Search

Q & A: Pamela Jouven, Director of the SME Climate Hub on how SMEs can decarbonize

Q & A: Pamela Jouven, Director of the SME Climate Hub on how SMEs can decarbonize

Pamela Jouven

14 JUN 2024

As countries continue working to limit global warming according to the Paris Agreement, most recently with the landmark UAE Consensus reached at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels, small businesses are realizing they have a big opportunity to make a significant impact. But lowering carbon emissions can also be a significant challenge for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Pamela Jouven, Director of the SME Climate Hub, an online platform for small and medium-sized enterprises, talks about the Hub’s work to accelerate a global movement and mobilize SMEs to take climate action – and why that action is critical for the planet.

How does sustainability align with your strategy?

We support small and medium-sized businesses on their climate action journeys by providing them with free tools and resources to reduce their carbon footprint. We also invite businesses to make the SME Climate Commitment and be recognized by the UN’s global Race to Zero campaign by halving emissions by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050, and reporting on their progress each year. More than 7,500 SMEs from over 130 countries have made the commitment so far.

The SME Climate Hub is an initiative of the We Mean Business Coalition, a global nonprofit that had historically worked with larger corporations to halve global emissions by 2030. But the crucial role SMEs play in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions has become increasingly apparent: 90% of companies globally are small or medium-sized enterprises, employing 70% of the world’s workforce and contributing over 50% of global GDP.

SMEs also have a more local customer base, staff and supply chain, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To create more resilient communities, SMEs need to be able to weather these changes, while we work to keep global temperature rise in check – but they need support.

What do you see as the most important opportunity to focus on in the sustainability space?

To reach net zero, we need small and medium-sized businesses to make consistent progress toward global targets. At the same time, we must not put a disproportionate burden on the businesses that have the least resources to navigate the energy transition. Governments, corporations, civil society and industry associations all need to come together to support them.

Over 80% of the SMEs we survey annually say they want to take action but need financial resources, tools for action, regulatory support and even support from their investors and customers. 61% of those surveyed told us their customers – whether corporate partners or individuals – were not asking them to reduce emissions. If corporations and governments want to meet their own climate goals, they need to bring their entire supply chain and constituents on board.  

How are you involving stakeholders in your sustainability efforts?  

We’re working with a diverse set of stakeholders to help us reach SMEs with the information they need, build out support and incentive systems, and streamline the commitments we are asking them to make or the data we are asking them to disclose. Through a partnership with the COP28 Presidency, First Abu Dhabi Bank and Masdar, we began to mobilize SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa and created a version of the SME Climate Hub digital platform in Arabic. We’ve also expanded our footprint in the UK and US and launched recruitment campaigns and regionalized programs in Latin America, the Caribbean and India.  

When engaging corporations in the mobilization of their supply and value chains, we’ve seen increasing progress. Last year, we launched a partnership with IKEA’s largest retailer, Ingka Group, to share the SME Climate Hub resources with its SME customers. And we’re working with multinational corporations and the finance industry to boost access to incentives that support SMEs’ low-carbon transition. 

How are you fostering innovation in sustainability?  

We’re already seeing thousands of companies taking climate action because they know it’s critical to protect their bottom lines. With the right resources to take climate action, SMEs can reduce costs from long-term climate impacts, improve efficiency and create a healthier environment for their operations and communities. Businesses are also realizing more and more that customers, investors and governments are now looking for companies that have a lower environmental footprint.  

Key to supporting SMEs in their decarbonizing efforts is innovative financing, and we are also working with financial institutions to develop tools such as preferential loans and terms for SMEs that are taking climate action. 

In what areas do you see other sustainability-related opportunities?  

The SME Climate Hub and the We Mean Business Coalition are working with more corporations around the world to mobilize even their smallest suppliers toward climate action, including a supplier cascade campaign calling on corporations to help their suppliers reduce emissions. In addition to providing free tools and resources, we work with large corporations to incentivize their smaller suppliers. This can mean beneficial contracts for companies that are taking action or procurement requirements prioritizing businesses that are targeting emissions reductions.  

