Expo 2020 in Dubai achieves CEEQUAL rating of Excellent

Expo 2020 in Dubai achieves CEEQUAL rating of Excellent

Expo 2020 Dubai aimed to be one of the most sustainable World Expos. Its ‘Excellent’ rating for its permanent infrastructure assets recognises this commitment.


Expo 2020 Dubai aimed to deliver a sustainable World Expo, supporting the UAE in its journey towards a green economy. With an objective to leave a legacy of sustainable infrastructure, 41 sustainability KPIs were put in place to underpin the development of all permanent assets on the 4.38 sq km site. There were eight separate CEEQUAL assessments, now known as BREEAM Infrastructure ratings, conducted on eight different elements of the expo project.


Expo 2020 Dubai was the first World Expo to be hosted in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. It showcased examples of collaboration, innovation and cooperation from around the world around its theme of ‘connecting minds, creating the future’.


The expo site was arranged into themed districts (Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability), all of which converged on Al Wasl Plaza at the heart of the site. The Plaza, was a major civil engineering structure spanning 130 metres and reaching 67 metres in height. The trellis surrounding the plaza is constructed from tubular steel forming a complex pattern of rings varying in shape and size, echoing the Expo 2020 Dubai logo. It acts as a 360-degree video projection screen, which will create an immersive experience that can be viewed from inside and outside.

The site contained buildings and structures developed by Expo, its partners and the more than 200 participants – including nations, multilateral organisations, businesses, and educational institutions – with each nation having its own pavilion. There were four arrival plazas, with innovative carbon fibre entry portal structures, and two major parks, providing space for large outdoor performances and zones for recreational activities.  Site facilities include prayer rooms, retail and food and beverage outlets, roads, carparks, bus stops, washrooms, alongside extensively landscaped areas.


All permanent site infrastructure achieved a CEEQUAL rating of Excellent, with high scores. Over 80% of assets across the campus are intended to remain after the event when the site will transition into District 2020, a smart city-within-a-city and an integral part of the Dubai 2040 urban masterplan.

Project strategy and management

All eight projects of the programme scored very well in the Project Strategy and Project Management sections of the assessment.

A sustainability strategy was established at the outset which closely aligned with CEEQUAL objectives. This was underpinned by Expo’s ambitious sustainable materials guidelines, along with 41 key performance indicators (KPIs).

Sustainability requirements were put in place for design, construction and operations phases, and were integrated into contracts across project lifecycles. A CEEQUAL certification strategy was issued to all projects, with the aim of achieving a rating of Excellent.

Expo 2020 commissioned a number of studies which helped all the projects meet site-wide criteria such as climate change analysis. It also facilitated a quarterly environmental forum, and supported other forms of ongoing collaboration, to assist knowledge-sharing and external stakeholder engagement across the projects.

Land use and landscape

The Expo 2020 Dubai master plan was developed to create a sustainable community as a legacy for Dubai. After the expo ended in March 2022, 80% of its built environment was transitioned into District 2020, including major infrastructure, utility networks, open spaces, parks and the bike network.

Everything else was decommissioned according to sustainability criteria aimed at assuring the reuse or recycling of structures, components and/or materials

In designing the site, design teams prioritised thermal comfort needs in Dubai’s hot climate. Scenarios were informed by historical environmental data, as well as data generated by a physical wind tunnel model. They used light-coloured paving and roofing materials to reduce the urban heat island effect and 75% of primary walkways had to be in shade at midday, as well as 60% of hard landscaping areas and public open spaces. Shaded areas were predicted to be 5 degrees Celsius cooler on average.

The master plan set the following targets which were monitored with support from Siemens, Premier Infrastructure Digitalisation Partner at Expo 2020 Dubai:

  • 95% of total site landscape area managed without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers

  • 100% of green waste within the total site landscape area sent for composting

  • 100% of compost to be peat free within the total site landscape area

  • 90% of exterior water to be monitored and leaks detected

  • 0 pests or invasive species on site

  • 50% native plant species on site

  • 10 L/m2/day average water consumption in public parks

  • 7 L/m2/day average water consumption in streetscapes

  • 4 L/m2/day average water consumption in other areas

  • 100% non-potable exterior water use to be met by treated sewage effluent

Ecology and biodiversity

730,000 individual plants were used throughout the event, many chosen because of their low water needs and their ability to attract birds, butterflies, and bees, to help create habitats.

The plants were mostly native or resilient to the region, for example the super-resilient Ghaf tree, which is well-known for its low water consumption and soil enhancement capabilities.

Shade structures also incorporated plants, supporting ecosystems for insects and birds. Pest species were handled according to an Integrated Pest Management Plan, which includes sustainability criteria.

Many of the plants were propagated or grown-on in Expo’s huge nursery, which itself became provided habitats for numerous bird species. The vegetation on site aimed to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide.

The water environment

The extensive irrigation network was automated, with flow monitoring and leak detection built in, and all controllers were incorporated into and managed by the Rainbird irrigation system. It was also integrated in MindSphere to monitor site-wide irrigation water usage.

No potable water was used for irrigation. An efficient drip irrigation was used to reduce the amount of water needed, and flexible irrigation pipes were used instead of rigid PVC, reducing the risk of water losses for the irrigation network.

Physical resources

Expo applied a progressive carbon-footprinting methodology to guide on where carbon emissions may be reduced or offset with high-quality carbon offset credits.

