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.

How will ESG drive opportunities for real estate and construction industry? How can the sector decarbonize?

Impact Analysis

Nearly 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions are attributed to buildings. Approximately 70% of these emissions are produced by building operations, while the remaining 30% comes from construction. Building are everywhere, touching every segment of over lives: households, offices, education, health institutions, retail, etc.

Global and national climate goals demand sharp emissions reductions in both operations and construction, which can only be achieved through significant changes within the real estate sector. As world population continues to grow and urbanize, the globe is experiencing an unprecedented building boom. Based on current estimates, the rate of global building stock growth is equivalent to adding a new New York City every month for the next four decades. Approximately two-thirds of the global building area today will still be around in 2040. While net-zero aligned construction is an important component of sustainability, emissions reduction strategies must incorporate existing buildings too.

Today, more and more companies are setting their base line (Scope 1, 2, and 3) and their goals towards 2030 and 2050 agendas. As we go, the risk of increasing regulatory obligation will force leaders to work towards sustainability.

Sustainable operation

Despite the fact that the construction industry’s supply chain is complex, operational improvements can bring value to various stakeholders across value chain.

Retrofits to boost energy efficiency can lower future energy bills, meet rising efficiency standards, and improve property desirability. By looking into improvements, such as: switching to LED, upgrading heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), optimizing water use, integrating digital solutions, using more efficient appliances etc: 40-80% savings on energy bill can be generated. Only by automatizing lightning switch in large buildings and offices, can optimize 20% of electricity consumption. Green technology, such as building solar panel park can bring costs down, create jobs, improves impact on planet, and empower community. This means that optimizing and modernizing building technologies can drive sustainability directly and have a positive impact on climate change

Closely related to the retrofitting of these important operational systems is electrification. Electricity must come from low-carbon sources and property owners should commit to purchasing an increasing share of their electricity from clean sources going forward. Renewable energy supply is one of the key focus area for decarbonizing operations. Great examples are: Apple Park in Cupertino (Apple’s operations are generally globally powered by 100% renewable energy), Microsoft, Google etc.

Efficient infrastructure relies on quality. Challenges in construction and design comes from tendency to save costs. But looking into LCA and efficiency, quality can’t be compromised. Especially talking about Stranded Assets – buildings that by the time they are built (sometimes takes 10 years), will need a refurbishment 5 years after being built due to constantly changing regulations, so it makes more financial sense to invest now, than being forced to refurbish soon.

Long-term service-based solutions are the foundation of a strategic partnership.

SROI is gaining momentum

Safe, secure and healthy environment has been always a key priority to construction industry players. Today, more than ever, stakeholders are demanding to see beyond financial reporting what an organization is doing to create an impact on the environment, society, and local economy. SROI is becoming as important as ROI. We can see SROI being actualized through WELL standard that shows that incorporating safety and healthy environment improves efficiency, PEX and bottom line, impact of healthier buildings on HR metrics and especially productivity. WELL standards has started enrolling across different hotel chains, representing well-being in hotel rooms (ex. Vegas, Hawai, etc.)

Digitally enabled environment and data

The regional focus is on cutting edge technologies, data and digitalization that is enabler for growth. Smart and automatized systems are proven to be efficient, by putting in place: control, management, data, and measurement. WiredScore as a new certification for smart buildings that should stimulate data use.

The whole world is moving to actual – measured data (energy bills or submeters) from previous modelled data. As an example, in the UK all buildings have to meet at least EPC (Energy Performance Certificate), otherwise it is going to be illegal to rent them from April 2023 even if you have existing tenants.

Thanks to data driven and controlled environment, the buildings’ owners are able to sell higher level services to the customer, enabling competitive advantage for them in the marketplace. Post-occupancy evaluation (performance benchmarking) is must-have in order to empower stakeholders across the value chain to differentiate and stand out.

The UAE Market

Despite the fact that the regulations are not strict yet, the key stakeholders in the contraction industry should understand that they have an opportunity not only to mitigate future risks, but take early steps in using momentum to attract FDI into the region.

