Khansa Ibraheem Al Blouki, Director- Environmental Information, Science & Outreach Management, The Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD)

The EAD – an organization that unites public and private sectors, as well as individuals towards environmental protection

Khansa Ibraheem Al Blouki, Environmental Information

Q: What are the biggest challenges that the EAD has identified and is facing with regards to the positive impacts on the environment and the society on all 3 levels – public, private, and individuals?

Changing behavior could be challenging when it comes to positive impacts on the environment. Education helps to shape behavior and environmental education is paramount to developing well prepared and environmentally responsible citizenry. Our outreach division designs programs focused on different target audiences in order to deliver messages about the environment in the simplest way and lead towards behavioral change. Through our targeted programs we work with all 3 levels and we have noticed that all are keen to contribute to changes. All challenges could be resolved if we join our forces to make a difference.

Q: Through the Green Business Network (GBN), the EAD influences businesses to contribute positively to the economy, environment, and society. Could you tell us more about your achievements so far?

The EAD launched the Green Business Network in 2019 – a platform for public and private sector organizations to learn, promote and share environmentally friendly practices in their workplace. The initiative aims to empower large corporations as well as small to medium size enterprises to make a greater collective contribution to the emirate’s sustainable development plans. The core objective of the platform is to foster dialogue and actions encouraging responsible business activities in the UAE, and it was designed as a response to growing trends in consumption, government policy and costs, all of which point to greater green business opportunities in the years ahead. So far 67 members have joined the GBN. Additionally, the GBN focuses on teaching the organizations how to assess carbon emissions from waste, water, and energy. It also encourages sustainability practices among employees.

In 2019 more than 21 organizations participated in the Paperless Day. In only one day these organizations succeeded in saving 2 million paper sheets, 330 trees and 308 thousand liters of water. 

In 2019 more than 21 organizations participated in the Paperless Day. In only one day these organizations succeeded in saving 2 million paper sheets, 330 trees and 308 thousand liters of water.

Q: Can individuals and organizations from other emirates join the AED initiatives and programs?

All our activities and programs are open to general public all over the UAE. Please follow us on Instagram page @environmentabudhabi to stay updated about the EAD’s initiatives and activities.

Q: The EAD understands the importance of the young and their education. With this in mind, it runs Sustainable Schools Initiative (SSI), with 75% of Abu Dhabi schools registered in it, as well as ‘Connect with Nature’ program which is encouraging young people in the UAE to explore the country’s natural heritage. What can you tell us about the responsiveness and engagement of the young in the UAE today? 

The EAD with support from the BP developed Sustainable Schools Initiative (SSI) with the goal to promote environmental knowledge, critical thinking, impart problem solving skills, encourage a participatory approach and develop the right attitude on environmental ethics among the school community in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. As the major component of the SSI program, participating schools audit their own environmental impact, set in concrete action goals to address the impact, develop their teaching staff through training sessions, and engage students by setting up environmental clubs. Furthermore, they give exposure to their students to hands on field experiences enabling them to understand the environment better. Since the launch in 2009, there has been a positive response and a very high level of engagement and participation from over 100 schools in Abu Dhabi Emirate. This initiative encourages students not only to reduce their ecological footprint, but also to increase their ‘ecological handprint’, which are actions towards achieving sustainability. At this moment 150 schools are part of the SSI.

Connect with Nature (CWN) is an innovative program targeted at the UAE population aged between 15 and 30 years and designed to inspire, motivate, educate and enable them to experience, celebrate and respect the UAE’s natural heritage. It aims to increase environmental awareness, build a public movement for change through outreach initiatives and create an appreciation of nature that translates into living a more sustainable lifestyle. The program’s goal is to equip young people with the experiences, knowledge, skills and opportunities to become the next generation of sustainability leaders, thus continuing the legacy of the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. We are happy to confirm that since the launch in January 2019, the program has been met with an immense interest. There has been a real positive response and level of engagement and participation.

Through experiential learning, outreach activities and citizen science, our aim is to shape values, influence attitudes and behavior of 10,000 young people by 2022. Nonetheless, we already have reach the community of more than 4,000 people indicating that the program is well received and that we will reach our target in the next two years. We have also achieved our impact target of influencing the young to priorities and value nature in their lives with 86% of the current CWN community already making nature a priority in their everyday lives.

