The UAE’s first environmental NGO, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), started from a flower shop.

Talking to Khaleej Times, the group’s co-founder and chairperson Habiba Hassan Sultan Al Mar’ashi Al Hashimi, highlighted how the popular flower shop at Bur Dubai in AlBastakiya was her operational base from 1991 to 1997.

“We managed to get an office space donated to us by a famous businessperson in Abu Dhabi and I'm very grateful to him for that. That volunteering slowly started evolving, and I started enjoying it more and more. Slowly but steadily, I found myself into this and I started loving what I was doing,” said the Emirati who has spearheaded the organisation’s green goals for over three decades.

Today EEG is considered one of the Middle East's most esteemed environmental organizations. It is the first environmental NGO in the world to receive ISO 14001 certification and the only organisation of its kind in the UAE with accredited status to the United Nations Convention to Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Business administration to green champion

Narrating how it all began, Al Mar’ashi revealed she had studied business administration.

“All my life, I was into administration and HR work. I was with the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and was constantly interacting with businesspersons. That was my life. That was my career. But then you know, there's this ‘call inside you’ that you want to do more. I wanted to contribute to my country. It was a young country…a beautiful new country.”

So, with 12 like-minded people from different nationalities, a group sprung up. “That’s when I started venturing into the environmental domain, a lot of my understanding of issues and my perceptions completely changed.”

She explained how her nascent steps gradually started gaining a strong foothold. “I then started clearing my path… (I thought) What should I do to eliminate any distractions?

“Yes, I call them distractions. I ended up selling my businesses. The last thing left was my government job which I quit by the end of 2000. By 2001, I was sitting in the office full time, and a new history of EEG was written.”

Environmental challenges

Environmental challenges span from climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and land degradation to waste management. The world is looking for “consolidated solutions” to challenges that have compounded over the years.

“We don't just look at ourselves, we look at the bigger picture and the environment is about the ‘big picture’. It's about how we can ‘collectively work’ to ensure that we reap the fruits of this.”

Prepping for COP28

Transformative partnerships can inspire climate action, particularly as the nation prepares for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) later this year. She stressed the private sector's pivotal role in teaming up with NGOs to tackle environmental challenges.

“As I’ve understood (over the years), and so did my colleagues, the private sector is one of our strategic partners and stakeholders. We have to devise ways to (successfully) interact and engage with them. We have to understand and speak their language. So, when I prepare a proposal and put it in front of the private sector, I have to make the business case for it. It is not just doing it for the sake of philanthropy that will not resonate with them. Then it will not reach anywhere. They have to see that if they have put in money if they have invested, where is it going and how is it adding value to them.”

Meanwhile, in the light of upcoming climate conference, the EEG is also working with several UN agencies to roll out interesting outreach programme for schools and universities as well as mobilising communities with several clean UAE campaigns, tree planting programmes and Ted Talks, among others.

Fighting food waste

Noting that the present generation should be conscious of every carbon footprint of wasted food, she said parents must play a vital role.

They must instill in their children that reducing food waste is also about conserving all the resources involved in its production, distribution, and throughout its value chain.

“The way parents act, children follow. The adults show the way as to how we consume our resources, how we eat, and how much we eat. Why should food end up in the garbage? Earlier this was not the practice, today it’s become a norm. The youth today go to restaurants and order excessively. They eat a quarter of it and the rest is thrown away in garbage bins. We have frightening statistics from the UN agencies to show the number of children who are sleeping hungry every day. There are families that do not even have one meal a day to satisfy their requirements.

“As a UAE national, I have a responsibility to my country, and I have to contribute to its development. Each one of us has a role to play in our own sphere and in our own capacity,” she added.

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