Enabling sustainability: How to introduce circular economy models in businesses?

In collaboration with WWF Emirates Nature, Jelena Lefavrais spoke about creating circular economy models in businesses. The session was also featuring “Green Footprint” – a crowd-sourcing platform for promoting sustainable practices, funded by the UAE Government

Sustainable business models are a popular topic of discourse these days. But how can such models be brought to life business frameworks governed by bottom lines? 

ESG Regulation & Initiatives – Implications for the Middle East and Its Financial Institutions

As ESG investing is gaining momentum on the global level, ESG misconceptions and frauds are opening more and more debates. A question is this a positive PR for ESG- showing that it’s affecting and challenging even large corporations OR the absence of unified global framework and regulations leave space for negative PR due to lack of in-depth knowledge about ESG across the value chain, making us think that ESG is still nice to have, too costly, or not a priority?

Speaking about region, we heard thoughtful insights from HE Sheik Fahim al Qasimi about ESG challenges and live examples on how ESG can build regional capacity and value creation through strong case-studies, supply chain transparency, and efficient communication. Greg Fewer highlighted an important role that financial institution play in accelerating ESG. He also emphasized on challenges that management is facing today in delivering credible, transparent and informative reports to investors, to prevent greenwashing risks and consider ESG as a part of their decision making. While Middle East is getting more exposure with coming COP 27 and 28, it will continue to build capacity through renewable energy solutions, innovation, and cutting-edge technologies to allow the transition to a green economy and carbon-neutral world: from venture capital to large infrastructure projects. The good news is that region’s ESG disclosure score doubled in the last 4 years. What is next? Is the UAE ready to adopt a local Taxonomy?

As I heard William Thome, Regional Head, CFA Institute, saying in one breath the mission statement

“CFA Institute leads the investment profession globally by promoting the highest ethics, education and professional excellence for ultimate benefit of society.”

This is what we need for accelerating ESG globally. We are looking forward to seeing this discussion continuing. As the bottom line, the only way forward is to continue to build reputation and credibility, though knowledge, transparency, measurable, consistent data and robust disclosures. High-grade investor stewardship is very much needed.

Regenerative farming in action

By Suvi Reinikkala – Spirits Marketing Director, Altia

Altia cares about suitability and it published its first GRI Sustainability report which shows determination to incorporate sustainability in your corporate strategy.

Let’s be real, offsetting carbon footprint through planting forests and other means is important but it’s a band aid solution. What we are after is real change in production processes, better packaging, product development and regenerative farming. We have set super tangible goals for these. Carbon neutral distillery and 100% recyclable packaging by 2025 when we talk about environmental sustainability, and when we expand it to include all the four pillars of sustainability we are also increasing low-alcohol, low-sugar and non-alcoholic beverages in our portfolio and focusing a lot on safety at work as well. 

Koskenkorva’s sustainability journey begins in 1953, the first batches were made from surplus / leftover food supplies. Circular economy at work even before the term was coined, I believe. Sustainability has been in Koskenkorva’s DNA since the beginning and ever more so today. 

We are proud that 100% barley use and bioenergy. For example, in 2014, we built our own bioenergy plant for our distillery which among other things got us to 100% use of the barley grain. This basically means that we use every part of it, not only grain but the stalk, husk and everything. Only a part of it goes to making vodka. But then what’s left from that is used in different applications such as animal feed and pulp for paper. And what absolutely can’t be used anywhere else is used as fuel in our bioenergy plant. And here’s the kicker, when we run our bioenergy plant, we get energy but also ash as a side product. It’s turned into natural fertilizer that goes back to the fields that grow more barley. 

That brings me to recycling. Koskenkorva’s distillery sports a record high 99.9% recycling and reutilization rate. In 2018 we won the Green Company of the year award which was a huge thing for us. It’s recognition of the things we’ve achieved so far and obviously it pushes us forward. We really aim to become the world’s most sustainable vodka through our efforts in developing production, packaging and as well as the actual product as well.

After conducting your sustainability assessment, what were the conclusions?

We haven’t pulled these goals out of thin air either. We went through a tedious LCA or life-cycle assessment calculation process that helped us to see what we really need to focus on. There were two very clear pain points. The first one was packaging. It turned out that packaging caused 51% of all the emissions of Koskenkorva Vodka. Plastic PET bottle, believe it or not is worse in terms of emissions than Glass because of our Nordic recycling system. And we are working on new recycled PET and glass materials, lighter bottle weight and also more recycled glass. And as I mentioned before, by 2025 our target is to have 100% recycled packing. 