Companies and governments are increasingly calling for a phase out of fossil fuels. We recently worked with Netflix to create our Action Courses, which offer guidance for EV adoption within the film and television production sector – an approach we’re planning to replicate in other industries. By moving toward clean energy solutions across businesses of all sizes and fostering essential collaborations in supply chains, we can drive larger change throughout entire systems and industries.  
Related-Insights

23 JUL 2024

Abu Dhabi's economic growth: how ADDED is building a diversifying and sustainable future

By His Excellency Rashed Abdulkarim Al Blooshi, Undersecretary, Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development

Today, Abu Dhabi is undergoing an economic transformation, with the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) driving forward a vision that will future-proof the Emirate for generations to come. Charting a course toward a more sustainable future, Abu Dhabi is leveraging its advanced infrastructure and seamless synergy between government entities and the private sector. ADDED is relentlessly working to enhance economic diversification and build sustainable growth in a way that ensures Abu Dhabi’s economy benefits all who live and work across the Emirate. 

Abu Dhabi’s visionary leadership has long acknowledged the need to diversify its economy, shift to a knowledge-based one, and build a truly sustainable future. The Emirate’s multi-faceted approach is nurturing key growth sectors, investing in emerging tools and technologies and fostering innovation across the entire economic ecosystem. 

A diversified economy and renewable energy

Renewable energy is a critical component of a sustainable future and one of ADDED’s key areas of focus. ADDED supports research and development in this field, attracting investments and encouraging the growth of clean energy companies. Similarly, it recognizes the importance of advanced technologies as a driver of economic growth. By fostering a tech-friendly ecosystem, ADDED is attracting and retaining skilled professionals, positioning Abu Dhabi as a hub for innovation. 

ADDED has collaborated with several local and international partners to extend the Emirate’s sustainability efforts further. This significant shift toward a non-oil economy is the key contributor to the Emirate’s economy, and today the non-oil sectors comprise almost 54% of Abu Dhabi’s GDP.

A circular economy

At the heart of ADDED's sustainability strategy lies the circular economy concept, which it has introduced through a comprehensive framework for the industrial sector. This framework will significantly reduce industrial waste and promote responsible resource utilization. The industrial circular economy policy framework sets ambitious targets, including a 50% reduction in industrial process waste, equivalent to at least 40,000 tonnes annually. It will encompass key sectors, ensuring 100% compliance by 2030, with the plastic manufacturing sector achieving 100% compliance by 2025. This transition benefits the environment and opens avenues for cost reduction and enhanced efficiency within businesses.

A vibrant SME scene

To ensure a balanced, inclusive and sustainable business ecosystem, ADDED fosters an entrepreneurial environment that enables the development of innovative solutions particularly those focused on environmental sustainability and social impact. This is achieved through incubators and accelerators that provide support and resources to startups in strategic sectors, while prioritizing those that address environmental challenges, promote resource efficiency and contribute to the Emirate’s circular economy. SMEs comprise over 90% of businesses in Abu Dhabi, employing more than 46% of the workforce and contributing more than 42% to Abu Dhabi’s non-oil GDP, which further underscores the Emirate’s nurturing business environment and strong support for SMEs. 

Smart and sustainable transportation

Led by ADDED, Abu Dhabi has been heavily involved in transforming the transportation sector by adding smarter and more sustainable means of transportation. In Q2 2024, ADDED announced investment opportunities worth AED11 billion in transportation industries, especially after the launch of the Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry (SAVI) cluster in 2023. 

It has also inked several agreements to boost the manufacturing and assembly of electric commercial vehicles (ECVs) in Abu Dhabi and enhance innovation within the Emirate’s automotive, mobility and transportation sectors. ADDED is leveraging the benefits of public-private partnerships to deliver future-proofed infrastructure, renewable energy projects and knowledge-sharing initiatives. 

