Interview: Khaled Al Huraimel
How has Sharjah’s environmental sustainability drive evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how can it contribute to a green recovery?
KHALED AL HURAIMEL: Since 2010 Sharjah has prioritised waste management and environmental sustainability. Today these policies are evolving to include air quality, energy efficiency, health care technology, sustainable transport and digitalisation. Thanks to previously implemented policies, Bee’ah – a public-private partnership company – was able to act quickly and lead a national disinfection programme for public areas, as well as implement a remote work system across the country. Sharjah’s environmental sustainability initiatives are further supporting a green recovery. Bee’ah continued to emphasise the green agenda during the pandemic by establishing new recycling and zero-waste facilities. This trend is set to continue in the coming years. Sharjah has already achieved a 76% waste diversion rate, which is the highest in the Middle East. The Sharjah waste-to-energy plant – a joint venture by Bee’ah and Masdar through the Emirates Waste to Energy Company – will help Sharjah achieve 100% waste diversion when it becomes operational in 2021, with no waste in landfills.
To what extent has the pandemic affected sustainable environmental policies?
AL HURAIMEL: The pandemic resulted in a greater need for sustainability. Most notably, the health crisis highlighted the importance of keeping our cities clean and hygienic, and reminded us of the usefulness of the digital sector, which is now central to our professional and personal activities. The latter has proven to be essential in achieving a sustainable and circular economy. At Bee’ah, we believe that sustainability and digitalisation are the foundations of a modern economy. Outreach and public participation are key, so in 2010 we launched the Bee’ah School of Environment, a project that works with schools to develop awareness and conducts outreach programmes for societal education.
What can be done to ensure improvements in air quality do not come at the expense of industry?
AL HURAIMEL: There are seven air quality monitoring stations in Sharjah under the management of Bee’ah’s consultancy and research division. Results showed an improvement of up to 60% in air quality during the worst months of the pandemic. Transport significantly impacts air quality, and for companies such as Bee’ah with strong transport components, it will be necessary to invest in technologies that allow us to continue performing business activities while keeping the effects on the environment minimal. Making the fleet of company vehicles cleaner is essential and, as such, we are working to electrify our fleet in the short term and develop sustainable transport solutions. Towards this end, in 2018 Bee’ah launched ION, a sustainable transport company as a joint venture with UAE-based Crescent Enterprises. ION aims to establish green mobility solutions and multi-modal, inter-urban transport networks for a more sustainable quality of life.
Where do you identify opportunities for environmental management in the MENA region?
AL HURAIMEL: Opportunities are vast in the MENA region, and the key will be to replicate regionally what was successful at a local level. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are prioritising waste management, sustainability and digital transformation. Bee’ah is present in these markets, with projects in Medina and Egypt’s New Administrative Capital. Regional governments, municipalities and communities know the importance of accelerating the digital agenda to promote a sustainable environment and a circular economy. Being at the centre of these trends will inevitably bring more growth opportunities for companies.