As I set out this summer for a month traveling with my family through Africa, the Middle East and the United States for business and vacation, I wondered: Where would I find the best examples of sustainability and social impact — and lessons to bring home for businesses, brands and those of us working for a better world?
Let’s face it: Africa and the Middle East don’t usually conjure up images of “sustainability,” but quite the opposite.
We might think of impoverished, malnourished and oppressed people living in over-crowded, polluted cities, drought-stricken deserts or remote jungles — places where greedy corporations, corrupt dictators and violent warlords exploit them and natural resources.
The U.S. and other developed countries more likely would come to mind as a model for human rights, corporate responsibility and environmental conservation practices. But I was pleasantly surprised to find sustainability bright spots and takeaways in all five countries I visited on three continents: Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.
Senegal: Advancing human rights for women and girls
To address the lack of basic education at the root of most failed development projects in Senegal, American Molly Melching created the nonprofit Tostan in 1991 using a then-novel approach: educating villagers in their own national languages, such as Wolof and Pulaar, using non-traditional methods such as theater and storytelling. I knew this was something special when I first volunteered at Tostan (which means “hatching” in Wolof) for seven months in the mid-1990s.
But visiting this summer after more than 20 years, I found that Molly and her team have become the driving force behind a globally recognized movement to end the prevalent traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child or forced marriage in Senegal and five other African countries where Tostan operates, a story chronicled in the book “However Long the Night.”
To date, more than 7,400 African communities have pledged to end these practices and Senegal has outlawed FGC — sparing millions of girls and women the pain, infection birthing complications and even death that can accompany it.
How is Tostan succeeding on this complex issue where so many others have failed? Recognizing that women practice FGC out of respect for religious and cultural norms, Molly’s team didn’t judge them or even ask them to stop. Instead, they empowered women with the human rights and health knowledge that, over many years, led them to make their own brave declarations.
As Hillary Clinton put it, following her visits as first lady and later as a senator, “Tostan’s approach succeeds because of its deep respect for the people it serves.”
Takeaway: To change behavior, let the audience lead
If your brand or business wants people to take action, don’t tell them what to do. Instead, as Tostan teaches us, educate your audience in ways they like to learn and you’ll empower them to change even the most entrenched social norms.
Kenya: Reduce, reuse, recycle and respect
In the remote Masai Mara region north of the Serengeti, I found Cottar’s 1920s Safari Campreminiscent of a bygone era, but its sustainability practices and goal “to become net positive” cutting edge. Cottar’s funds a wildlife trust focused on conservation, community, culture and commerce; irrigates the onsite organic garden with recycled grey water; and is transitioning to solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy — which also seemed to include using elephant dung instead of wood as fuel for heating my shower.
Not only do they reduce and reuse, they also show great respect for the land, animals and people. Cottar’s hires and trains half its staff from surrounding communities, pays wages well above industry averages, and contributes several hundred thousand dollars a year in “land use fees” to the Masai’s regional council for daily access to the game preserve where they take guests on safari. This is even more impressive given that many safari operations in the region illegally build on protected land, exploit the Masai and leave a heavy environmental footprint.
I saw another win-win story in Nairobi, where Ocean Sole recycles thousands of flip-flops littering the beaches and waterways and turns them into hand-crafted animal figurines. This “upcycling” eco-venture is literally turning trash into treasure — creating job opportunities for locals, protecting oceans and wildlife, and educating countless souls worldwide about the threat of marine debris.
Takeaway: Be naturally resourceful
Cottar’s and Ocean Sole prove that even the smallest businesses can leverage natural resources creatively. Just as they use elephant dung and discarded flip-flops to make an impact, perhaps your company can find unconventional and untapped resources to advance your sustainability goals.
Zanzibar, Tanzania: Celebrate diversity
In Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Tanzania, I experienced a culture steeped in history and rich in ethnic diversity, yet seemingly enjoying social harmony.
As the tourism commission website notes, “Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and British have settled here at one time or another and influenced the local culture into the present fusion.” Zanzibar is both a multiracial and multicultural society, with people of many faiths and origins, where almost the entire population is of mixed races, primarily of Arab and African decent blended with local culture.
I saw this diversity on display while strolling the streets during the final evenings of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when families in their finest, multi-colored traditional attire mingled with other locals and tourists. It was also evident in our tour guide Juma, a modest Muslim of African descent who spoke not only English and Swahili but also French, Japanese and Russian.