The embodied CO2 of all infrastructure projects was independently assessed though detailed scrutiny of Bills of Quantity and the Environmental Performance Declarations of key civil engineering materials. The MindSphere platform was set up to live-monitor operational carbon emissions and water consumption across the entire site.

Waste recycling was extremely high. The client encouraged designers to adopt re-usable, modular and prefabricated solutions, which supported the efficient use of resources and the sustainability criteria of the decommissioning plan.

Other achievements in this area included:

  • 70% of the rubber in the running track was from recycled sources

  • Electrical power for outside lighting reduced by more than 40%, and, for the landscape areas, by more than 70%

  • All of the 8,000 square metres of wooden slats for the Shade Structure compliant with Forestry Stewardship Council

  • Hundreds of high strength concrete blocks had to be used to enable construction of the Al Wasl dome; the project was able to re-use or recycle 4,000 tonnes (99.98%) of the concrete

  • 100% non-potable water was used for dust suppression during summer

  • The re-use of waste materials to make barriers, storage boxes, signage etc


The transport network was planned to serve both event and legacy phases, and has a significant emphasis on public transport, with bus routes and a Metro train link incorporated.

The wider site incorporates the Dubai Exhibition Centre and a new Metro Station. The station is part of a Metro extension created to serve the Expo site. Trains run every two minutes and at peak, the station can accommodate 22,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

The Al Wasl plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai
The Al Wasl plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai


Expo 2020 Dubai aimed to be one of the most sustainable World Expos in history. For its permanent infrastructure assets, the achievement of a CEEQUAL rating of Excellent supported this goal.

Expo 2020 became the first city-wide programme in the Middle East to receive a full set of CEEQUAL ratings covering all of its projects, with some of its projects achieving exceptionally high scores.

Best practice and innovation

  • Strong client policies, strategies, plans, and KPIs which were aligned to CEEQUAL objectives and incorporated into project documentation at the outset.

  • Robust and efficient monitoring of progress towards certification, based on formal monthly reporting processes and innovative reporting templates and graphs.

  • Following though sustainability KPIs into event operations, and live-monitoring performance using Siemens’ MindSphere platform.

  • Extensive knowledge-sharing across the projects through the client’s environmental forum and regular group meetings.

  • Making a 30 minute public film for Earth Day to celebrate the Expo’s achievements

Overcoming challenges 

Tracking the progress of each assessment project had its challenges given the scale, complexity, and fast construction pace of this mega-project. Expo 2020 addressed this by holding monthly progress meetings with the supervision consultants for each of the eight projects, based on a standard report template. This contained an ‘S curve graph’ which tracked forecast versus actual progress for each section.

COVID disruption also resulted in some challenges. As the pandemic resulted in the start of the event being postponed by a year, some key CEEQUAL and contractor contacts moved on from their projects. However, the sustainability manager brought key issues to the fore during weekly key issues meetings, where advice and support from Expo’s Leadership was provided in an effective manner.

Summary Heading


Asset Publisher

  • Project: CQA619A Expo 2020 Dubai Public Realm in Road Corridors and Drop-offs

  • Assessors: Nihal Karagoz, AECOM, Sidra Habib, Kier Construction

  • Verifier: Mark Barrett, Independent Sustainability Advisor

  • Programme Management Consultant: Jacobs and Mace Joint Venture

  • Supervision Consultant: AECOM

  • Contractor: Kier Construction

  • Client: Expo 2020 Dubai

  • CEEQUAL rating: Excellent (82.7%) – Whole Team Award

  • Version: Version 5, September 2021, Dubai

  • Project: CQA619B Expo 2020 Dubai Event Infrastructure

  • Assessors: Olga Rudkovskaya, Parsons International, Mohammed Mudassir Ahmed, Transgreen

  • Verifier: Mark Barrett, Independent Sustainability Advisor

  • Programme Management Consultant: Jacobs and Mace Joint Venture

  • Supervision Consultant: Parsons International

  • Contractor: Besix and Orascom Joint Venture

  • Client: Expo 2020 Dubai

  • CEEQUAL rating: Excellent (85%) – Whole Team Award

  • Version: Version 5, February 2020, Dubai

  • Project: CQA619D Expo 2020 Al Wasl Plaza Trellis & Steelwork

  • Assessors: Xi Yi and Chris Drew, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

  • Verifier: Mark Barrett, Independent Sustainability Advisor

  • Programme Management Consultant: Jacobs and Mace Joint Venture

  • Supervision Consultant: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

  • Contractor: Cimolai & Rimond Middle East Contracting

  • Client: Expo 2020 Dubai

  • CEEQUAL rating: Excellent (93.6%) – Whole Team Award

  • VersionL Version 5, April 2021, Dubai

  • Project: CQA619F Expo 2020 C38 District Main Contract and Parks

  • Assessors: Olga Rudkovskaya, Qaiser Abbas, Nagelle, Fernandes, Parsons International, Mohammed Mudassir Ahmed, Transgreen, Arthika Saseendranath, Kier Construction

  • Verifier: Mark Barrett, Independent Sustainability Advisor

  • Programme Management Consultant: Jacobs and Mace Joint Venture

  • Supervision Consultant: Parsons International

  • Contractor: Arabtec Construction, Kier Dubai

  • Client: Expo 2020 Dubai

  • CEEQUAL rating: Excellent (90.7%) – Whole Team Award

  • Version: Version 5, October 2020 | Dubai

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