The other pain point that we recognized in the LCA calculation was raw material, barley, and farming to be more specific. That caused 27% (agrifootprint glass bottle) of the emissions. Which is very much in line with the global emissions—about one third of all global emissions come from agriculture. Our farmers are doing great work but clearly this is something that needed to be addressed. And that’s our biggest project today, regenerative farming. Two years in the making, a product coming out soon and a project that literally transformed the way we do marketing. 

KOSKENKORVA VODKA is the world’s first vodka that is made entirely with regenerative farmed barley. Can you tell us more?

A lot of farming today is done in a way that’s called monoculture. Without going too deep into that we can say that it forces farmers to use a lot of pesticides and fertilizers that end up in waterbodies and essentially make them toxic to wildlife (eutrophication). At the same time the soil gets worse and produces less and less crops. It’s literally bleeding our soil dry. Regenerative farming does the opposite, it makes the soil richer, increases biodiversity, helps it retain more water and nutrients, and produces more crops. And at the same time, it draws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it into the ground. 

But it requires a big shift in thinking. You need to rotate crops which means you change what crop you farm on a plot every year. You don’t till the ground because that releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. You employ circular economy and plant cover crops. It even goes as far as to the way you procure your seeds. You get the idea—instead of simply taking resources from nature, regenerative farming is a part of nature’s natural cycle. And at the same time, it draws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it into the ground.

Koskenkorva Climate Action Vodka is the world’s first vodka that is made entirely with regeneratively farmed barley. If everyone in the world farmed regeneratively from now on, we could remove 10 times the amount of carbon from the atmosphere than we currently emit globally in one year. And that’s just the conservative estimation.

Agriculture constitutes about one third of global carbon emissions. One might ask what a vodka producer can even do about it? Our main raw material is barley, a product of agriculture. We work daily with over 2000 farmers. We are the biggest barley purchaser in Finland. We can do a lot. We can change the way we farm and at the same time show the world that if we can make a difference, so can you. I mean the governments aren’t going to do it so we as companies need to step up, isn’t that right?

What were the challenges on the way?

A project like Koskenkorva Climate Action Vodka could not be done without collaboration. We  realized that we need a lot of help from inside Altia and also a partner in science. We included people from the distillery, legal department, procurement, the actual farmers and of course our C-suite. We also partnered up with the Baltic Sea Action who is the leading institution in regenerative farming. One of the biggest challenges was finding a farmer who could commit to regenerative farming as well as provide us with enough barley to make a batch. There were points where we thought that this would be impossible because we would need at least 50 tonnes of Barley. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be enough to go through our distillation process. Fortunately, the Baltic Sea Action Group found Jari Eerola for us and that’s when we knew that Koskenkorva Climate Action Vodka would become a reality.

It took few years mainly because nobody has done stuff like this before. Sure, there are small regenerative farms out there, but to have a product that is made entirely from regenerative barley is completely new. That’s part of why we are super proud of the project. This is a way we can show that we are actually doing things to fight climate change while providing a product. And this kind of game changing platform also gives us a way to show all the other things we do with circular economy for example. In marketing terms, we don’t have to claim things when we can actually show them through our products. 

I can’t stress enough the importance of a great team. Altia the company behind Koskenkorva and the people from different departments, the farmer, the Baltic Sea Action Group and of course our advertising agency Bob the Robot. These kinds of projects are truly team efforts. It takes time, a lot of commitment and drive from everyone involved. There are going to be surprises and challenges along the way. Timelines will change, even the world will change as we’ve all seen, but we need to stay focused and flexible. That’s the only way to make it happen. 

How do customers react to it?

So far, it has been successful start for the product that is just about to hit the market. The sales numbers are therefore not in yet, but we have created a lot of buzz in the industry;  won the prestigious Goodvertising award and the World’s top 4 innovations by The Spirits Business. And we do believe that this is just a beginning. We follow several indexes such as the Finnish Sustainable Brand Index and do annual Brand Equity Studies. And internally we have a very clear sustainability roadmap with clear cut KPIs for product, packaging and production related objectives.