Incorporating sustainability into a corporate strategy and decision-making process is the first step to take, followed by ESG assessment, and stakeholder action plan.  Non-financial sustainability reporting, including the impact assessment, is a key for both, internal and external communication. This is important not only for market positioning and reputation, but for maximizing opportunities for innovation and expansion. By focusing on human and social capital, an organization can financial capital.

Who can drive the change?

Emirates Green Building Council established the Net Zero Centre of Excellence in January 2018, as a think-tank and accelerator, which aims to advance the net zero buildings movement in the UAE. Partnership with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) allows for the certification of buildings under the Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certifications, with EmiratesGBC acting as the exclusive auditor within the UAE.

In 2014, the Dubai Government released Dubai Plan 2021 which aligns with the UAE Vision 2021 and the Green Economy for Sustainable Development Initiative and aims to position Dubai at the forefront with a primary focus on the happiness of residents, society, and economy, as well as smart and sustainable cities. Dubai Government also announced in 2016 the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy (DCES) 2050 to increase the clean energy share and diversify the energy mix of the Emirate. Along with Dubai’s plan to be the most sustainable city in the world by 2020, the aforementioned strategies serve as tools to drive the progress of green buildings and sustainability in the Emirate. 2019 saw Dubai becoming the first city in the Arab world and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to receive the prestigious Platinum Rating in the LEED for Cities certification

The companies that are in advance ESG stage can leverage education and engagement with clients in supporting them with their targets. We can see more and more “sustainability umbrellas models” where sustainability department gets strategic role in the organizational chart in order to drive momentum and development across all verticals and product lines. The companies that are in the early ESG stage can learn from peers, collaborate and work on smart partnerships. We continue to relay on government policies to encourage smart buildings and energy efficiency solutions.

For improving your sustainability report with “talk-walking” initiatives OR starting your sustainability reporting, contact us info@sustainabilitytrends.com

Cybersecurity and ESG

It’s going to be interesting to see how ESG and digital innovation trends grow hand-in-hand in the future, as ESG heavily relies on data. Technology is an enabler for efficiency, but we should not disregard digital pollution representing 4% of the global CO2 emission, knowing that block-chain, IoT, AI solutions are expanding rapidly. Finally, will cybersecurity be affordable for all to assure sustainable and inclusive growth?!

The World Future Energy Summit 2022- Reflecting on global trends and local examples

I was thrilled to open the Climate & Environment Forum 2022 at The World Future Energy Summit- the World’s leading Sustainability Business Event that brings together over 45,000 professionals from all over the world.

I was also happy to be able to make it physically there. Two years back, this statement would be an absurd, but COVID19 has happened, it’s our reality today, our new normal. Having said this, we should not take for granted climate change risks and alerts that we hear more and more about, and our luxury way of living and the access to all natural resources we enjoy today.

Since 2016, just after the Paris Agreement took place, I have been actively working on sustainability reporting and ESG assessments, as becoming a key focus for the companies. There are a couple of reasons for it:

  • One of the reason is stakeholder demand to see more and more non-financial reporting.
  • Second is a need to mitigate the risks, social, economic, climate- which are all interconnected.
  • Third, according to Bloomberg, by 2025, one third of the global Asset will have a ESG focus, which represents over USD 53T. Which explains why we are talking more and more about the green finance, funds, and climate linked finance.

At the Climate & Environment Forum 2022, all these topics have been covered but not only. Meeting the Global and Common goals is essential today and it can be only possible through smart partnership and if stakeholders work together. Having this in mind, in 2020, I created a GreenFooprint platform, supported by the UAE government in order to bring key stakeholders together (government, industries, and consumers) to work together on closing the loop and addressing and solving production, consumption and waste issues. We want to:

  • Make circular economy new normal
  • Sustainability accessible to all
  • Scale up positive practices by putting a focus on solutions in stead of scaring people about climate change or speaking about carbon footprint that showed to be abstract even to the field specialists.

This is a crucial moment for entire UAE in preparation for COP28 that will take place in 2023. HE Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment in the United Arab Emirates, said that COP28 will be:

  • inclusive (leaving no one behind),
  • accessible (to see where we are today in order to improve),
  • youth centric, and
  • opportunity oriented to scale up good practices, such as focus on solar energy, mangrove planting, carbon capture plans etc.