Another man perhaps best exemplifies the celebration of Zanzibar’s diversity: its most famous native son, Freddie Mercury. The flamboyant former frontman of rock band Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Persian parents from India, and his memory is still very much alive there thanks to his childhood home that’s now a popular museum.
Takeaway: Be patient but persistent
Achieving harmony among diverse people — whether in a business, a community or even an entire country — takes time. In Zanzibar’s case, it’s taken literally centuries to become the multicultural society it is today. In America, we’re still early in the struggle to overcome racial, religious and other tensions, and we have a long road ahead.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: An embarrassment of riches
Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, is known to boast about its largesse, from having the world’s tallest skyscraper and largest mall to the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. So it’s no surprise that Dubai has an entire “sustainable city” development, enough LEED-certified buildings to make the world’s top 10 list and plans to be the “Capital of the Green Economy” by 2021 — a goal which sustainability leader John Elkington called into question in this GreenBiz article.
In my brief visit, I found that sustainability in Dubai is not only a grand ambition but also a grand conundrum. On the one hand, Dubai is indeed doing environmental sustainability right in many areas, from green buildings and solar farms to desalination and public transportation. But such development, and the society itself, isn’t entirely sustainable or socially progressive when funded by fossil fuel profits, reliant on pervasive human rights abuses of migrant laborers and steadfast in its oppression of women and homosexuals.
In Dubai I caught a glimpse of how a lot of money is a double-edged sword for sustainability: It can help realize visionary plans for sustainable living in a harsh desert climate, yet also fuel the kind grandiose ambitions that result in Dubai’s man-made islands shaped like a giant palm tree(the world’s largest, of course, with high-end homes, shops, hotels and a water park) and islands forming a map of the world. That the latter project has been abandoned due to the 2008 global financial crisis is perhaps the best reminder that our scarce resources could be best applied to saving the islands we have rather than building new ones.
Takeaway: Spend wisely to achieve the attainable
While most of us struggle with a lack of funds rather than an abundance, Dubai is a good reminder to use what we have wisely. Before putting your bets on the best or biggest sustainability accomplishments in the field, focus your scarce resources on achieving outcomes that are meaningful for your business and don’t compromise your values.
West Virginia, United States: Challenge conventional thinking
Business brought me to rural Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where I trained the team at the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (a client) to tell the story of the groundbreaking work they’re doing in land-based aquaculture, featured in the Time Magazine article “You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon.”
This story starts with the FedEx trucks that deliver salmon larvae from labs around the world to Freshwater — a collection of warehouses on a farm-like property outside town — where the team breeds fish in giant tanks (think above-ground swimming pools), embedding each with a transponder tag to track and optimize their growth based on variations such as feed type, water temperature and fish density. The operation is low impact on many levels, using fish feed made from agricultural byproducts, water that’s re-circulated from the onsite spring, fish waste that’s used as a soil-amendment for nearby farms, and slaughter techniques that are more humane than conventional methods.
The result is farmed — yes, farmed — salmon that’s surprisingly sustainable compared to alternatives, and one promising way we can help achieve the estimated doubling of world food supply that will be needed to feed the earth’s population by 2050.
Takeaway: Swim upstream
Despite the negative perception around farmed fish, Freshwater leaned into this space and found a way to do it better. So, don’t be deterred from taking on the most sticky, unsolved sustainability challenges. Swimming against the current may be more risky, but it also can set you apart as the biggest fish in your pond.
Dubai-based Emirates Insolaire will supply about 12,000 solar glass panels to the Copenhagen International School in Denmark, boosting the facility’s production of clean electricity.
Emirates Insolaire produces and distributes colored solar glass and colored PV modules using what is called Kromatix technology. This technology allows solar PV to be integrated into the architectural design of all types of buildings, opening opportunities in terms for building aesthetics coupled with enhanced energy savings.
The company indicates it is expecting sales of 50,000 square meters of solar panels and 10,000 pieces of colored PV modules during 2016. The reason? This particular colored glass can enhance the effectiveness of solar panel.
“KromatixTM patented technology provides colored solar glass for both photovoltaic and thermal solar panels. The KromatixTM technology has been developed in close collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [EPFL] and offers the only attractive alternative to the black and dark blue panels, without compromising on the performance, efficiency or architectural designs”
Construction for the school is now underway, with work expected to be completed in June. This project follows a memorandum of understanding signed between UAE and Denmark to boost cooperation in the fields of renewable energy and sustainability.
The solar glass system should produce about 300 MW/h per year, a total which is more than half of the school’s annual electricity consumption
In January this year, Emirates Insolaire presented its Kromatix colored solar panels and photovoltaic modules at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi. According to the manufacturer, Kromatix modules are capable of generating 170 to 190 watt per square meter for roof or 110 to 130 watt per square meter for facades.
