Mental health initiative strengthens ESG drive for BMMI Bahrain

Published on April 12, 2022

Consensus is emerging about the importance of mental health in business environmental, social and governance (ESG) programmes, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Investors have led the charge, with more than 3,000 signatories to the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) highlighting mental health as one of the top social issues they would prioritise.

Among the few regional players to prioritise mental health is Bahrain-based BMMI, a diversified retail and distribution, hospitality, shipping, and contract services and supply group with operations in six countries.

On World Mental Health Day last October, the group launched the latest initiative under its Happy Hearts wellness program in response to staff requests. At the launch, staff could learn about mental health, find a counsellor, and take part in wellbeing activities. It has since teamed up with a therapy centre to offer employees workshops, training, support groups, one-on-one confidential therapy sessions, mind and body wellness sessions and prevention and wellness information.

“People need to be happy at work and feel supported. People who feel supported tend to stay on longer,” says May Almousawi, CSR and Corporate Communications Manager at BMMI.

The year-long employee assistance initiative is flexible and adaptable and designed for all employees, not just one segment or demographic, Almousawi says.

She expects it to have an impact in terms of higher productivity and higher retention rates, as well as helping employees support their families and community through what they learned. The initiative followed consultations with the Living Business programme, which supports small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through one-on-one strategic guidance on transitioning to more sustainable operations, in collaboration with HSBC.

When the bank approached BMMI, the programme seemed like a good fit, Almousawi adds. “We were approached by HSBC. They had heard about our CSR initiatives. The opportunity sounded like a great way to receive support to develop and implement our plans, as well as get in touch with companies and suppliers that we may be able to work with to deliver these plans.”

Living Business also works with partner companies to create a sustainability strategy. The programme helps partners audit their environmental impact, puts in place a reporting framework, and introduces participants to third parties with technical expertise.

Measuring carbon emissions and waste

BMMI, whose operations straddle the retail, distribution and logistics sectors, already runs a successful CSR programme that tackles sustainability on several fronts.

With a significant shipping business and a logistics and distribution arm, BMMI has also focused on reducing its carbon footprint. “We have been actively making a difference year on year, and even with expanding our operations and fleet, the number has still been reducing.”

By one metric alone, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across petrol vehicles fell to 193.6kg in 2021 from 198.8kg in 2020. For diesel, emissions dropped to 609.3kg last year from 628.6kg the previous year and from 730kg in 2019.

Similarly, waste collection across its operations has improved. A total of 66,361kg of waste was collected over the course of 2019 as compared to 65,459kg collected across 2018.

In its supermarkets, plastic is a major concern, Mousawi says. “Our supermarket division inevitably uses a lot of plastic and we are looking at ways of reducing this by introducing plastic bag-free weeks, [different] packaging options and attempting to change cultural mindset of buyers which is stuck in a convenience vs sustainability battle,” she says.

Related initiatives included a plastic reduction drive and awareness campaign in the group’s offices and supermarket corporate offices, where single use plastic bottles were eliminated, the introduction of recycling receptacles in various BMMI locations, supporting external entities with recycling initiatives, adding tracking devices to vehicles to determine the shortest route and evaluating alternative vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.

And to tackle food waste from the hospitality, food production and grocery retail business units, BMMI partnered with Conserving Bounties, a non-profit food bank to collect and package surplus consumption-safe food for redistribution to those in need across Bahrain.

The conglomerate was announced as a platinum partner, contributing over 50 per cent of Conserving Bounties’ distributed meals since the NGO’s inception.

“The initiative aims to combat food waste, promote food conservation and social responsibility, which is in line with BMMI’s CSR goals,” Almousawi says.

UN Global Compact

BMMI is one of only six companies in Bahrain to be part of the UN Global Compact (UNGC). Described as the world’s largest CSR initiative, the UNGC works with global companies to foster responsible business practices in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment, and corruption. BMMI’s most recent Communication on Progress report is available on the UNGC website; the next edition will be published this quarter.

As a group that has been at the forefront of CSR initiatives for the better part of a decade, we asked Almousawi for a big idea that can help others just beginning their sustainability path, particularly as the mindset has only just started to shift.

“It is important for companies to help reinforce to consumers and customers that sustainable options – although these might initially seem to be less convenient for them – are better in the long run. Additionally, companies need to stop fearing the change and realise that it is their responsibility to show the importance of changing habits and raising awareness,” she says.

In other words, be the change you wish to see.