How environmental stewardship is a smart business opportunity

Comment: In the UAE, our seas are a resource we all rely on; they provide food and water for desalination, as well as transport and energy

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Since 2015, when the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world and address multiple challenges for people and the planet, the international community has repeatedly come together to lay out a blueprint that tackles the world’s thorniest issues via a series of global accords, including the landmark Paris Agreement to address climate change.

But while global agreements are important, the best accords are no more than words on paper if they are not implemented. This implementation isn’t the sole responsibility of governments, it’s the shared duty of government, business and society. Equally, however, it’s also an opportunity -- especially for the business community -- to create innovative, smarter, more cost-effective and sustainable ways to succeed in increasingly competitive markets.

With 2017 being announced as the UAE’s Year of Giving, public and private entities across the UAE now have an even greater reason to embed sustainability across the business and value chain. Taking an active role in environmental stewardship is one such way to do this. In addition to supporting the UAE’s vision to ensure sustainable development while preserving the environment, it is also a proven smart business opportunity.

But exactly how can businesses engage in environmental stewardship and what are the benefits?

Ultimately, a healthy environment is the foundation for a strong and sustainable economy. Obviously a strong and sustainable economy is a key enabler of a thriving private sector.

Many organisations have recognised the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainability. Brands such as Unilever, Ikea, Coca Cola, IBM, Panasonic and Microsoft, are globally reaping the rewards from actively pursuing a strategy of sustainability, and are achieving a positive ROI from a variety of angles including revenue, stock performance, product-level profitability, brand reputation, employee and consumer engagement benefits, accounting for externalities, reduced risk exposure and more.

Here in the UAE for example ...

Increased employee engagement and positive brand reputation

In 2012, HSBC partnered with Earthwatch, WaterAid, EWS-WWF and other local project partners to launch the Water Programme, with the aim to provide and protect water sources, and inform and educate communities— enabling people to prosper and driving economic development across the world.

Since 2013, EWS-WWF, HSBC Bank Middle East Ltd., Earthwatch and Fujairah Municipality have partnered to conduct a Water Research and Learning Programme in Wadi Wurayah National Park. This ground-breaking initiative has not only contributed locally and globally to scientific research to preserve biodiversity and freshwater resources, but additionally it has provided a unique citizen science experience for around 1000 HSBC participants from the region. Beyond the 5-day field experience, HSBC staff have then acted as water stewards in their offices, communities and homes, further increasing the reach and impact of the project.

Reduction of operating costs through improved internal resource management

Back in 2004, Liberty Investment Company, the holding company of the Liberty Group, initiated and implemented ‘green’ steps at its Liberty Automobiles showroom building in Sharjah – the world’s largest General Motors showroom. In 2011, it launched the ‘Liberty Go Green’ campaign.  ROI was achieved in just 8.3 months , resulting in a reduction of 387.77 tonnes of CO2 per year. Major savings were achieved through a combination of steps such as; a comprehensive staff engagement program; energy saving techniques including automatic timers on AC units, LED light and the harvesting of natural light; in addition to water saving methods such as the use of water reducers and meters, and the reuse of AC drain water. Subsequently, an in-house Facility Management Centre was established.

Consumer and employee engagement through the creation of added value

As a premier hotel on the coast of Abu Dhabi, The Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi is highly aware of the value a healthy marine environment brings to its long-term business sustainability. Recognising this impact and wanting to play its role in the protection of our local seas, The Beach Rotana partnered with EWS-WWF on its marine programme, including the sponsorship of a green turtle. Benefits to the business include the added value this partnership has created for Beach Rotana customers, old and young, who have engaged with a broad programme of activities and educational initiatives centred around the marine environment, in addition to supporting the hotel’s CSR and employee engagement strategies.

Redesigning products and services around sustainability to tap into market opportunity, increase profits and/or reduce costs

Unlike traditional mixed-use developments in the UAE, The Sustainable City by Diamond Developers is a practical implementation of social, economic and environmental sustainability.  Achieved through innovative design, stakeholder engagement and future monitoring to sustain itself, it is the first operational Net Zero Energy city in Dubai, and is modelled to become an international showcase for sustainable living, work, education, and recreation. The Sustainable City has 100 percent water reuse, recycling and waste diversion.

What could environmental stewardship mean for your business?

Using two of the Sustainable Development Goals as an example, (13) Climate Action and (14) Life Under the Sea, the private sector has a window of opportunity to play an active role in contributing to the UAE’s national response, whilst also ensuring its own business resilience and future viability in light of the challenges ahead.

Smart businesses today are already focussing on water and energy efficiency and demand reduction in their operations and value chain to reduce the impact of the cost increases of utilities tomorrow. While at the higher end of the environmental stewardship spectrum, some organisations are investing in R&D, or working to transform business models and value chains to mitigate risk and/or take advantage of new, more efficient and sustainable technologies such as renewable energy.

In the UAE, our seas are a resource we all rely on; they provide food and water for desalination, as well as transport and energy. Additionally, they provide the foundations for a thriving post-oil economy, including the tourism sector and many other ecosystem services. Our seas are also culturally incredibly significant and associated with a rich heritage.  But the pressure we place on our seas is taking a heavy toll and if we don’t act now, they could soon be beyond recovery.

Those industries and organisations close to or reliant on the sea, such as property development, tourism and hospitality, trade, recreation, fishing and utilities may be more acutely aware of the value a healthy marine environment contributes to long-term business sustainability— but it is in fact an issue relevant, in varying degrees, to the whole business community.

Again, smart businesses today are already focusing on water and energy efficiency and demand reduction in their operations and value chains, and looking to implement more responsible business practices to safeguard the marine environment. There is also the opportunity for organisations to play a role in transforming how our marine environment is managed. For example, EWS-WWF is promoting integrated marine management and working with key stakeholders and experts to identify and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to ensure healthy marine ecosystems in the UAE — that will provide multiple benefits to the UAE economy and society in the long term.

There’s no time to waste

Increasingly, evidence highlights that issues historically perceived as ‘environmental’ do in fact have a direct domino effect financially for industry and business. The good news is that the business community in the UAE has a prime opportunity to safeguard their own sustainability, whilst also contributing to the long-term prosperity and well-being of our nation.

EWS-WWF has worked with over 140 organisations across the UAE including HSBC Middle East Ltd., Waha Capital, ADCB, Diamond Developers, Linklaters, Geant, Majid Al Futtaim and Grant Thornton, and continues to partner with many more who recognise that environmental stewardship is the smart choice for business today and tomorrow.

Don’t let your competitors reap the rewards, capitalise on the opportunities of environmental stewardship today.

Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, director general at EWS-WWF.

Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

NOTE: Comments posted on may be printed in the magazine Arabian Business

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

  • No comments yet, be the first!

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Everything you need to know about Qatar

Everything you need to know about Qatar

Former British protectorate has been ruled by the Al-Thani family...

The Al Thanis are Qatar's power family

The Al Thanis are Qatar's power family

New research sheds light on the overwhelming influence of the...

Raising the bar: DLA Piper plans fresh growth in the Gulf

Raising the bar: DLA Piper plans fresh growth in the Gulf

Legal firm DLA Piper’s Middle East business recorded 10 percent...

Most Discussed