Interview with Co-founders of Envirotectors

Sam Safwat and Ziad Sharaf began this startup

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. City skyline Cairo at dusk, A cityscape of the downtown area of Cairo, capital city of Egypt.

Image used for illustrative purpose. City skyline Cairo at dusk, A cityscape of the downtown area of Cairo, capital city of Egypt.

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Can you start by talking about how and why you launched Envirotectors? What gap did you see in the way markets in Egypt (and the MENA region) operate with respect to CSR that you sought to fill via Envirotectors? What services do you offer exactly?

The purpose of Envirotectors was founded upon the incongruence of policies and implementation happening all around us. Envirotectors International was launched for the exact reason why there are 26 COPs that took place and why there are 2 more to be held in Egypt and the UAE. Our belief is rooted from our dedication to building a model that brings a unified agenda and strategy that counters various societal and environmental challenges by enabling businesses of all sectors and sizes to commit to their responsibilities while gaining enormous returns from such practices.

That’s why we have entitled our planned conference in early 2022 taking place in Cairo “Positive Impact, Positive Returns (PIPR).”

We plan to shed light on how Envirotectors has come together at PIPR through our global partners and awarding bodies in the United Kingdom and Africa. We describe ourselves as the umbrella, bringing strong and viable global standards from credible entities and professionals who are balancing profit with purpose and working for the force of good across planet Earth.

As for the gap we identified early on, we realized the sizable “greenwashing” being done by the majority of companies, mostly driven by lack of awareness and expertise, so we aimed to fill the gap via the real implementation of the highest global environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards and procedures. Our work also relates to helping companies comply with Egypt’s national agenda as the government adopts the latest ESG methodologies adopted globally.

Our roadmap combines, but is not limited to, impact assessment, CSR policies, and the restructuring of corporate governance intimately with implementation, impact reporting, CSR training, net-zero carbon strategies, global awards, followed by niche economic and marketing advisory.

Can you tell us about your team and their backgrounds? How many of you are there? Did you need any funding to get up and running?

Our team comprises individuals who share the same passions and forward-thinking that started all of this. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences due to the nature and diverse upbringing that all of us have had in America, London, Asia, and Egypt. The concept of Envirotectors emerged out of the mere belief that we can make a difference in people’s lives. Sam Safwat and I (Ziad Sharaf) began this startup without any funding and built it from the ground up by investing a lot of our time forging international relationships and a solid understanding of the needs going forward.

Our team consists of 5 team members operating on the ground in Egypt, including myself, while the rest of the team comprises specialists working remotely from the UK with our on-boarded clientele made-up of consultants and partners who fulfill and deliver different phases of our roadmap.

Why focus on CSR, which is widely understood to be a short-term solution to issues under the ESG umbrella and a chance to enhance brand equity, rather than long-term sustainability solutions that focus more on identifying, measuring, and mitigating long-term economic, environmental, and social impacts companies can have on their stakeholders?

CSR has always had the misperception of being solely focused on philanthropic activity, which is in correlation with religious and traditional reasons. However, it is the precursor of ESG as any entity’s responsible foundation is built on the four pillars of CSR, namely environment, community, workplace, and philanthropy.

We begin our journey with any business by assessing their impact and structure on the CSR standards and framework of our CSR-Accreditation partner in the UK aligning with an initial assessment based on narrower B Corp Framework assessment, which levels up the measurement to include all elements of ESG diversified into corporate governance, sustainability, economic, and social impact. One of the main end goals of our roadmap, which is inclusive of CSR and ESG consecutively, is to reach the status of becoming a B Corp with strategies to reap the rewards of this status.

We do not believe it is necessary to complicate things when it is possible to integrate solutions that are being adopted by over 150,000 companies around the world, with over 4,000 companies B Corp certified in over 77 countries.

Simply put, our unified, integral, and effective solutions will enable a real impact in Egypt and MENA as more corporations become on-boarded on our roadmap. Our strategy also enables Egypt to gain momentum for its national sustainability agenda and its position as a nation globally recognized as one of the top government administrations working on many angles of the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (ws).

Can you talk to us about your business model? How do you monetize?

Our monetization model is built on the foundations of our vision to bring companies to the table and “saving tomorrow, today.” Once companies make a solid commitment to proceed ethically, each part of our roadmap is designed with viable achievements in mind to increase the ROI for our clients and Envirotectors alike.

We monetize via consultancy and dedicated partnership agreements after we enroll clients to our road map measured based on our assessment of their current situation. We always work on diversifying our portfolio of services and partnerships to serve local and regional needs while focusing on on-ground local and regional partnerships and causes that accelerate our forward-thinking to provide a competitive edge and ideas to large national companies and private sector leaders who want to do more than just meet “standardized” commitment but create change for all.

Who are some of your clients in Egypt and in the MENA region in general? What type of strategy work do you do internally with clients to help them build their CSR or sustainability programs? For example, many companies are still very much still wrapping their heads around what sustainability even is and have no communicated policies, frameworks, goals, or targets. How do you bring a client to a point where they have the foundations in place at the very least?

We are currently in the early stages of our communication with various businesses but we can proudly say that we have proceeded beyond conversation towards the process of onboarding major corporations in Egypt on an initial assessment, including SODIC, AstraZeneca, Gouna Film Festival, and others. The response we have received from major decision-makers in corporations has been so far positive and open to dynamic change. In MENA, we could say that our global partner CSR-Accreditation has accredited Abu Dhabi Ports and Abu Dhabi Terminals, but at the moment there are very few B Corps in MENA.

Our initial assessment mentioned previously in one of the questions above, helps us understand the stage at which a business stands from B Corp and CSR-A UK standards which places them in direct comparison with companies from their field in different parts of the world. We focus on client’s challenges and needs for us to tailor a roadmap that maximizes their returns from such investment.

