This, along with commitment from the governments, industry dialogues and legislation, is encouraging more and more private companies to incorporate relevant aspects of CSR into their business plans and adopt measures that make their operations truly sustainable in terms of delivering long-term benefits for all concerned. Major players from different sectors tell Swaliha Shanavas about their conscious efforts to adopt best practices that positively impact the society and environment.
Du – Commitment to society and environment
“Our vision, mission and brand promise embody our commitment to creating value for our business stakeholders, as well as the community and environment we operate in. This commitment is built upon a strong foundation of sustainable thinking and ethical values that help us define and decide how we engineer our products and services, how we treat our colleagues, how we serve our customers, and how we engage with the community. For us, our sustainability ethos helps us become a better business every day,” says Hala Badri, Executive Vice President, Brand and Communications, du.
The company’s engagement with the community is directed by a sustainability strategy that focuses on four main pillars – education, environment, entrepreneurship and United Arab Emirates (UAE) heritage, culture and society; they are also signatories to the UN Global Compact (UNGC), and steering committee members of the UNGC Local Network in the UAE, she adds. “We continually strive to raise the bar for businesses in the region, especially in terms of compliance with all of the laws and regulations that are applicable to us and go beyond the bare minimum requirement.”
Sustainable procurement, material use and recycling
The company continuously tries to minimise their environmental impact by diverting their waste streams through reduction and recycling practices, which is further supported by their policies on green purchasing practices “that aim to reduce the strain on our natural resources,” Badri notes. “As for disposal of our equipment our target is to increase our efforts regarding recycling programmes on electronic scrap, and start recording the quantities of electronic scrap recycled or re-used.
We have also focused heavily on reducing waste at the point of origin, for e.g., moving all new customers to eBilling by default, and by redesigning our SIM packs to reduce paper, plastic and metal consumption,” she underscores. By focusing on health and safety, diversity, compliance with local labour laws and waste management, du works with their suppliers to establish sustainability throughout the value chain, the VP says. “We regularly monitor indicators such as what percentage of our suppliers are local vendors, how many of them are Emirati SMEs, what percentage of suppliers are screened for compliance with our HSE questionnaire, what percentage of invoices is processed online, and how many suppliers are registered via our iSupplier system.
We report our overall sustainability performance on an annual basis using the Global Reporting Initiative framework. We have also recently introduced questions on CSR and UNGC membership in the vendor registration forms.” In her view, more and more businesses are slowly beginning to understand that CSR provides a lot of value in long-term business sustainability and meaningful engagement with stakeholders, especially employees and customers. “However, there is a long way to go, especially when it comes to encouraging sustainable business practices in the supply chain. What is extremely important is top-leadership buy in, and senior management commitment and acceptability to change ‘business as usual’.”
Sustainability as a whole has become more prominent in the region with companies wanting to be responsible which is mainly attributed to the UAE vision of a green economy, Badri opines. “Businesses are changing their strategies to develop and deliver sustainable products and services, which is also seen as new innovative business models. This sets the trend in the region to reduce our environmental impacts and at the same time incur financial benefits. With this voluntary move towards sustainability, legislation does not become the driving force. However, legislation is still required to ensure full compliance as we have seen with the new lighting and plastic bag regulations recently,” she emphasises.
AccorHotels – CSR and sustainability with ‘Planet 21’
AccorHotels has almost half a century of commitment to CSR and sustainability, with the Group having advocated for sustainable development since 1974 and launched their global programme Planet 21, in 2011, which puts sustainable hospitality “at the core of their strategy, development and innovation processes”, says Olivier Granet, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, AccorHotels Middle East. They created an action plan that offered their hotels 21 commitments and objectives focused on the need to change their production and consumption patterns to protect the people and the environment.
The Group achieved solid results during the first phase of Planet 21 (2011-2015), delivering two thirds of the programme’s 21 objectives and committing over 90 percent of their global hotels, the MD notes. The programme helped them achieve significant progress with regard to wellbeing in the workplace, biodiversity, waste recycling, etc., he says. By end 2015, water consumption had reduced by nearly 9 percent, energy consumption by 5.3 percent and carbon emissions by 6.2 percent, and they had planted over 4.5 million trees worldwide. In April 2016 they launched the programme’s Phase 2, he states.
Towards zero food waste and carbonneutral buildings
Planet 21 is now structured into four areas of action enlisting AccorHotels employees, customers, partners and local communities, he says, and their commitments for 2020 are: to be an inclusive company and ensure the welfare of employees; to encourage guests to act as multipliers of the positive effects of their actions; to establish a lasting relationship with their partners, and to work hand-inhand with local communities. Two specific focus areas are: healthy and sustainable food, striving towards zero food waste; and a move towards carbon-neutral buildings.
“AccorHotels development roadmap, Planet 21 in Action, has a more flexible format that allows each hotel to set its own objectives and map out its action plan. A common baseline comprising of 16 mandatory actions sets a demanding first level of commitment (bronze status). To upgrade their status (to silver, gold and platinum), hotels select the actions they wish to implement from a wider range of initiatives. This system encourages ownership of the issues at stake as well as employee and guest accountability regarding social and environmental responsibility,” says Granet.