This is not only a unique project but a real game changer when it comes to marketing. According to Forbes, 88% of people think that brands should help them be more sustainable. 88%. At the same time, it is quite clear that people can smell through a lot of marketing claims especially when it comes to sustainability. So, you can’t simply come up with stories anymore. As a brand, you need to do real things to change the world. And then show them what you’ve done. That’s a story that flies.

We want to show to everyone out there that if vodka of all things can be sustainable then anything can. We are by no means perfect, but we will not stop trying either. In the future, we will continue working on increasing regenerative farming with our contract farmers. The first step is to provide education but also to raise awareness that this kind of farming is a win-win situation for everyone: the farmer as well as the environment. It does take a lot of work and a lot of time but I think we’ve proved that we aren’t afraid of that. And hopefully the world with follow and in the future regenerative farming will become mainstream. 

What is the secret connection of the Nordic countries with sustainability?

I think it’s a combination. Take, for example, education. It’s free and world class so a lot of people are highly educated. As education is higher the recycling rate is higher. So, as you recycle more, you think about the environment more, and then you think about other ways you can do better. We have innovation such as the Finnish PALPA system, a country wide bottle recycling system. This is how it works: when you buy a big bottle of say, soda, you pay 40 cent deposit. When you bring that recycled bottle back to the store, you get those 40 cents back. 

Also, sparse resources, going back just a few decades and you realize that mere survival in these conditions required a lot of creativity on how to reuse things and how to make the most out of nature without rendering it useless. That kind of a legacy and attitude doesn’t just disappear overnight. 

And then there’s a third big thing that is transparency and trust. For example, Finland ranks as one of the least corrupt societies in the world. These things are very important when it comes to sustainability which is built very much upon transparency. Without transparency it’s pretty much just greenwashing. And it’s incredible how good of a nose consumers have for that these days. 

Building Circular Economy

Interview with Dr Sassan Dieter Khatib-Shahidi, CEO, German Imaging Technologies (GIT)

Sustainability Trends identifies and works with individuals and organisations on building and promoting circular models. Since 2020, we engaged with over 20 local organisations to analyse and study circular cases, including the consumers’ responsiveness, return on investments and profitability side.

As the outcomes, we found that there is over 75% of consumers’ engagement and positive response; there is a growing demand for sustainable and circular products, services, and business models; and innovative solutions based on the circular principle have a great investment perspective with up to 2 years of return on investments.

Here, we would like to share a great example about a businesses model, born in the UAE, which is circular and have a great positive impact on the environment, society and the local economy.

Read the interview

Bloch-chain in action for building awareness and positive impacts on the environment!

By Eric Schaffner, Founder of ZeLoop: Circular Economy Reward Platform

Q: In 2019, you founded a block-chain app, called ZeLoop that is a great and “fun” solution for raising awareness about plastic pollution and diverting waste from landfill. It rewards citizens for their eco-friendly actions with a focus on collecting used plastic bottles. How was this idea born?

The idea results from a combination of situations. Coming from the packaging industry, I could see the growing concern about plastic pollution and pollution in general. I wanted to do something about it. I invested in the first start-up of my partners, where the block chain reward engine was developed, which we use for ZeLoop platform now. Sharing the same values and willingness to help changing habits in society, health and sustainability, we wanted to do more. Two years later, sensitive to the growing issue of plastic pollution, we decided to found ZeLoop, an innovative Circular Economy Rewarding Platform to make our planet healthier. The first mobile APP was released a year later in July 2020 worldwide to incentivize consumers for not littering plastic bottles.

Q: Tell us more about the circularity behind ZeLoop.

Circular economies are trendy and often presented as the solution to reduce human’s production impact on our planet. When one study the cycle involving stakeholders of, for instance, the circular economy of plastic bottles, we can see several challenges:

  • A conflict of opinion between producers, retailers and consumers on who should take care of the waste generated by consumption.
  • A lack of focus on the consumers
  • A lack of agility towards consumers by the waste management companies and recycling companies who are B2B oriented so not so familiar to deal with end-users.

This is where ZeLoop plays a key role. We focus on consumers, rewarding them for participating to the circular economy for a higher collection rate that will benefit the downstream waste management & recycling industries while providing a neutral voice to consumers for brand owners and empowering businesses and institution to embodying consumers in pro-environmental behavior.

