By Marcos Bish, managing director of Summertown Interiors
Since Dubai pledged to make Expo 2020 the first sustainable expo, the UAE’s sustainable development agenda has been thrust into the global spotlight. The UAE Government through its 2021 Vision and 2030 Green Agenda has made very clear its intention to become a successful model of a sustainable economy and has put in place some ambitious targets to make this vision a reality.
Various initiatives have been undertaken to achieve sustainable development in the region, especially in Dubai. In 2016, the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence released its first State of Sustainability Report - a clear sign of the country’s commitment to its adoption of goals as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At Summertown, we recognise the challenging business landscape in the UAE and are pleased to have achieved positive 2017/2018 financial results that have been reported in the third edition of our Sustainability Report. Our turnover was 9% above our 5-year average with 79% of business attributable to new clients.
Key to our progression is our ever-evolving sustainability strategy. Within the company we embed sustainability practices in our entire business because it delivers environmental, financial and social value and benefits – and it is the right thing to do. We believe that as sustainability awareness and regulation increases in the UAE, businesses will realise these benefits and demand will continue to grow.
As part of our commitment to reducing our environmental impact, this year we have further reduced our office impacts for water, energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions per employee, and significantly reduced the volume of waste being sent to landfill by 32%. A key activity in 2017 was a third-party assessment of our working practices, labour standards and wellbeing of our on-site workers, conducted as part of our work with a leading global client on their new workplace, which resulted in the implementation of our new employee codes and standards.
The method Summertown Interiors uses to spread its green message is through sustainable reporting. In 2016, the company reached a key milestone in our sustainability journey with the release of our own Sustainability Report prepared in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Promisingly, a year later the second edition of the report recorded significant reductions in water, energy and waste consumption compared to the previous year’s achievements.
A sustainability report is published by a company to highlight its economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its everyday activities. It also presents an organisation's values and governance model, and demonstrates the link between its strategy and its commitment to a sustainable global economy. Sustainability reporting can help organisations measure, understand and communicate their economic, environmental, social and governance performance, and then set goals, and manage change more effectively.
In the UAE, it is our view is that companies are steadily recognising the importance of a comprehensive sustainability strategy that includes goals and externally assured performance data. According to a survey conducted by KPMG’s Corporate Responsibility Reporting in 2017 – 44 of the UAE’s top 100 companies have reported on their sustainability performance, compared to 36 in 2016.
Promisingly, in 2017 the Arabia CSR Network held a GRI training course titled ‘GRI Standards for Sustainability Reporting’ in Dubai to help organisations align their business practices with long-term global sustainability goals. The training comes amid a rollout of sustainability initiatives across the Middle East as regional governments look to boost their sustainability credentials.
The UAE Government has highlighted several short-term and long-term sustainability goals by developing national frameworks and guidelines for public and private institutions aimed at encouraging better environmental and sustainability performance. Proactive participation by the Government has allowed for a growing awareness that social well-being and a clean environment carry an importance alongside economic growth.
The markets’ desire for transparency is also increasing. At Summertown, our mission as it has always been, is to deliver quality interior fit outs that create inspiring workplaces and help our clients achieve their sustainability goals. Of the projects we undertook in the past 12 months, 21% met either regional sustainability criteria or have been LEED certified. In all cases, even when LEED or other sustainability certification is not requested by the client, we apply the same underlying environmental principles.
Looking ahead, our focus for 2018 will include defining our next generation of sustainability targets. This includes the adoption of WELL Building Standard to the UAE, which is the first standard to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of the people in buildings. We believe this standard works harmoniously with existing standards, such as LEED. We will be building our knowledge on the standard in 2018 to enable us to gain WELL certification for our office in 2019-20 financial year.