Q: In 2020, the EAD organized the first edition of Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival. What was the reaction from the visitors? Who was the target audience on this occasion?

The first Edition of Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival targeted the general public with several workshops focusing on environmental activists, film-makers and school students. It received positive feedback and reviews while many expressed their wish and interest to visit the festival again. Furthermore, they emphasized that the films they had seen, left a positive impression, raised their awareness and opened their eyes to the reality of the condition of our environment. One visitor commented that the combination of films, discussions and workshops was very inspiring. We are proud to have had 1,130 visitors over the course of three days of the festival.

Q: In the near future will there be any initiatives organized or supported by the EAD that companies or individuals can join and participate in?

One of our biggest initiatives happening soon is the Abu Dhabi Clean Initiative, supporting the recent progressive policy to reduce the singe use of plastic in the Emirate. ABU DHABI CLEAN is a community driven initiative empowering individuals to take actions towards creating a sustainable environment. It is an opportunity for all Abu Dhabi residents to contribute to the citizen science by supporting the EAD in its research on the amount of single use of plastics and other types of waste entering the marine environment throughout the year. “ABU DHABI CLEAN” is a user-friendly mobile application and an easily accessible tool for individuals of all ages. Whenever you find single use plastic and/or waste on the beach, the “ABU DHABI CLEAN” application helps you to categorize, record and upload your findings. The data are reported directly to the EAD providing the researchers and policy makers with insights about the current situation, as well as helping them to make better decisions formulate new regulations and provide recommendations to the leaders in Abu Dhabi. Stay tuned as we will be launching it soon.

The EAD regulates and enforces Abu Dhabi environmental laws to protect biodiversity and preserve the quality of life for a sustainable future. The EAD works closely with NGOs, public, private, and international organizations in order to come up with solutions to conserve our environment and achieve our vision - ‘Towards a sustainable environment for a sustainable future’.

The EAD regulates and enforces Abu Dhabi environmental laws to protect biodiversity and preserve the quality of life for a sustainable future. The EAD works closely with NGOs, public, private, and international organizations in order to come up with solutions to conserve our environment and achieve our vision – ‘Towards a sustainable environment for a sustainable future’.

Jean Michel Bolly, General Manager, Dubai Holding Group

When the stakeholders’ engagement and recognition are embedded in sustainable strategy

Jean Michel Bolly, General Manager, Dubai Holding Group

Q: Dubai Holding Group (DHG) works closely with suppliers in adopting and bringing the best practices and values in the region and it is the is leading ambassador for international retailers in the Gulf. Could you give me some examples of the practices that were adopted from the global fashion brands that you are applying?

Dubai Holding Group believes in aligning our sustainability practices with that of our brand partners. As a part of Inditex  global initiative “Take Back Program”, we offer Abu Dhabi and Al Ain residents the chance to give another life to their clothes and  accessories.

“A feather in our cap for the year 2020 is the collaboration with Emirates Red Crescent. Our Zara stores will have containers in the stores, where customers can donate their clothes / accessories / shoes irrespective of the brand. The garments, accessories and shoes that are in decent condition will be donated and the remains will be recycled. This project will help us reduce the waste to landfills. Be it Levi’s, H&M, Madewell, all fashions giants are walking the sustainability path, and we are walking in the same direction.”

A feather in our cap for the year 2020 is the collaboration with Emirates Red Crescent. Our Zara stores will have containers in the stores, where customers can donate their clothes / accessories / shoes irrespective of the brand. The garments, accessories and shoes that are in decent condition will be donated and the remains will be recycled

Q: DHG has been investing in maintaining a strong staff base. Could you tell me more about your investments in staff and their development?

When we decided to walk the sustainability path, we knew that we had to change the mindset and shake the old habits of more than 500 employees. While for some of them change can feel uncomfortable, it is also inevitable component of our business. Major action areas that we identified in order to to follow sustainable practices are: energy, water, biodiversity and waste.