Building a Sustainable Future

Abu Dhabi's economic transformation is a work in progress, but the commitment to sustainability is evident in ADDED's initiatives. It lays the groundwork for a prosperous and environmentally responsible future for the Emirate by promoting diversification, innovation, and a circular economy. 

Abu Dhabi has acknowledged that the transition to a sustainable economy requires a skilled and adaptable workforce. This is where the Golden Visa program plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining top-tier professionals and sustainability thought leaders from around the world. This visa ensures that the brightest minds are contributing to the Emirate's vision for a greener and more sustainable future, particularly those with expertise in clean technologies, renewable energy and environmental sciences. 

These experts bring with them the skills, knowledge and innovative thinking necessary to drive forward Abu Dhabi's sustainability goals, making the Golden Visa an integral part of the Emirate’s transformative journey toward a sustainable future. 

As ADDED continues its efforts, Abu Dhabi further cements its position as a regional and global leader, demonstrating that economic success and environmental responsibility can go together. 
 
Related-Insights

16 JUL 2024

Q & A: Pure Harvest CEO Sky Kurtz on sustainability as a competitive advantage and why food security is really about water

Coming from a humble background, Sky Kurtz, CEO and Co-founder of Pure Harvest Smart Farms, built a lucrative career in private equity. He then reevaluated priorities and became a serial entrepreneur, most recently pioneering sustainable agriculture in the United Arab Emirates. With a focus on innovative cultivation systems in harsh natural environments, Kurtz shares insights into the convergence of sustainability, agriculture, and the crucial role of water in securing our future.    

How does sustainability align with your strategy?  

Sustainability is foundational both to our company’s vision and to our business strategy. Pure Harvest is unique in that we are actually an energy company, taking sunlight and converting it into calories as efficiently as possible, seeking to achieve the maximum output per unit of useful photonic energy, while minimizing the capital and resources needed to do so. 

We use technology to make resource-efficient food production possible, making us more sustainable. This is something we can be proud of, and it’s a value our consumers increasingly care about. We see sustainability as a source of competitive advantage: to reduce the need for fertilizer or chemical pesticides, for example, we're using technology and renewable resources like natural predators to improve the health and quality of our food, at once benefiting the planet and our profitability. 

What do you see as the most important opportunity to focus on in the sustainability space?  

There is a tremendous focus on carbon today, and rightfully so; however, sustainability is also about food, water and waste, and carbon’s role in climate change is negatively affecting all of the above. In terms of both scale and urgency, water is the most important, and ultimately water is food, as roughly two-thirds of the world's freshwater is used in food production. 

Without enough potable water and water-efficient farming methods, we will have widespread famine and disaster. These problems aren't well understood or talked about, but I think they will become a louder and louder siren, drawing attention to ramifications for national security, food supply, trade policy and economics, and fundamentally both the quality and sustainability of life itself. 

How are you involving stakeholders in your sustainability efforts?  

We're engaging every stakeholder that will listen to drive a compelling and clear narrative on how solutions like ours can be part of the future of food. Last year, we onboarded Dr. Josef Schmidhuber as Chief Sustainability Officer, who carries a Nobel Prize for his work which helped to make climate change a household topic. He is now developing our first-ever sustainability report, to make sure we’re in line with international standards and that we can credibly demonstrate a healthy ESG record to our many stakeholders.  

Being part of the solution at the government level at home is also important to us, and we’ve done our best to support the UAE’s vision and goals for sustainability. I was part of the delegation of Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, the former UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, at COP26 where the UAE earned the privilege of hosting COP28. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve as a member of a national committee focused on the adoption of agritech for food security, promulgating solutions and shaping policies for more sustainable food production in the UAE.  

How are you fostering innovation in sustainability?