Q: You spent years working in the packaging industry for one of the leading service solution provider, for beverage, food, home and personal care products packaging. Considering the end-customers’ changing mind-set and a commitment to meet their expectation, what were the latest trends and solutions when it comes to packaging?

Across all material we can see several common trends:

  • Change of regulations give better framework
  • New designs to reduce the amount of material used
  • Increase the recyclability
  • Find new source to produce the material with less fossil resources
  • Circular economy loops product to product
  • Turn non-recyclable packaging into biodegradable to minimize the impact of its end of life
  • Make the packaging reusable

Q: Did you see in your career demand for packaging material reduction across supply chain? Is this possible?

Yes, this is on the agenda for all packaging producer. Less material means less cost. On bottles, plastic ones are the one we witnessed the main reduction over the last 20 years. A 0,5l water bottle used to be around 13g, now 6-7g is common with not so much loss of functionality. A glass bottle or an aluminium can has not lost so much during the same period. On beverage cartons, we see more trends to reduce the complexity of the packaging with reduction of layers.

Q: What about reusable / circular packaging solutions? Can you name any at your knowledge or experience?

Glass is circular for long with a preferred path on collecting, grinding, melting. PET is more and more recycled with regulations like- the Single Use directive in Europe- since January 2021. This directive imposes all producers to integrate at least 25% of recycled PET (rPET) in their production by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

Q: What are your thoughts about the raise of new materials and innovations to replace single use plastics and other traditional materials?

Replacing plastics made from non-renewable resources by renewables ones is good providing the production mode doesn’t take land to produce human food. But if we don’t change the habit of people we will only change the type of material that is polluting our planet. So the use of single-use or multiple-use renewable plastic should not become a “permit to litter”.

Andrej Isoski, Commercial Director Middle East, HL Display (HL)

How has shopper behavior been impacted by the pandemic?

COVID-19 has changed lives rapidly across the globe, also here in Middle East and, with it, the way we shop groceries.

Many consumers have seen their personal finances being impacted negatively since the crisis hit. While lower disposable income and overall economic insecurity has led many to reduce their spending in categories from fashion and apparel to services, electronics and restaurants, spending for groceries has increased as consumers have stocked up on pantry staples, cleaning and safety products. The way consumers shop has changed, too: While smaller shopping trips several times per week were on the rise previously, recent months have marked the return of the weekly shop.

In a recent survey by Oliver Wyman, around 60% of shoppers stated that they shop for groceries less often with a considerable number purchasing bigger pack sizes than before.

A reason for this might be that around one quarter of shoppers said that they do not feel comfortable inside a physical store. Shoppers also choose grocery stores differently: proximity, hours of operation and availability of online ordering options are the basis for store selection.

Online Orders and Home Delivery are increasing

As consumers plan to eat out less often, grocery retailers might look for ways to cater to shoppers looking for inspiration for home cooked meals. Recent months also saw a surge of shopping for groceries online with many shoppers trying online ordering for the first time. It remains to be seen if this is a permanent change in behavior or if shoppers fall back to preferring physical stores as data suggest will be the case for at least those countries where online grocery shopping enjoyed low penetration pre-crisis.

Is the plastic a solution for permanent health and safety measures in stores?

To ensure traffic to brick-and-mortar locations, retailers need to prioritize the implementation of permanent health and safety measures in stores protecting both shoppers and store employees.

While only time will tell which shifts in shopper behavior are more permanent, one thing is for sure: we will see the impact of the crisis for many months to come and adapting quickly will be key to manage the effects successfully.

So for me the question is which changes will last? As countries re-open, what are the longer lasting effects on shopping behavior? Given that the challenging economic environment is likely to endure for a period of time, value and price considerations will most likely be on top of many shoppers’ minds and discounters might be uniquely positioned to gain market share. On the other hand, shoppers might be less willing to visit several stores to cover their full shopping list, and therefore might prefer traditional grocers over the limited assortment offered by discounters.

By Andrej Isoski, Commercial Director Middle East, HL Display

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.


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.”


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.

Awareness for Sustainability through a Photography Competition

Visual images have dominated our culture and education in the 20th and the 21st centuries. The Secretariat of the UAE National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) launched a great initiative with the UAE SDG Photography Award 2019 in collaboration with His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA).