Some of the examples are: All  DHG employees have been given their own personalized ceramic mugs in order to refrain from using plastic bottles. Employees take ownership to ensure that all laptops and computers are shut down from the main power outlet prior to leaving the office. If electronic devices are not being used, they automatically switch to sleep mode. We have created awareness and are promoting the use of recycled paper. We have healthy GO-GREEN competitions between the departments. Special budget has been allocated to our IT department in order to recycle devices instead of discarding them. Our employees have contributed in planting trees around the world and this initiative will continue. We believe in segregating our waste.

We are making sure that our employees are involved in the Brand Partner meetings on Sustainability and similar subjects. Well aware that the change of habits takes time, we want our employees to be constantly aware of their actions and rewarded for good practices.

Q: By keeping your focus on the product in terms of quality and consistency, you want to ensure that the customers return on a regular basis. How do you engage with your customers?

In the light of growing complexity of the fashion industry, it cannot be denied that the garment industry is one of the most polluting in the world. Consumers are now aware of the impact carbon footprint has on the environment. Following the initiative of our partner Inditex we have introduced the “Join Life” sustainable fashion line. The essence of this line is zero waste to the landfill from the brand operations. The factories of our brand partner are focusing on zero discharge of hazardous chemicals with the objective to use organic or recycled fabric. Our strategy is to involve our staff in the stores to promote the “Join Life ” line and use the interaction with our customers to emphasis  the advantages.

“Furthermore, being well aware of the adverse effects of plastic on the environment, and catering to more than 1000 customers per day, as a fashion group we have decided to bring in a small difference by removing plastic bags for consumer purchase from all our brands.”

Furthermore, being well aware of the adverse effects of plastic on the environment, and catering to more than 1000 customers per day, as a fashion group we have decided to bring in a small difference by removing plastic bags for consumer purchase from all our brands

Q: The company has also considerably invested into software development in order to greatly improve stock handling and align it with its European partners. Have you seen any operational improvements, cost optimization, and/or waste reduction through packaging, paper use, etc.?

Yes, we have digitalized and automatized the process of our stock handling for our Inditex brands, known as RFID. This is highly advance technology leading to the increase in the productivity and efficiency of our employees . Thanks to this technology, we have managed to achieve immediate reduction in paper usage bringing it down by 25-40%. DHG is collaborating closely with partners to ensure all the plastic hangers from the stocks received are either recycled or put to multipurpose use instead of being discarded. For the year 2020 we are designing a plan to narrow down stock delivery from most of our  brand partners to zero wastage.

Q: Looking towards the future, as a group you are making efforts to  ensure your stores are eco-efficient by the end of 2020. Could you tell me more about it?

We are looking at more sustainable stores this year and this will be our biggest win. The objective of eco efficient stores is to reduce the environmental impacts. Eco efficient stores will be saving around 20% energy and 40% water. We will set up lights, heating and air conditioning in order to meet stores’ needs at any given moment, thus controlling our consumption of energy and reducing our CO2 emissions. We will be 100% successful when our stores’ electricity starts running on solar energy. We still have long way ahead of us but but we do envision it.

J.L.


Established in 2000, Dubai Holding Group is a multicultural retail organization representing well known fashion and homeware franchises in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Dubai Holding Group has  stores representing European favorites Zara, Zara Home, Promod, Stradivarius, Women’secret, Gerard Darel and Sfera. The Group’s portfolio offers exclusive brands to style conscious men, women and children, elevating the shopping experience to the next level. The retail group is continually working closely with international suppliers to deliver the unique brands and fashion  customers in the GCC region know and love.

Aiko Bode, Chief Sustainability and Chief Compliance Officer, Fenix Outdoor International

Success as the result of CSR, compliance and circular economy strategically anchored together

Q: Your company has embedded sustainability values as a part of its DNA. Can you tell us more about your Ethical Compass ? 

Our Ethical Compass is comprised of four cardinal directions: Nature – Economy – Society – Well-being with all of them forming part of our strategic decision making. As an outdoor company, the environment and the accessibility of enjoyable moments in nature are essential for us. And being a company, we need to take economic rules into our equation as well. Needless to say that the societies we are operating in as well as our employees and customers are the cornerstones of our success.

Q: Can you name some examples of the initiatives that are part of your Agenda 2025?