Last year, Emirates Insolaire completed three colored solar installations:
- 12 kW project on the façade of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s (EPFL’s) ELL building in Lausanne, Switzerland
- 24 kW BIPV system in Basel, Switzerland
- Solar thermal project in Satteins, Austria
Speaking with pv magazine, Rafic Hanbali said the completed projects demonstrate the advantages of the Emirates Insolaire’s BIPV solutions, such as less demand on horizontal required space.
“The same installed power would have required, if installed only on the ground or on a roof, an area 3 to 4 times larger,” said Hanbali. “This is, in addition to aesthetics, [demonstrates] the considerable advantage of our technology for the cities, which cannot offer enough ground and roof areas for their energy needs.”
She has been given a task to strengthen the tourism and cultural relationship between Nigeria and Dubai, United Arab Emirates since joining Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) mid last year, today, the hard-working Nigerian, Ms. Stella Obinwa, has thrown all her energy into the job.
As the Regional Director – Africa, she is currently in Nigeria to create awareness about the 2016 Dubai shopping festival to the world, particularly to those who love shopping, entertainment and family fun. In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, Ms. Obinwa says Dubai is ready and willing to receive the high influx of Nigerians and foreigners set to grace the festival and also to experience the best tourism and hospitality treatment. Here is an excerpt:
ON what Dubai tourism is offering Nigerians
Nigerians love visiting and shopping in Dubai. Nigeria has a huge population of about 170 million people; however, the traffic from Nigeria to Dubai is less than 300,000 people and it is typically the same set of people. What Dubai tourism is trying to do is to expand that market to enable more Nigerians to experience Dubai. We want to extend that experience to others.
In August, Dubai Tourism started with the consumer market for entertainment in Port Harcourt where we identified random winners to go to Dubai for a music concert that was being hosted by African artists through a raffle draw. In January next year, we are taking consumers who are interested in shopping, about 200 of them to Dubai for the shopping festival. Also, in subsequent months we will take our consumers who are interested in education, consumers from the media, and consumers from different business segments to Dubai to experience the potentials of the emirate. Dubai has something for everybody regardless of your career paths, your gender and your status in life. We feel if we showcase the city to you, you will come to Dubai.
On the Dubai shopping festival
First launched in 1996, Dubai Shopping Festival has grown to become one of the largest shopping, fashion and entertainment extravaganzas in the world, with exciting activities such as musical concerts, sports shows and fashion displays. What we have discovered is that Africans come to Dubai, but not many are aware that in certain month of the year, there is the Dubai shopping festival; where all the retailers are mandated by the government to run discount programmes as much as 70% on regularly priced items. So, we want Africans to experience the shopping festivals and then become regulars.
As a demonstration of our commitment, Dubai tourism will pay for 200 Nigerians to come for the 2016 Dubai shopping festival. Tagged the “Dubai Shopping Festival Give away” promotion, Dubai Tourism plans to reward Nigerians who are keen travellers with thrilling shopping experiences in Dubai. Over the past decade, Dubai has developed into a leading shopping destination offering visitors a wealth of unique experiences and opportunities.
The package includes flights, tickets to some of Dubai Shopping Festival’s events, hotel accommodation and visa application – all paid for by Dubai Tourism. The festival is not all about just shopping, but includes musical experience; gastronomy experience and much more. Even if you don’t want to shop there is so much more to do as we have planned programmes for a holistic experience of Dubai.
On the market segment
Dubai tourism Board is segmented by market, because what appeals to the European market might not appeal to the African market. So we are charged to define what appeals to our market and then work with the local operators to create those contents.
So, for Africans coming to Dubai, they can experience fine African cuisines in African restaurants now opened in Dubai after shopping. More so, we have designed other activities that specifically address the needs of Africans that we will highlight in the media so that they can experience Dubai from different perspective.
Eventually, there will be Dubai tourism Africa page online for intending travellers to Dubai to source for information on the array of opportunities they can explore while in Dubai.
On the cuisine
Every cuisine is represented in Dubai. The African cuisine was a little bit weak, but I can tell you that in the last three months it has become so strong, especially with the opening of a new African restaurant.
Now, any time Nigerians come into Dubai, they can experience it. For instance, where ever I travel to, by the second day, I must look for a place to eat Nigerian meals.
Collaboration with travels and tour operators
Dubai tourism does not own any product; we don’t own an airline, hotel or ground transportation. We work with the local tour operators in both countries to enable them travel.
