The path towards a sustainable future in the Middle East

Celine Chami
Apr 11, 2022

This article is available in Arabic.

The Middle East presents a solid and favourable environment for companies to shift towards corporate sustainability. In fact, countries in the Arabian Gulf have set clear 2030 visions that allow organisations to operate within a well-defined framework. While each country has defined its own vision, many have common goals in place, mainly revolving around:

  • Human development
  • Social justice
  • Economic development
  • Environment preservation

“Sustainability is on the agenda of many executives today because there is now evidence that there is a link between financial performance and sustainability performance, explains Professor Paolo Taticchi, OMRI – UCL School of Management.

There is a real business case for companies to engage more with sustainability to make sure that on the one side they perform better financially, but on the other side, they also have a positive impact on the environment and society, Professor Taticchi continues.

“The Middle East understands this, and today a lot of local governments are pushing organisations to demonstrate ESG thinking. While in the past many countries in the regions focused on attracting FDIs — no matter what — now the attention is shifting towards attracting “good” FDIs — organisations committed to creating shared value which is a win-win for both shareholders, and a plurality of stakeholders such as local governments and communities. Indeed, climate action is a priority for the region,” states Professor Taticchi.

Whilst the shift towards a full corporate sustainability paradigm cannot be done overnight, and is an ongoing process, here’s a guide of practical steps companies can do to facilitate the shift.

Diversify your workforce

Have a look at your workforce; is it diverse? Is there a good percentage of women? Are you employing people of different genders, ethnicities and cultures?

A diverse workforce harbours more productivity and growth as it is the base of a wealth of ideas and processes. Moreover, diversifying your workforce improves your cultural awareness – hence you will be more sensitive to cultural differences in global marketplaces.

If your workforce looks too uniform, you might want to consider reviewing your recruiting policies and processes to become more inclusive. This is easier to implement in a region like the Middle East, a region that constantly attracts global talent.

Close the pay gap

How are you faring on the pay gap? Did you close it already or are you on the way with effective measures? That’s another area to look into, as not only will it give employees a better sense of belonging, but it will also lead to a better social justice, when all your employees are fairly rewarded based on their performance, and regardless of gender, culture or ethnicity.

If you notice the pay gap is still high, you might want to improve on the workplace unconscious gender bias and work towards achieving a fairer workplace.

Support the development of employees

The development of your employees goes beyond the workplace. While it is good to keep honing their professional skills, this is no longer sufficient, and needs to be backed by proper support on every level.

A good work-life balance is essential for the wellbeing of your employees, where they can spend time with their families, do things and hobbies they love, be able to lead an active life, etc. Supporting this lifestyle means that you are positively contributing to the wellbeing of your employees, by providing them with growth and fulfilment opportunities at work and in their personal life.

If you feel a disconnection between you and your employees, research what measures you can implement to bridge that gap. Propose a flexible work schedule. Fund their education. Or maybe encourage them to take days off. This will only reflect positively on the company as it will boost productivity and increase loyalty and retention.

Establish a code of ethics

One way to get closer to achieving corporate sustainability is to make sure your whole supply chain is ethical and in line with your own sustainability goals. This doesn’t begin or end with you. It has to start at the source, so research your suppliers and explore how sustainable they are as well. Review your product sources and renegotiate if necessary. While this may be a long process to implement, you can research suppliers that are actively working on their own corporate sustainability paradigms.

Moreover, establish your own code of ethics vis à vis all your stakeholders. Build on your values so that your employees and all related third parties you deal with, are aware of what to expect and according to what they will be held accountable.

Be involved with local and national communities

Review your social involvement – do you have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy in place? Are you being active on this front?

Being involved with communities is very rewarding in every aspect. Not only will it allow you to give back to the community, but it also establishes brand credibility among consumers. Moreover, CSR efforts are key to have your employees and management involved in altruistic activities that aim at enhancing local communities.

This translates into a sense of better social justice, where teams, employees and communities thrive and prosper beyond the mere professional journey.

Manage environmental impact

Where do you stand on using alternative energies, or on water conservation? Do you have a policy of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle in your organisation?

Managing your environmental impact and more importantly, reducing it, can start with simple actions like a more efficient use of energy, or a well-established Reduce-Reuse-Recycle policy. It can evolve into more complex (but still feasible) actions, like near sourcing, or going fully on alternative energy.

Dubai, for instance has installed the world’s largest solar power site, with the aim of becoming the lowest carbon footprint in the world by 2050. They’re also making rooftop solar mandatory for all buildings by 2030 . This means that businesses in Dubai are already moving towards cleaner energy, and the same is being implemented across all Arabian Gulf countries.

If you’re not ready yet to go fully on green energy, start with simpler steps that will allow you to reduce your carbon footprint.

Build a culture of sustainability

Last but not least, it is important to understand that sustainability is not only achieved through tactical actions, but has to become a full mindset at the individual level, and a complete culture within the organisation.

This is why it is necessary to focus efforts on building that culture, where HR has an essential role in providing employees with proper trainings on sustainability, cultural diversity, unconscious bias, etc.

By achieving this, your organisation will be ready to embrace corporate sustainability through every step of the way, and your employees will know they’re contributing with purpose.

How does the above embed in a more global, strategic vision of the Middle East? Read our article on “Achieving corporate sustainability in the Middle East” here.

Celine Chami

Marketing and communications consultant

Celine is a brand expert and university lecturer with over 20 years of experience. As well as working and training hundreds of companies in the MEA region, she is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Human Resources.