What are businesses doing to operate sustainably?

July 19, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

What are businesses doing to operate sustainably?

To lead from the front in the world of tomorrow, retail companies need to authentically live and enact their sustainability principles.

So, are they operating in a manner that’s good for people and the planet while also ensuring profit. That was the central theme of the sustainability session at our recently concluded THINK! I CAN! conference.

Here’s a look at some sustainability milestones that MENA retailers have set for themselves.

Admitting being a “big fan of second-hand fashion”s ession moderator Katie Overy asked Alyssa Mariano, Co-founder & CEO, Bazaara – a peer-to-peer marketplace for second-hand fashion in the UAE – how important sustainability is for her business.

“Sustainability is one of the main reasons we started Bazaara, because the fashion industry is quite detrimental to the environment. It’s the world’s third largest polluter and second largest consumer of water supply. Now think about this – every time you buy second-hand fashion instead of new, it saves about 5.9 pounds of CO2 pollution. By enabling people to buy and sell second-hand goods instead of buying new products, we’ve saved over 10,000 pounds of CO2 pollution. So that’s a big one!”

Highlighting the multidirectional initiatives undertaken by British ethical beauty brand LUSH, Anita Baker, Managing Director MENA stated, “As a cosmetics retailer, it’s quite unique for a brand to source our own raw ingredients, blend our own perfumes and invent products in-house. Having ownership from start to finish over our products, as well as autonomy and transparency in how we present those to our customers is important. One of our biggest milestones is our ‘bring it back’ policy that incentivises customers for bringing back LUSH bottles for reusing and recycling, enabling us to take ownership for any packaging, which is anyway made from 100% recycled plastic.”

Razan Akrouk, Vice President – Brand, Culture & Sustainability for UAE-based diversified business GMG also shared some crucial highlights of the company’s sustainability journey. “We’ve installed massive solar power panel infrastructure in our warehouses, our mega distribution centre. We’ve also installed water management systems which saves 10,000 tonnes of water per day in our factories and warehouses. Every sustainability centric effort is a cost to the business and at GMG we’ve accepted that investment because we truly believe in the commitment to sustainability. Also, I think, if we genuinely believe that ESG is about business longevity, we’ll do it with intent.”

Adding another layer and moving over to the food industry, Overy asked why ethically sourced organic food is more expensive.

“That’s been the case for years now because the demand, or rather the supply, hasn’t been able to meet the potential demand of such products,” admitted Rajiv Warrier, CEO – GCC, Choithrams. “But it’s also true that consumers are becoming more and more conscious about what they consume, organic, free-range food, ethically sourced meat etc, and for this cohort the price point doesn’t matter as much. As this section of consumers scale up, supply and local sourcing increase, the pricing bit will change.”

The big question still is how many people truly understand the concept of ESG and aligned commitments.

“I think ESG is a key pillar that we should be talking about, moving away from only sustainability that on its own may not be as much effective,” observed Naim Maadad, Founder & Chief Executive, Gates Hospitality. “We all must look at the wide spectrum of ESG – source, implications, implementation and the outcome – which is governed by education and that must start from a young age among families, neighbourhoods and ultimately businesses to make a real and sustainable difference. It’s an evolving journey that we all should be contributing towards, and we need stricter governance along with cost-effective options to operate sustainably and create truly circular economy.”

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