Here in Africa statistics shows that 95% of travel, is booked through the travel agents; that means if you want to enable Africans to travel to Dubai, you must have a relationship with the travel agents.
Part of our agenda is to establish such relationships as we are going to be working closely with National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and it is not exclusive.
We are going to work with any travel agency that needs help in improving their businesses; tour operators who will help in increasing traffic to Dubai are welcome on our platform. We are bringing travel agents from Dubai to come and meet their counter parts here so that they can develop that relationship on their own.
Rating of tourism in Africa and Nigeria
Frankly, we are all in different developmental stages; it is a journey that is heading somewhere. It does not matter who gets there first, but we are going to get there. Is Africa a little bit behind? Yes. But that has to be understood because we have been focusing on other things. As we take care of the infrastructure, our tourism will grow because Africa’s countries have so much heritage and history to offer the rest of the world.
In a bizarre yet not wholly unexpected move, Dubai announced plans to build a record-breaking 1.2-kilometer ski run, complete with artificial snow, in the middle of the scorching desert. The world’s longest indoor ski slope will be housed in Meydan One, a sprawling mixed-use development to include The Dubai One, the world’s tallest residential tower at 711 meters; a giant shopping center with over 300 restaurants and cafes; a 350-room hotel; 100-berth marina; a 300-meter-long beach; and the world’s largest dancing fountain with water jets that reach an incredible 420 meters in height. The project is estimated to cost $6.8 billion and will extend from the Meydan racecourse to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
The 3.67-million-square-meter Meydan One won’t be home to Dubai’s first indoor ski resort, though it will beat the old record by three times. The extravagant desert city nabbed the Guinness World Record for the longest indoor ski slope in 2005 with a 400-meter slope built inside the Mall of the Emirates. Both the Mall of Emirates indoor ski resort and the Meydan One ski resort will be open year-round despite summer temperatures in Dubai that can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once complete, the Meydan One will become home to nearly 80,000 residents. In addition to the record-breaking ski slope, the complex will include a Meydan sporting arena at the base of the ski slope and a 25,000-square-meter indoor multi-purpose sports facility that will accommodate nearly every sport imaginable, from tennis to mixed martial arts.
“In a city that never stops innovating, today’s announcement is significant for the future of Dubai and the UAE. We have committed to developing a multi-use destination, which goes beyond expectations and will cater to every kind of person living and working here, as well as those who travel from around the world to visit,” said Meydan Chairman Saeed Humaid Al Tayer. The first phase of the development is slated for completion before 2020 just as Dubai prepares to host the World Expo 2020.
Read more: Dubai is building the world’s longest indoor ski slope – in the desert | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building
The United Arab Emirates likes to be first when it comes to amazing feats of construction and technology, and architecture in Dubai is constantly pushing the envelope. The world’s tallest building already towers over Dubai’s skyline, and now the city is planning to build the world’s first fully 3D-printed office building. It’s a cool, space-age structure that will save a bundle on construction costs and material waste.
The office building will take just a matter of weeks to construct. The overall structure won’t be that big in terms of scale, covering just 2,000 square feet (186 square meters), but it’ll be huge for the 3D-printing history. The building will be the world’s first fully-functional 3D-printed office building, and will serve as operations headquarters for the recently opened Museum of the Future, which is located nearby the building site and also features 3D-printed components. The office building will be printed one layer at a time by a 20-foot-tall 3D printer, and then assembled onsite. What’s more, all of the furniture, fixtures, detailing, and structural components will also be 3D-printed, making this endeavor the most ambitious 3D-printing project in architectural history.
The project represents the combined efforts of Dubai and WinSun Global – a joint venture between Chinese 3D-printing technology firm WinSun and international investors; leading global architecture and engineering firms Gensler, Thornton Thomasetti, and Syska Hennessy are also involved in the delicate process of making 3D-printed architecture history.
Related: The World’s first floating private islands get the green light in Dubai
Although 3D-printed building technology is still somewhat new, many in the industry are looking to 3D printing to speed up construction times, lower costs, and reduce material waste. Production times can be cut by as much as 50 to 70 percent, while 3D printing can reduce labor costs by 50 to 80 percent, according to experts. These techniques can also eliminate up to 60 percent of construction waste, making 3D printing a viable environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional building methods.
Planners haven’t announced when the 3D-printed office building will be constructed, but since the whole process will only take a few weeks, we hope to hear it will happen soon. Check back for updates, as we’ll definitely be watching this historic project closely and curiously.