Corporate sustainability takes root but work to be done
The increasing number of sustainability initiatives in the UAE in particular is a positive sign that there is a growing awareness of the impact that we have.
But, given the rising recognition of corporate sustainability and its importance, it’s ironic that in the 2013 Sustainability Leaders Survey conducted by GlobeScan/SustainAbility, no-one could name a sustainability leader in the Middle East. This is proof that while the concept of corporate sustainability is growing in prevalence across the region, there is still not enough being done to earn recognition by the rest of the world.
What is corporate sustainability? One of the most common misconceptions is that corporate sustainability is about charity. It isn’t. Neither is it a single act. Instead, it is more of a journey. It is a business approach that involves managing opportunities and risks from economic, environmental and social developments, while creating long-term shareholder value. It is an awareness of the company’s impact on its surrounding environment and community, and a mitigation of any negative consequences of business by employing initiatives that satisfy the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
There are companies in the UAE that are increasingly becoming aware of what corporate sustainability is, and how important it is for the growth and development our community and country – as well as for the future of their own organisation. However, since 2008, only 35 UAE companies have been registered with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an international body that sets reporting precedence and standards.
Considering the vast number of companies in the UAE this is a relatively small number, and, to have more of a positive impact on the world around us, more companies must take the corporate sustainability leap. The questions that we must ask ourselves here is, why are there so few companies that have adopted official sustainability measures, and how can we encourage more to embrace corporate sustainability?
Despite the relatively low number of GRI-registered UAE companies, there are some encouraging signs for the potential of growth in the number of organisations that are adopting more sustainable practices.
According to Dubai Chamber of Commerce, 53.7 per cent of Dubai companies want to develop a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, and 23.8 per cent want to communicate their CSR initiatives externally. The problems arise, however, in the fact that there are an overwhelming number of companies claiming a lack of knowledge about CSR. Even more – 65.1 per cent in the region, according to a Bayt.com survey – are not aware of it at all.
These statistics present an opportunity for those institutions that are aware of and understand corporate sustainability. Three out of 10 companies claim to have a lack of CSR know-how and limited institution assistance, therefore it is our responsibility, as practitioners of successful corporate sustainability, to promote this concept.
As a starting point, more ways in which to raise corporate sustainability awareness must be considered. This will get the message out to the two thirds of companies across the region, including those here in the UAE, that claim not to know what it is. They will be able to see and understand how vital it is for the future of their own community, environment and company, through the use of tangible examples and case studies of close to home sustainable initiatives.
Raising awareness in this way will be beneficial for the UAE’s corporations; 29 per cent of people say that CSR enhances corporate reputation, while 10 per cent each claim it strengthens employee commitment, and improves relationships with the community and stakeholders. Not only will it prove advantageous for corporations, but, perhaps more importantly, it will benefit our community, our environment and, in the bigger picture and the long run, our nation itself.
Corporate sustainability is an achievable concept – and one that must be achieved, if we are to meet the UAE leadership’s vision of a greener economy. It encourages corporations to contribute to the development of the community, through initiatives that drive Emiratisation, support entrepreneurs, and preserve the environment. By fostering more sustainable initiatives and spreading awareness of the value that comes from embracing a more sustainable approach to business, we can raise the UAE’s profile as a sustainability leader. And maybe, in the next Sustainability Leaders Survey, one of our local companies will be named as a global example.
Updated: February 19, 2014 04:00 AM