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How the UAE's SMEs are driving environmental change

Published on November 22, 2022
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The role of SMEs in economic development is well recognised, but their role in improving environmental sustainability has received less attention.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a cornerstone of Middle Eastern economies, accounting for over 90 per cent of all businesses and serving as a major source of new job creation, according to a report released by the IMF.

SMEs’ contribution to shaping growing economies and driving social, economic, and environmental change, makes it hard to ignore the collective impact on a country’s development.

Each SME’s individual environmental impact is relatively small when compared to large corporations. But when taken together, the SME sector has a major environmental impact.

The Living Business programme helps businesses of all sizes become more competitive and productive by incorporating socially and environmentally sustainable practices into their business operations. By offering one-on-one expert strategic guidance and consultancy that helps them better understand sustainability practices and regulatory compliance, while also facilitating networking opportunities with the larger business and sustainability communities.

Driving awareness of sustainability with cleaning products

For eco-cleaning services companies such as Green Touches, it has faced challenges from

the lack of financial support to develop and source new ingredients, to marketing its products and educating sceptical customers, such as by spreading awareness of natural cleaning products and how chemical cleaners affect household air pollution.

“One of the biggest challenges we face when marketing a natural cleaning product is scepticism and lack of knowledge. Joining the Living Business programme helped us create a knowledge exchange and spark a conversation about the impact and causes of household pollution,” says Adrienne Doolan, Chief Executive Office at Green Touches.

Launched in 2017, Green Touches has helped improve business environments across Dubai by striking the perfect balance between hygiene and sustainability. The UAE-based start-up achieves this by manufacturing its own natural cleaning products using nanotechnology while reducing the products’ carbon footprint.

“Companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint must look at their supply chain and understand the environmental impact of the products they are using/ manufacturing,” Doolan says. For example, a product’s water footprint accounts for the amount of water that is consumed and polluted in all processing stages of its production.

Chemically produced bleaches, general-purpose cleaners and laundry products are produced using large amounts of water. Doolan says that for commercial products, it takes 17 litres of water to produce a single litre of bleach. One kilo of the chlorine used in such products is produced using between four to six litres of fresh water.

From start to finish, these products are pollutants, she says. By contrast, one litre of water produces an equivalent one litre of Green Touches cleaning solution.

“Not only is our manufacturing process sustainable and eco-friendly, but our cleaning services are also entirely green,” she says. “Living Business helped us amplify that message with networking amongst potential clients and investors to further spread our message and to support our goal of growing our business beyond the UAE,” she adds.

Reducing carbon footprints through circularity and innovation

The nature of mass-produced furniture has serious environmental consequences that are hard to overlook. From being disposable to requiring special transportation methods, fast furniture results in extensive waste of resources. Luckily, eco-friendly furniture brands like RePlaste are making great strides to become more sustainable.

RePlaste, a sustainable material design studio, based between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, upcycles plastic waste into circular products.

RePlaste’s most famous material, Sapor, is a 100% recycled and 100% recyclable plastic composite that is pressed into sheets to be used for kitchen surfaces, furniture, floors and tiles, and more. Being circular, water resistant, termite-proof and lightweight, Sapor offers an alternative to marble and wood.

“Plastic pollution is a global, growing problem, and our society still doesn't see the true impact of plastic. We believe our products can help change that perception,” says Hamza Haidar, Founding Partner at RePlaste.

With circularity and modularity at the core of its business, RePlaste clients can trade in old pieces in exchange for credit towards their next purchase or gift cards. RePlaste’s modular furniture also allows clients to fix or update their furniture product by simply ordering a single component of the product, for instance, a single table leg, at a subsidised rate instead of ordering the whole product or sending it to a landfill.

Over the past year, RePlaste has upcycled around 5 tonnes of post-consumer and post-industrial plastic waste obtained from the UAE, Pakistan, and Canada. “We see plastic waste not as a residual product but as a valuable beginning of a new cycle. Over the course of six months, we reground 750kg (5000$+ post upcycling value) of our own cutting offshoots and production waste. Thirty square meters of Sapor sheets are made from 650kgs post-consumer, single-use plastic. Every product we create at RePlaste is made with the environment in mind,” Haidar says.

Now RePlaste has been able to deliver further environmental benefits. Getting its products to customers also uses resources. RePlaste realised it could reduce its own operational footprint – and pass the benefit onto its clients – during a consultation with Living Business.

“During one of the seminars held by Living Business, we re-evaluated our shipping methods. By flat packing our modular products, we were able to reduce the number of trips for deliveries hence reducing our carbon footprint and cutting down on transportation costs,” Haidar says.

Building a socially responsible business in line with ESG values

While most people perceive corporate sustainability as eco-friendly practices that are implemented within an organisation, sustainability is also the ability of companies to positively influence social and economic development.

Leonardo Herman, Managing Director of Kiklos Architects, says programs like Living Business helped the UAE-based architectural and interior design studio build a socially responsible business that adheres to strict ESG values.

“At Kiklos Architects we’ve always been keen on sustainability practices in the office. Whether they’re baby steps like sustainable waste management, driving 30,000km in an electric car as a mode of business transportation or saving on potential paper consumption by going completely electronic from day one, at Kiklos Architects no effort is too small,” Herman says.

“Sustainability is a gradual approach and if everyone does a little bit, it’s still better than nothing,” he says.

Kiklos Architects joined the Living Business program to reinforce social governance within their organisation by putting several policies and documentation in place. The firm has obtained the ISO 14001 and 9001 certifications and is currently waiting on certification from B Corp, a designation indicating that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency.

Embedding sustainability within an organisation is a long but rewarding journey. With support from programs like Living Business, enterprises of all sizes can benefit from increased resource efficiency, circular economy solutions and improved productivity and growth.

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