Environmental responsibility and accountability
There is a trend among hotels in the region towards more environmental responsibility and accountability. “As an example, our global reforestation initiative, Plant for the Planet, proved very successful in the Middle East and its objectives resonated well with local partners,” he states. They introduced their reforestation programme in the UAE with the aim of planting 100,000 Ghaf trees over the next decade and are looking for partners in Saudi Arabia to extend the programme, he says. They have also embraced the ‘Drop It – Say No to Plastic Bottles’ campaign to minimise the consumption of plastic bottled water and reduce plastic waste.
Active engagement in waste recycling
Today, 100 per cent of their hotels are actively engaged in waste recycling and are also looking to minimise waste in terms of choosing products with less packaging, investing in long lasting re-useable products and so on, Granet underlines. “We ensure that our hotels partner with management companies offering comprehensive waste recycling and safe disposal solutions, and our teams are well trained.” The group has won multiple awards for its sustainability achievements including the ‘Best Green Hotel in Dubai’ received by Novotel Deira City Centre, Suite Novotel Mall of Emirates and Ibis Deira City Centre in their respective midscale and economy categories, at the Dubai Green Tourism Awards 2015. In the luxury segment Sofitel The Palm Dubai won the Environmental Performance and Green & Sustainable Building awards at the Dubai Environment Health and Safety Awards 2015.
UAE leading the change
The UAE is recognised for being the most advanced GCC country in terms of sustainability in the hospitality sector, with Abu Dhabi leading the charge, largely due to its ‘green’ regulations, Granet opines. The huge investment in renewable sources of energy, the emphasis on waste segregation and recycling, and the strategy of zero waste to landfill are definitely huge steps in the right direction.
Veolia – Shift towards the circular economy
Veolia has been adapting its business activities to move from an approach based on resource consumption to one of using and recovering resources in accordance with the principles of circular economy, says Xavier Joseph, CEO of Veolia, Gulf Countries. “Sustainability is in the DNA of Veolia. It encompasses all that we do – providing access to resources, protecting and generating resources for generations to come.” When it comes to our natural resource economy we are still ‘thinking flat’ and society is making and using what it needs and throwing away what it doesn’t, he states. “
At Veolia, we believe in round. With over 160 years of expertise in the areas of water, energy and waste, we provide an array of sustainable environmental solutions that promote the transition toward a circular economy – where consumed materials are put back into the production chain to become new products or clean energy, so they are given a second or third life. We call this Resourcing the World.” In order to manage their corporate responsibility effectively, they have focused particularly on improving management systems in areas of CSR; developing commercial offers that incorporate the three aspects of sustainable development, thus ensuring their ability to support their clients’ sustainable development strategies; designing contractual models and innovative partnerships in the social economy, so that disadvantaged populations can have access to basic services, notably in emerging countries, the CEO explains.
Regarding stakeholder involvement he says, “Veolia’s stakeholders come from multiple backgrounds: local authorities and elected officials are not only their main contractors and institutional clients but also the elected representatives of the people in the communities we serve. Furthermore, most of their constituents are consumers of the services we provide and often live near the facilities we operate. Veolia is deeply involved in the local areas where it operates. We use our expertise and influence to ensure that we enhance their social, environmental and economic development.”
In the Middle East, Veolia was recently awarded, from the Dubai Chamber Of Commerce, two Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) Labels for its activities in the UAE and in Oman for the third consecutive year. The CSR Label measures the commitment and actions taken by companies in different fields: workplace impacts, market place impacts, community impacts and environmental impacts and “Veolia has proven its engagement for CSR through four main points in the fields mentioned above,” he notes.
Training plans for employees; the number of nationalities in employ; guarantee a safe and healthy workplace.
Market Place Impacts:
Procurement Policies encouraging green purchasing, group code of conduct, employee handbook.
Family, sport days and religious events are organised by the company. A Green team has been set up to ensure the roll out of Veolia’s nine sustainability development goals.
In Oman, a study was conducted comparing three similar sites, including Veolia’s Desalination Plant in Sur, concerning the diversity of fish species and the results identified 82 species of tropical fish around Veolia’s site that couldn’t be found in the two other due to the higher quality of the water released in the ocean. Veolia’s action also includes saving energy policies, recycling policies: at Al Ain, wastewater and bio-solids are used for agriculture.
In the Gulf countries sustainability is taken more and more seriously by companies due to the commitment of local authorities, says Joseph. In the UAE, the long term national initiative to build green economy was launched back in 2012 and the centre for responsible business of the Dubai Chamber also plays a key role to supporting companies in formalising their sustainability strategy and improving their practices, he adds. “We observe in the region these days a lot of companies working on ensuring sustainability principles are integrated with business strategy and day-to-day operations, and companies are increasingly engaging senior managers in the sustainability agenda and building awareness of their sustainable business practices.”