Living Lab: the Story Behind the Sustainable City and Fairgreen International School

“My first degree was in the field of environmental education. I had the aspiration to teach people about the environment, maybe to become a park ranger. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and went to The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Community there was very environmentally minded. We spent a lot of time outside and cared for nature not because of sustainable knowledge – it was about personal connection to the environment”, shares David Gerber, Fairgreen International School in Dubai Primary School Vice Principal, Head of Sustainability. 

Sustainable Development Goals were issued in 2015. In 2023 United Arab Emirates pay a lot of attention to the sustainability concept and have numerous initiatives in this field. EdDesign Mag explores the development path of the first UAE sustainable school – Fairgreen International School. 


This year David Gerber is the Speaker of the leading education conference & exhibition in the Middle East region: GESS Dubai (30 October – 1 November 2023). Extensive conference programme together with the exhibition provides educators access to the products and solutions that meet the needs of the modern classroom and transform the way students learn. Sustainability is one of the event’s important themes and EdDesign Mag curates the Beyond Sustainability panel on the 30th of October 12.35. Join us!


As I learned more about Sustainable Goals I started to understand they perfectly complimented the International Baccalaureate’s interdisciplinary and inquiry-based learning. Sustainable Goals provide the Why behind the learning intention and give a purpose.
David Gerber, Fairgreen International School in Dubai Primary School Vice Principal, Head of Sustainability
David Gerber


School as a part of the city community


Fairgreen International School was started by ESOL Education, a company specializing in K-12 international education in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The school follows IB curriculum framework, integrating sustainability into its educational programme and daily routine. 

Photo: Fairgreen International School Dubai


Fairgreen is located at The Sustainable City, a development created by Diamond Developers with solar energy options included at each property, biodomes, green spaces, gardens, swimming and workout facilities available for the use of the school and all the residents. Infrastructure also includes jogging and cycling tracks, animal sanctuary, equestrian center offering horse riding lessons. 

Photo: The Sustainable City,


The Sustainable City is a car free community, which means that cars are restricted to one road that gives access to parking lots. Residents and students living within the community use bikes, scooters or electric buggies when going to school. When Fairgreen started 80% of the students were from the City. Nowadays according to David Gerber it is 50% of the residents and the other 50 comes from the surrounding communities. 


There was a time when I thought that sustainability is mostly caring about the planet. But living in the Sustainable City I understand that it is also about wellness, about self-sustainability. The concept of the City includes the circular economy when local businesses support the residents paying their housing fees and residents support the businesses. The school is a part of this process and we consider the City to be an integrated part of the school campus.
David Gerber, Fairgreen International School in Dubai Primary School Vice Principal, Head of Sustainability
David Gerber

Three pillars of The Sustainable City


In fact, the size of the City, as per urban planning guidelines, did not require us to have a school. We are about 3000 residents. But back in 2011, when we started to design the Sustainable City we wanted to break down on how sustainability might be realized in the built environment. And in our research we came to the conclusion that it should be designed, built and operated according to three pillars: social, economic and environmental. This concept was not possible without a school.
Marwa Nahlawi, Head of Urban Planning at Diamond Developers
Marwa Nahlawi


In addition to the Fairgreen School there is a SEE Institute in the City. It houses an academy that offers post qualification courses in the field of sustainability. It provides a business incubator to encourage startups in the field. And also has a unique immersive learning experience theater as well as an auditorium. The building itself is special for the UAE as it is the first net zero carbon building in the region. Currently it produces 300% of its energy needs through bifacial solar panels.

Photo: The SEE Institute, Dubai Sustainable City,


In the frame of the environmental pillar Sustainable City - minimizes its carbon emissions through tackling design based on 6 contributing factors: food production to minimize the footprint of transporting the food; energy management and production through renewables; water recycling: the City recycles all the water it generates and uses recycled water to irrigate the landscape; encouraging micro-mobility by creating heavily pedestrianised spaces and limiting car access within the city; waste management: community is encouraged to sort the waste and the City successfully recycles about 90% of waste. 

A lot of developers still think that sustainability is costly and less profitable. The Sustainable City has proven that on the contrary, Sustainability can be attained at the same cost and operationally provides financial benefits. Economic pillar suggests decisions on how to make sustainable living more attainable for the residents and how to manage the circular economy inside the community. 


30% of Fairgreen students come from within the community, 50% of the shops in the plaza are owned by the residents. When we were looking for the restaurants to be open, we reached out to some locals and invited them to do it. One of our residents, after living here for a few years, decided to open a store that rents, repairs and sells second hand bicycles because cycling is so popular in the community.
Marwa Nahlawi, Head of Urban Planning at Diamond Developers
Marwa Nahlawi


“For us Sustainable City in Dubai is a living lab where we pilot everything that we want to implement in future projects like the ones we have located in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Oman. First we try everything here, we make sure it works and makes sense. By the way, when we launched the Sustainable City in Abu Dhabi last January it was almost completely sold out in 24 hours. And to rent a villa in Dubai we have a three-year long waiting list” adds Marwa. 

Immersive experience: Sustainability in education


Fairgreen International School offers all four IB programmes: Primary Years (PYP), Middle Years (MYP), Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (IBCP). Sustainability is integrated into all of these educational programmes.

Photo: IBCP Students


“Example would be: we need students to understand photosynthesis, to know the different parts of the plant. This is basic, every single student needs to know that. The difference is that students learn about these important concepts through immersion: it is not a 2 week unit, but every single day students engage in growing, in early years they have a gardening section in their immersive play area. Everyday they spend time planting seeds, watering plants and observing the growing process. 

Photo: Rooftop Garden


The school has a rooftop garden and vertical gardens placed around the school. “We want our space to provoke students to ask questions and then test them throughout the building - for this purpose we have a kind of consultant teacher. We call this process “sorting out period”. At a certain point we ask them to make their experiments meaningful: in grade 4 when they already know about the wind energy generation, solar and hydro generation, they pretend to be a business. They make projects, search for funding from investors like me or other principals. We had one student who noticed how much food the school was throwing away. He started working with our Middle School science department and developed a food wasting programme” explains David. 


Fairgreen also offers CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) as a part of the IB Diploma Programme. “We have an amazing CAS coordinator who helps students to work with the local community through providing services and learning from this process” shares David. 


I can’t stress enough how important the sustainability mindset is today. I think that we go a little bit beyond SDGs. And now we aim to become leaders in the educational community, and withdifferent partnerships. We are partnering with TASS (The Alliance for Sustainable Schools) and we are certified as a Green School through Eco Solutions. Being amongst the top schools in the world as experts in sustainability in education is the next phase of evolution for the Fairgreen International School.
David Gerber, Fairgreen International School in Dubai Primary School Vice Principal, Head of Sustainability
David Gerber



October 2023

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