DUBAI // In the depths of a global downturn, companies could perhaps be forgiven for slashing their contributions to charity and environmental projects as they tighten their belts. However, for some companies, the recession is helping to persuade executives that being green and ethical makes better business sense than ever.
Last year, the Emirates Environmental Group held the first Arabia Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Awards, designed to promote environmentalism and ethical behaviour among firms in the region. This year's awards take place in October and Habiba al Marashi, the EEG chairwoman, said there had been significantly more applications than by the same stage last year. "It's very refreshing," she said. "We thought that in the downturn environmentalism would be the lowest thing on companies' agendas, but in fact it is the other way round. Firms are taking advantage of the downturn to really look at how they operate and put their house in order.
"A company that cares for its employees and gives them training will get more loyal and productive people. A company that thinks about saving energy will save money as well, and an ethical company that does not employ children, does not pollute and adds value to the community will have a better public image than one that does those things." Marwan Armin Salem is the managing partner at Al Marzouqi Bin Salem Fire Fighting Coatings, a firm with bases in Abu Dhabi and Dubai that won last year's Arabia CSR award in the small business category.
He said the firm had not only used technological innovation to find more efficient, less polluting ways of working, but that treating its employees properly and working to international safety and environmental standards had improved its image. "We try to be very transparent, posting our health and safety reports on our website and making sure the proper procedures are followed, and there is a big benefit to it.
"We might spend more on making sure health and safety procedures are followed correctly, but it reduces our costs because we do not have people getting injured. "It impresses clients - if they see that we follow international standards and another company does not, they are likely to give their business to us." Wafa Tarnowska, the regional CSR manager at DLA Piper, an international law firm, said it was more important than ever to make staff and consumers feel positive about the company.
"In times of crisis it's good for employees to feel engaged in something greater than themselves. "Part of CSR is about encouraging employees to use their time and skills for public service. In our firm, for example, we have 80 lawyers working on legislation to protect the rainforest. "Consumers think about ethical issues and do make choices because of them. "If you are doing something against the environment or human rights, consumers will not stand for it, and I think even in hard times they might pay a little bit more money for a product that they know is produced ethically."