Former Unilever Chief: Pre-COVID Return is Not an Option

26 OCT 2020

Failure to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic would be a “tragedy” and have catastrophic consequences for humanity, Paul Polman, former chief executive of Unilever, and a long-term campaigner for sustainable business practices, said during the first-ever ADSW Web Series this month. 

“COVID has shown that we cannot have healthy people on an unhealthy planet,” Polman said on the online seminar. COVID-19 has demonstrated the dangers of encroaching on the environment and threatening biodiversity through “the mixing of our wild life increasingly with our human life,” which has caused a series of health incidents, culminating in the pandemic, he said.

Polman, co-founder and Chair of IMAGINE, a for-benefit company and foundation that mobilizes business leaders around the UN Global Goals, was speaking on the inaugural ADSW Web Series, a year-round platform dedicated to continuing the dialogue around sustainability.. Hosted by Masdar, the ADSW Web Series discusses critical, relevant topics key to accelerating the world’s sustainable development and delivering a green recovery. 

The global response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis had failed to adequately address climate change issues, with less than 3 percent of total investment going on greening economies, Polman argued.

“We missed a huge opportunity: a lot of money was spent to keep the banks afloat but people felt that banks were too big to fail and that people were too small to matter,” he said. 

In the wake of COVID-19, “to simply go back to where we came from is not an option” as life pre-pandemic “wasn’t working,” Polman told the online audience. “Mother Nature is sending us the invoices,” he stated. 

“The biggest risk I see right now” is for governments to declare they have already spent too much money on tackling COVID-19 issues, and can’t afford to address climate change, he said. Failure to raise capital flows into green markets would be a tragedy, Polman declared, adding that “the cost of acting is significantly lower than the cost of not acting.” 

In his decade as CEO at Unilever, Polman oversaw the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, with the company championing brands that support positive change for people and the planet. In 2018, Unilever said its 28 Sustainable Living brands grew 69 percent faster than the rest of its brands, while delivering 75 percent of the company’s overall growth. 

Total shareholder returns over his tenure was almost 300 percent, Polman said, “well above the market” but the company hadn’t prioritized this, he added, but had focused on other measures. 

Businesses need to be aware that there are enormous costs of not being in balance with the planet, Polman said. “Business depends on nature for many of its activities – in fact nature provides around US$125 trillion of services, but we don’t pay for it, we don’t value it, we destroy nature, these costs are coming back in the business,” he declared. 


27 JUL 2020

COVID-19 pandemic hampering efforts to prevent biodiversity loss

While global measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have temporarily reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, they have also hampered efforts to prevent biodiversity loss, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak said this month. Recovery plans must not only facilitate an economic rebound, they must also deliver a biodiversity stimulus, she said at a company event. 

Recent data from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi indicates nitrogen dioxide levels are down 50 percent on their seasonal average, following restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, with similar reductions seen across North America, Europe and Asia. Reduced human and vehicle movement is also allowing some animals to roam more freely – in Abu Dhabi, mountain gazelle have been spotted close to the golf course on Saadiyat Island, while an increase in sea turtle activity has been reported along the mainland coasts. 

While the reduction in emissions demonstrates that it is possible to take positive action against climate change, Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, told Masdar employees that “what is interesting, especially in my line of work, is what happens to nature – is there enough investment in nature protection? To be honest, there isn’t.

“What the science actually shows is that nature is not rebounding as quickly as perhaps emissions are [abating]. We may have more time to visibly notice nature, we can hear more birds in our backyard because we don’t hear the traffic as much perhaps. But the numbers in terms of biodiversity are still going down,” she said.  

A survey of organizations that have received grants from the fund indicates 40 percent have been negatively affected during this period, Al Mubarak said, and “we anticipate a continuous reduction in funding going toward biodiversity.” 

While environmental tourism, zoo visit, safaris and other activities that support biodiversity funding have been halted, “the threat to species and their habitats has not stopped and in fact has increased” as millions of people lose jobs and return to rural communities where they will look to nature for sustenance. 

With an estimated 1.6 million viruses existing today in the natural world, this encroachment could lead to more pandemics, Al Mubarak warned. “With these pathogens in wildlife, when we essentially go into their habitats due to a demand in our products, palm oil, agriculture, mining and so forth, we are mixing with wildlife, we are putting wildlife where they don’t belong and that’s where you have these diseases. In order to protect our own health, one must protect the health of welfare and habitats.”


26 OCT 2020

10 key facts about Africa Industrialization Day

Africa is the second most-populated continent in the world; home to over 1.2 billion people (16 percent of the world’s population), and this number is expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050. 
Despite this, Africa currently only accounts for less than 2 percent of international trade and global manufacturing.