In 2016, one of our co-founders, Robert Kupstas, was working with the International Renewable Energy Agency and looking at water saving solutions for the Middle East. When he saw that we use roughly two thirds of our freshwater to farm less than 15% of our food in the GCC, he realized that to solve the water security problem, you also had to solve the food production problem. His idea was to build bridging technologies to reinvent proven, large-scale greenhouse solutions in the GCC’s challenging climates.  

Since then, we’ve continued to innovate. Currently, we’re developing AI tools that make food production more efficient by automating climate management and improving our yield forecasts– tools we plan to offer to other farmers in the future. We also innovate in ways that might seem simple at first, but have a huge potential impact. For example, in a partnership with Nadec, a large dairy producer in Saudi Arabia, we co-located our farms with a 30-megawatt solar power installation. Our collective power demand is large enough to enabIe utility-scale solar deployment. 

In what other areas do you see sustainability-related opportunities?  


Enacting new government regulations is a valuable opportunity to facilitate sustainable development – but we’re very lucky to operate in one of the most forward-thinking government environments. The European Commission’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is a great example of a regulatory innovation that reduces emissions by leveling the playing field of domestic carbon policies so local companies are not disadvantaged. 

Financial innovation is also key. Emerging markets will need tools and services to develop and trade carbon credits and provide rigorous auditing and carbon accounting, and to then support companies to sell carbon credits in global markets so they can access capital. I think these private market companies will be necessary to make possible a carbon market that will function at scale across every sector.  

There is also a lot of space for innovation in food waste, which is estimated at between 17% and 33%, globally. I think innovations in logistics and cold storage will go a long way to reduce waste, and in turn reduce the amount we need to produce. 

Finally, alternative proteins hold a lot of promise. For example, precision fermentation is a novel solution wherein microorganisms like yeast are engineered to produce specific proteins, such as those found in meat or dairy. It holds promise as an alternative protein solution due to its efficiency, sustainability, and potential to address environmental and ethical concerns associated with traditional animal agriculture. 
Related-Insights

04 JUL 2024

5 innovations helping the world adapt to climate change

Significant resources have been invested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as governments worldwide push for cleaner energy, the protection of carbon-absorbing forests and the use of cutting-edge technologies like carbon capture.

While these efforts are crucial in mitigating emissions, the scientific evidence is stark and the message clear: the impacts of climate change are now unavoidable. Record-shattering heatwaves, devastating floods and raging wildfires have become the new normal, threatening lives, infrastructure and economies globally, while increasing in intensity, frequency and duration.

Adaptation: a necessity, not a defeat

Efforts to curtail emissions remain imperative to slow the pace of global warming, but the harsh reality is that climate change is here – and it’s hitting the vulnerable hardest. Developing nations and marginalized communities, particularly in the Global South, are stranded on this battle’s frontline, often lacking the resources and infrastructure needed to cope. For them, adaptation is an absolute necessity.

Adapting to climate change is not admitting defeat; it is acknowledging this new normal and taking immediate action. Global collaboration and funding are required to build resilience to our changing climate where it is needed most. By balancing mitigation and adaptation, we can empower communities and vital ecosystems to cope with the present, while charting a better path into the future.

The good news is that a wave of innovation is providing fresh impetus to adaptation efforts.

Five-innovations-to-counter-climate-change-now
Five innovations to counter climate change now

Artificial intelligence 

AI, hailed as one of the most important technological advances of our time, is making its presence felt across sectors, and its transformational potential is already being applied to the complex challenges of the climate crisis. 

AI-driven models analyze reams of real-time data, identifying patterns that evade the human eye, translating rich information into better forecasting of severe weather. This allows for early evacuation and targeted aid, evidenced by the UN-backed IKI Project in Africa, which is using AI technology to predict weather patterns so communities and authorities across Burundi, Chad and Sudan can both prepare and adapt.

It is also helping to identify gaps in vulnerable supply chains and optimizing water management in both drought and flood-prone areas, including smart-sewer systems that avert flooding during heavy rainfall.

