet flushing as well as water conserving bathroom and kitchen fixtures.

As sunshine is an abundant resource in Oman, the buildings lend themselves well to the use of renewable energies via photovoltaic cells and solar thermal panels on the rooftops. Renewable energy will be used in conjunction with architectural design to produce buildings that are 35% more energy efficient than similar ‘non-green’ buildings.

Material selection in the construction process promotes the use of recycled content such as fly ash in concrete, locally manufactured materials, accessing timber from approved and accredited sustainable forest operations and sourcing rapidly renewable products. During the construction period very tight targets are placed on the generation of waste and materials are segregated and sorted to ensure an absolute minimum goes to landfill, for example, waste concrete is crushed on site for reuse in road base or temporary access roads.

The internal work environment provided for the buildings occupants is also considered and all paints, sealants, glues and carpets are selected to meet stringent requirements relating to the emission of organic compounds. The buildings are designed to maximise natural light and ventilation as well as the temperature and lighting needs of its occupants.

The selection and procurement of these materials has been a challenge as the local Oman market is fairly immature in terms of technical requirements of green building products. However persistence, and education of providers, has been met with quite a degree of success in finding these products.

An important aspect of Oman Botanic Garden’s use of sustainable practices will be their promotion.  Oman Botanic Garden will be the first LEED accredited building in the Sultanate of Oman and many of the technologies being used have never been applied before in Oman.  The notion of Green Buildings in Oman and hopefully the region will be promoted through the Oman Botanic Garden with interpretive signage and educative material pointing out elements of the building that contribute to sustainability in design.
One of Oman Botanic Garden’s main education goals is to engage visitors with the environmental problems faced by the country and empower them to take action in their own lives.  Within site interpretation a wide variety of methods and tools for individuals to ‘live more lightly’ will be promoted, including those encompassed by LEED.  Wall cut-throughs to show layers of insulation, digital displays of the power output of the solar panels, animation of the processes taking place in the reed bed filtration and panels about the low Volatile Organic Content of the interior finishes will all help to show what the garden is doing to address its own footprint, inspire others to do the same and win an additional LEED point.

As the Oman Botanic Garden will involve the construction of numerous large specialised buildings and the services and facilities to support them great care needs to be exercised in ensuring that the delicate and beautiful landscape is protected during construction. In order to minimise the footprint of impact of construction, specialised planning processes are implemented prior to construction and the contractor’s workforce are specially trained in appropriate us of heavy machinery and vehicles. Site detail and logistic plans are produced to ensure that stockpile, lay down areas and haul routes are located in areas of permanent development so as to limit disturbance for the long term. Topsoil is stockpiled to retain the existing seed bank for future rehabilitation and trees and vegetation are protected throughout construction.

The interest in achieving sustainability and reducing environmental impact in new building projects is growing fast, as is the need to demonstrate that such goals are actually being met.

The Oman Botanic Garden is helping to lead the way in the Middle East, not only in terms of the conservation of the country’s indigenous flora and related cultural heritage, but also in relation to the need for commitment to sustainable design, construction and operation in new building projects.  Using the LEED accreditation scheme, the Oman Botanic Garden will be able to demonstrate its success in employing a wide range of environmentally-responsible practices and techniques. While the LEED scheme is enabling the project to gain recognised accreditation, there have been many issues associated with using a scheme developed for very different conditions.  There are already a number of equally credible schemes that may be more relevant to a particular project; these are worth investigating prior to commencing on this extremely worthwhile process.

Further Reading:

Oman Botanic Garden

U.S. Green Building Council:

California Academy of Science:

Reference to this paper:
Tucker, C., S. Kneebone and M. Richardson (2009) Gaining Accreditation for Sustainability – Oman Botanic Garden and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).  BGjournal 6(2)