Africa’s economic emergence, and transition, from a continent of low-income into middle-income economies, requires transforming the economic structure from predominantly agrarian and extractive activities to more vibrant and value-adding industrial sectors like processing, manufacturing, tourism, etc.

In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly, in 1989, proclaimed 20 November “Africa Industrialization Day,” within the framework of the Second Industrial Development Decade for Africa (1991-2000), 

Since then, the United Nations System has held events on that day throughout the world to raise awareness about the importance of Africa’s industrialization and the challenges faced by the continent.
In 2008, the African Union adopted an "Action Plan for Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa," collaborating with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

In 2015, African countries signed up to two important development agendas: the global 2030 Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to leave no one behind as countries develop, and Agenda 2063 of the African Union, which sets out a blueprint for "the Africa we want."

The important contribution of inclusive and sustainable industrial development in helping Africa overcome its critical development challenges is clearly recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development within Sustainable Development Goal 9 (SDG9), calling to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. 

The importance of inclusive and sustainable industrial development is also recognized under Agenda 2063, encompassed in Aspiration 1 of the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan, under "a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development."

In 2018, 44 member States of the African Union signed the Agreement Establishing an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), thus creating a single African market for goods and services.


26 OCT 2020

Sustainability is the best investment

Why waste-to-energy will revolutionise both our waste management and alternative energy strategies?

One thing that has always made me proud of the UAE is that we view problems as opportunities. This positive approach has helped our nation develop, innovate and diversify – and I believe it is the perfect description for waste to energy technologies.  

Before we talk about its role as a solution to our waste management and alternative energy requirements, we should outline the scale of the challenge in front of us. Across the world, population growth, increased urbanisation and accelerated economic activities have led to high waste generation rates. This is of particular significance in the UAE where residents produce between 1.2kg to 1.3kg of waste daily, with 77 percent of that refuse being sent to landfills. 

Tackling this issue is a key part of the UAE Vision 2021, which seeks to divert 75 percent of solid waste away from landfills by 2021. Mindful of the global shift towards renewables, our nation has also set a clean energy target of 27 percent; a commitment that is underscored in the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 goal, which seeks to double the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix and reduce the carbon footprint of its power generation processes by 70 percent.
Turning waste into opportunity

Waste-to-energy is a waste management solution and an alternative energy source that will contribute greatly to these admirable objectives. It was perhaps inevitable that Bee’ah would enter this space. Our company was founded in 2007 as a pioneering force for sustainable solutions in the Middle East, with a strategy rooted in the twin pillars of sustainability and digitalisation. Through a holistic approach towards waste management and our advanced recycling facilities, Bee’ah has been able to achieve a 76 percent waste diversion from landfill rate in the Emirate of Sharjah. But to reach our goal of zero waste to landfills, we recognised that we needed to a strategy for nonrecyclable waste. 

To this end, we partnered with Masdar in 2017 to form the Emirates Waste to Energy Company (EWTE). The joint venture leverages synergies from both entities, with Bee’ah as the UAE leader in waste management and Masdar as the UAE pioneer for renewable energy. 

We are nearing the completion of the EWTE’s first plant, the Sharjah Waste to Energy Facility, which will be the first in the UAE. Located within Bee’ah’s Waste Management Complex in Sharjah, the facility spans an area of 80,000 sqm, and meets the strictest European Union environmental standards to ensure that the Sharjah Waste to Energy facility is compliant, environmentally safe, and efficient. 

Upon completion next year, the plant will process 300,000 tonnes of nonrecyclable solid waste per year, at a rate of 37.5 tonnes per hour. In doing so, it will displace almost 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and generate up to 30 megawatts of energy, which will be supplied to the Sharjah electricity grid to power up to 28,000 homes.
Regional potential

With these benefits in mind, the immense potential of the Sharjah Waste to Energy facility can be easily replicated across the wider region. The problems of waste generation, overfilled landfills and lack of awareness around recycling are found across the region, and our proven waste management track record in the UAE is gaining wider attention. 

To return to my opening words, nothing captures the idea of a problem turned into an opportunity more than our plan for Al Saja’a landfill in Sharjah. Once the Sharjah Waste to Energy facility opens and we reach our zero-waste target, this landfill will become redundant. Our plan is to convert the landfill, once it has been capped, into a solar energy facility that can generate over 42 megawatts of energy per year. This project will help Sharjah attain its renewable energy targets, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and help improve the quality of life for communities. 

It is the perfect example of a truth we at Bee’ah hold dear: sustainability is not a cost but rather an investment that reaps multiple dividends.

By HE Khaled Al Huraimel / Group CEO, Bee’ah