AI is also revolutionizing productivity, cutting time-consuming tasks like mapping the size and location of icebergs in a fraction of a second as scientists seek more precise monitoring of sea levels in polar regions. It is being used to chart detailed maps of ocean litter to bolster efficient, targeted clean-up operations.

Drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have emerged as a game-changer in disaster response and risk assessment. By providing quick, high-resolution imagery of flood-affected regions, for example, emergency services and authorities can map out the extent of flood damage, assess short-term infrastructure problems, and identify longer-term vulnerabilities. 

In the aftermath of a disaster, their flexibility allows for improved search-and-rescue as they can be deployed rapidly, equipped with cameras to spot stranded communities; and, in some instances, they have allowed rescue services to digitally map out optimized “escape” routes.

They have proved an invaluable tool in environmental monitoring, particularly in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas. In Portugal – one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries by forest fires – drones are used to assist with wildfire surveillance in high-risk, hard-to-reach areas, as well as directly combatting potential blazes by dousing them with water before they escalate beyond control.

Virtual / augmented reality

Through the digital enhancement of our surroundings, we have a powerful ally in planning and preparation. For example, VR simulations can totally immerse users in projected disaster scenarios. In a practical sense, this enables safe visualization of immediate risks and subsequent solutions. But they also take the role of a powerful and visceral educational tool about the real-world impact of climate change on vulnerable communities.

Initiatives like the World Economic Forum’s Climate Tipping Points Hub are also using these immersive environments to display the cascading nature of climate change through disappearing arctic sea ice and rising sea levels.

Nature-based-solutions

Nature-based solutions

Innovation need not be limited to technology, and nature-based solutions have been around for millennia – indeed, Indigenous peoples and local communities have harnessed the power of Earth’s ecosystems for generations

But in recent years, the term has gained more prominence and awareness as innovative initiatives have looked to effectively leverage the power of nature to address our world’s modern-day challenges. 

Take the World Wildlife Fund’s Mangroves for Community and Climate project, for example. Mangroves feature complex root systems and act as natural buffers against storm surges, flooding and erosion, while also providing habitats for wildlife and carbon storage. The initiative aims to protect and restore these crucial ecosystems, while safeguarding vulnerable coastal communities

 

Some of the most at-risk nations rely heavily on agriculture and see their livelihoods threatened by severe weather. Innovative approaches to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on food systems are constantly being developed. These include creating drought-resistant strains of rice, maize and cowpea, while researchers at the University of Sheffield have been exploring the bioengineering of rice to require less water from the outset. Additionally in this space, resilience is being developed through pikobodies, genetically engineered immune proteins that are fused with plants to provide an adaptive immune system that fights against disease and pathogens.

Circular and innovative infrastructure

Designers and developers are rethinking how our infrastructure is built to better adapt to today’s climate challenges. Solutions that encompass resilience in the face of extreme weather, in the shape of permeable pavements and roads to manage stormwater runoff during heavy rainfall and reduce the risk of flooding. Or living green roofs and walls that help mitigate the urban heat island effect and work to keep cities cooler during heatwaves.

Beyond resilience, there is a growing focus on circularity in urban design. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s work on designing circular cities emphasizes the reuse of construction and demolition materials. Urban mining programs are deployed to extract valuable materials from end-of-life products and waste, while buildings are increasingly designed with disassembly and future adaptability in mind. 

Overcoming obstacles 

These are tangible, real-life examples of adaptation in action today, offering cause for optimism. However, effectively implementing these innovations and sustaining that effort requires significant financial resources. Developing countries alone require USD 3.3 trillion between 2022 and 2035 in adaptation finance. Yet current spending levels fall short of this, with only USD 840 billion projected to flow at this level.

To bridge this gap and safeguard lives and livelihoods amid escalating climate change, political resolve, focused funding and a balanced approach to mitigation and adaptation must be realized. Cutting-edge technologies and natural ingenuity pave the way to resilience and protection for vulnerable communities. It is our collective responsibility to create a sustainable world for future generations.