The award was created with the idea to raise global awareness of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on an international level and inspire change through pictures.

The initiative captured global attention and it reached more than 3.8 million people around the world in only 9 weeks through social media, radio and press. The social media campaign under the UN SDGs slogan leave no one behind featured 13 different languages in order to spread awareness globally in order to reach as many people as possible.

The total number of participants reached 4,105 contestants from 132 countries. Over 7,000 photos were submitted covering the award’s five categories themes: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships. The wining photographs are telling us so many stories.

PEOPLE, Turan Topalar, Turkey

“Syrian Refugees in Istanbul”- Having escaped the war, these Syrian refugees live in Suleymaniye District, Istanbul, despite all the challenges the region faces. They have made their home in the urban transformation areas, empty fields and ruined buildings.

PLANET, Rakesh Pulapa, India

Distinguished Similarities”- A fine line between urban development and nature. We need to preserve our trees in order to protect our planet’s natural resources and climate for future generations.

PROSPERITY, Danilo O. Victoriano Jr, Philippines

“Wind of hope”- The project on renewable energy sources helping to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Whilst providing electricity for industrial needs, it brings benefits to the poor families in the rural communities in the Philippines giving them not only lights but also a hope for a brighter future by helping the education of their children.

PEACE, Jubo Cao, China

“A wedding celebration”- A Tajik family welcomes the bride to the family in a peaceful way inspiring hope in the Pamir Plateau of Xinjiang, China.

PARTNERSHIPS, Hussein Alshafai, Egypt

“Base”- The workers are involved in the construction of a tower building representing a technical combination similar to an abstract painting.

Many UAE photographers participated in the award and three managed to reach the exhibition phase:

PLANET, Mohamed Abdulla Mohamed, UAE

“Ghost Net”- Abandoned fishing nets can turn the pristine environments into ghost towns in a matter of days. Some people call them silent killers as they can last for many years killing everything on their path, from the small snapper like the one in the picture to the mighty whales of the ocean. I joined Dubai voluntary diving team in their mission to support SDG 14: Life below water, fighting ghost nets in the Arabian Gulf and I was overwhelmed by the amount of destruction that these nets can cause.


“To the Power Source”- One of the main sources of sustainable development in the field of renewable energy is solar energy. This shot of a simple scene expresses one of the UAE’s strategies in using solar energy and generating electricity from it in a clean, renewable, cost-efficient way. The scene is a sequence of power grids extending to the main energy source, the sun.

PEACE, Sulaiman Eid Al Hammadi, UAE

“Girl of Peace”- A little girl from the heart of the Indian Kashmir. She welcomed us with a beautiful gesture (branch of a tree) that symbolizes love, tolerance and peace.

We asked a member of the secretariat UAE National Committee on SDGs, if we can expect this great initiative to continue every year, to what they responded:

“The first season of the award has made great strides to raise global awareness, and as an innovation driven entity, we were tasked to deliver the next big concept later in 2020. It might be photography, it might be another visual form of raising global awareness around the SDGs… Follow @UAESDGs for exciting announcements and to know more about how you can be part of the sustainable development journey of the UAE, and the world.”

For everybody who wants to dive deeper into these masterpieces, there is a chance to see them.

“The SDG Photography Award exhibition is a traveling exhibition. The exhibition will be back at ADNEC during the World Urban Forum early February. After that, enthusiasts can visit Dubai Mall from 17 to 29 February and enjoy the exhibition. Follow @UAESDGs to know more about where the exhibition will be next.”

Reem Al Hammadi,
The projects Executive at the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority and the member of the Secretariat of the UAE National Committee on SDGs, shared with us.


A copy of the publication can also be downloaded from The Secretariat of the UAE National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) website For more information on coming events follow #UAESDGS 

The Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority (FCSA) is a federal government authority reporting to UAE Cabinet. In January 2017, UAE’s National Committee on SDGs was formed by decree of the UAE Cabinet. FCSA serves as vice-chair and secretariat for the Committee.

Hamdan International Photography Award is an international photography award, founded in 2011 under the patronage of crown prince of Dubai sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum. The Award appeals to all talented photographers across the globe, and also nurtures national talent, which will in turn attract international art and cultural attention. The Award highlights how Dubai is fast developing into one of the most artistically conscious and established cities in the world.