“At Fenix Outdoor we say: ‘We want to leave our basecamp in a better shape than when we found it’ “

This translates that it is not enough if our company does less harm but we would rather want to have a positive impact with what we do in all four cardinal directions. This approach represents a challenge because sometimes trade-offs are necessary and – currently– we are facing several dilemmas, we are working on. However, we want to become climate positive, so we are working hard to keep our CO2 footprint as small as possible and offset where needed.

In order to truly go further with this initiative, we have begun to work with our business partners in our supply chain on improving their CO2 footprint as well and we are currently building a system to trace back our products to the very first raw ingredient. We use Trustrace, a Sweden-based block chain provider to help us achieve this. On the environmental side, we also want to use more and more sustainable and renewable materials, and shift to substances that are not harmful, and our opinion is that with waste being a big problem, we should strive to avoid. Therefore, each entity within Fenix follows this agenda and sets specific targets that have to be achieved by 2025.

The same also applies to our internal operations aiming to involve customers and employees. We need to move from the “use and throw-away mentality” to a much more humble “this valuable item” mentality. The philosophy behind is that: customers need to become users and users need to understand that it is a privilege to use a specific item and take care of it. Once we have achieved this goal, the term “consumption” will need to be redefined or abolished except for in nutritional terms.  

Q: There are 9 principles built into your brands, from which longevity is my favorit. I have been wearing my mother’s sweater and after 40 years of constant wearing and washing, it’s still like new! Are such durability and quality of your products reflected in the pricing and how do they compare to the competition? Secondly, can you tell me more about low material impact and recycling part?

This is a perfect example. Usage instead of “consumption” is what I “preach” all the time. We need to show respect for the work of the people who made products, designed them, and for this you will have to pay as well – our brands are considered as premium in our industry.

In terms of materials we need to think much more holistically. Just saying: ”it works – so it is good” is simply not good enough. We need materials that do not harm the environment – preferably at all stage of production process. Furthermore, I like the idea that a material that is thought through can last for generations in the use phase and become the input for a new product at the end of the use phase. However, to be clear: by simply saying: “this material is a natural material”, we have not necessarily made a sustainable choice, so that is why we find it very important to consider all four cardinal directions of our Ethical Compass.

Q: How is circularity implemented in your business model?

As said earlier, if waste and prodigality are not the ways to go, then we need to re-think our business approach. There are various steps to be taken: the right design and the right design choices in terms of materials; the function of the product and the simplicity so it remains repairable; then, the longevity of the product, the right care instructions and the possibility to take the product back and let it become the input for another product – that is what we strive for.

Our idea is to reduce energy, water, chemicals and materials to the minimum leading to zero waste. Are we there yet? No, but we are working on it and with our Re-Kanken product we’ve got pretty close: the design of the product is such, that virtually no cutting waste occurs. The material is recycled polyester and the whole product is made of one material using Spindye, a water saving dying process. In the end, the product can be recycled again and, for example, it can be used as an input for new Re-Kankens. Still, there is a long way to go until we get there but we are taking steps and moving forward with our Fenix Way.

Q: Finally, how do your sustainable strategy, CSR and circularity effect your revenue and costs? Is there any obvious impact on the top and bottom line by implementing and using sustainable practices?

Well, this is very difficult to assess. However, if our constituency walks this path with us, we will sell these products, become stronger and remain successful.

“I think we have to turn the argument around: Had we NOT embedded circularity, rental or any other sustainability consideration into our business model, we simply would be out of business. So the question is not if it is rewarded – I think it is expected.”

J.L.


Fenix Outdoor International AG is the holding company for the premium outdoor brands Fjällräven, Primus, Hanwag, Brunton, Tierra and Royal Robbins as well as the specialized outdoor retailers Globetrotter Ausrüstung, Friluftsland, Naturkompaniet and Partioaitta. The oldest brand is more than 125 years in operation. Fenix Outdoor Int. AG is registered in Switzerland and stock-listed in Sweden. The turnover in 2019 was about 616 million Euros. The companies operate globally with main offices in Europe, China and the United States. About 2,500 people (2018 figure) work for Fenix Outdoor’s entities.