In a couple of panel discussion, I was talking about different approaches on how to drive systemic changes and work together in achieving the common goals, by reflecting on global trends and local examples. I was also sharing how companies can take a serious approach in adopting sustainability in their decision making, mitigate risks and optimize opportunities, by setting ESG factors and forming smart partnerships.

Sustainability Trends 2020

Controlled and regulated economies towards Net Positive results

The world confronts an urgent carbon problem, that has been changing its climate. The temperature of the planet has already risen by 1 degree centigrade. If we don’t curb emissions and temperatures continue to climb, the results will be catastrophic. The world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Net positive results refer to maximum reduction of carbon emission. This will call for developing and implementing new technologies, innovation, public policies, planting trees, etc.

Innovation and New Technology

The 4th industrial revolution is happening. Technology is developing so fast that humans are not even able to perceive it rationally. Innovations and new technologies will disrupt many industries and the biggest effect we will be able to see in the following 15 years.

Clean and Renewable Energy

Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services. More than 150 years ago, wood supplied up to 90 percent of the energy needs. In 2017, worldwide investments in renewable energy amounted to USD 280B with China accounting for 45% of the global investments, followed by the United States and Europe with 15% each. Globally there are estimated 7.7 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industries. Some places and at least two countries, Iceland and Norway, already generate all their electricity using renewable energy , and many other countries have  set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy in the future.

Circular Economy

A circular economy (often referred to simply as “circularity”) is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and continual use of resources. It’s seen as one of the most important element in sustainable development.

Big Data

Big Data collection and data use can optimise operations and efficiencies. Governments and private sector might heavily depend on the Big Five (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft), as these continue growing.

Digital Technology

One of the main disruptions in the last 5 years was digitalisation. This is one of the main stream pillars of the 4th industrial revolution that will continue to shake all industries.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machine learning is getting more and more present in all stages of a life cycle of products in all industries.

Meet Daisy, Apple’s robot for dismantling the old devices and recovering the prime material

Smart cities

While the population continues to grow and the governments introduce the carbon footprint regulations, smart cities are the focus of the society. Today, over 70% of the population live in the cities and this will continue to grow over the next years. The interest of everybody is to introduce various regulations for energy sources optimisation, eco-friendly solutions and innovation, controlled pollution, etc.

Shared mobility and Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are expected to increase from 2% of global share in 2016 to 22% in 2030. As the infrastructure comes in place this industry will see huge expansion.

Alternative prime materials to replace traditional plastic sources

Reducing the use of single use plastic in all sectors and industries has become the main trend both on the private and public level, through various polices and regulations. This has awakened creativity and given a chance to start-up businesses to come up with prime material solutions. Today, we can hear more and more about sustainable fashion, bamboo becoming a new gold, or about bio-degradable and compostable packaging in the food industry (that alone generates 43% of the global plastic production).

Shared Economy

Conscious consumers, Zero Waste movements, Minimalism are all growing concepts. Consumers are changing their behaviour and becoming more conscious. Today, we can see more and more crowdfunding platforms to encourage and enable more business practices that are ethically and purpose driven.

Youth Movements

In 2019, the young got their 5 minutes of fame with Greta Thunberg winning the media spotlights. The young have started getting more space and freedom to express themselves/express their opinions and ideas and act

Women in Business

Despite notable progress over the recent years, female executives remain underrepresented in the C-suite. Firms with female CEOs and CFOs have produced superior stock price performance, compared to the market average. The financial future is female.

Focus on developing countries and New markets

The best time to invest in Africa is now. However, foreign investors have not moved into the continent as quickly as expected because of high level of risk involved. Nevertheless, risks and profits are twins: high-risk is associated with higher profits. Africa’s large deposits of natural resources promise a bright future for developing value chains. Africa’s young population contributes to an abundance of labor, which is one of the region’s highest potentials for labor-intensive industrialization, and lowers production costs, leading to benefits that far outweigh the cost of doing business on the continent.


Akon – An Inspiring Story