We support our clientele intimately and systematically throughout our roadmap, by working with their management and teams on the implementation of the policies we provide; covering the pillars of CSR & ESG. We provide these teams with the tools that enable them to access one of the most important opportunities of being on-boarded on our roadmap, which is reflected in gaining higher attraction of international investments with the support of our global and regional expertise. Companies no longer have the privilege to turn an eye on ESG becoming inseparable from their financial performance in local, regional, and global markets.

Moreover, our tailored roadmap is delivered based on assessing, restructuring, and embedding CSR and ESG impact within an entity’s culture, it becomes a holistic purpose for all stakeholders involved and helps improve the overall understanding and performance of ESG within the business as a whole. That encounters the misconception of the CSR Departments being the sole concerned party for this agenda within any entity.

Can you explain to us the differences between the different certifications (CSR-A, B-Corp, etc)? What bodies issue these certifications?

Our services and delivery are focused on two main awarding bodies which are CSR-A UK and B Corp.

We assess, tailor, and implement based on the frameworks of both CSR-A and B Corp where we integrate both solutions with a focus on CSR-A framework being the solution to build and restructure the foundation of CSR within a business or an entity. As we tailor the roadmap, each phase gets our clientele closer to achieving the CSR-Accreditation followed by the B Corp certification as the highest ESG achievement globally.

In other words, a business will have to get ready for B Corp when it becomes accredited by CSR-A.

Below is the distinction between both:

The CSR-Accreditation is the only organization in the UK delivering a global CSR Accreditation. The CSR Accreditation provides independent recognition of an organization’s socially responsible activities. It is a powerful way to communicate these positive actions to all stakeholders.

A CSR Accreditation can be used to:

  • Deliver the information required for ESG reporting
  • Identify the United Nations SDGs a company may wish to support
  • Write a social value policy
  • Reduce the negative impact on climate change (race to zero)
  • Provides content for B Corp certification
  • Produce a social impact report
  • Enrich, enable, and engage employees, shareholders, and stakeholders

The CSR Accreditation is an effective way to benchmark what you are already doing with regard to social responsibility. It is a process in which you collate, measure, and report on your organization’s socially responsible activities. An accreditation will also provide you with a roadmap for planning future activity.

The application process provides a simple and straightforward template where you record activity against the Social Responsibility ‘Four Pillars’. Each pillar is designed to help you impact report on areas such as energy performance, recycling, staff engagement, health and well-being, community engagement, and support for local and national charities.

B Corporation:

The B Corporation certification of “social and environmental performance” is a private certification of for-profit companies, distinct from the legal designation as a Benefit corporation. B Corp is a prescriptive approach based on an assessment of around 220 questions. You are required to integrate B Corp commitments to stakeholders into company governing documents (change articles of association).

Certifying as a B Corporation goes beyond product- or service-level certification. B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how your company’s operations and business model impact your workers, community, environment, and customers. From your supply chain and input materials to your charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp Certification proves your business is meeting the highest standards of verified performance.

Positive impact is supported by transparency and accountability requirements. B Corp Certification doesn’t just prove where your company excels now—it commits you to consider stakeholder impact for the long term by building it into your company’s legal structure.

The third-party validation that comes with B Corp Certification helps your company stand out and stand by your mission. The B Corp seal on a product, website, sales materials or business card instantly communicates that a company is a verified leader when it comes to positive impact and empowers individuals to confidently vote with their dollars.

The combination of third-party validation, public transparency, and legal accountability help Certified B Corps build trust and value. B Corp Certification is administered by the non-profit B Lab (Our Regional B Corp Global Partner - B Lab Africa).

What type of corporate reporting do you help companies put together? You mention impact reports but what about sustainability reports, especially ones that need to comply with international benchmarks such as Integrated Reporting (IR), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), or Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). If not, do you plan to expand into this line of business and how do you plan to do it?

We work with an initial stage Impact Report which is the CSR-A Impact Report against the four pillars of Environment, Workplace, Community and Philanthropy. from this report we are able to proceed further to the reaching point of the final B Impact Assessment leading to B Corp certification which produces the B Impact Report as the summary of a company's scores on the B Impact Assessment by categories of Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers inclusive of all SDGs. This way, we are able to measure the overall bigger impact from all angles which is based on factual achievements and real impact on all those pillars.

We do not plan to integrate the reporting bodies mentioned above, we respect that each has its own focus whether it’s sustainability only or an angle of community or social development. ESG reporting does remain at an embryonic stage with minimal tangible impact on the ground. We simply present the region with a unified goal that will reduce and eliminate distraction from getting on with the actual work that needs to be done.

Moreover, our solution supports companies to adhere and align with Egypt, the UAE, and other MENA region countries that have signed up to become partner exchanges with the Sustainable Stock Exchange (SSE) initiative.

Can you critique some of Egypt’s major corporations’ existing CSR platforms, and comment on what they ought to be doing instead?

Corporations will generally benefit from an overall inclusive business model that integrates policies and standards that are proven and have had international success. The majority opts for unrealistic reporting methods that do not satisfy current corporate governance mandates without truly delivering real change. I would have liked to single out a particular company or platform, but the reality is, the majority still needs to reconsider their approach to ESG. We can not limit ourselves to some charity work or polished campaigns that bring public divs to promote impact without doing the actual work.

The era of “claiming” the good deeds that companies engage in without oversight is truly over. I believe we can be more impactful once regulations are in full force and companies are required to disclose all ESG related activities for the sake of transparency.

Egypt’s Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) issued resolutions requiring companies listed on the Egyptian Exchange (EGX), and companies operating in non-bank financial services (NBFS) to submit environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure reports related to sustainability effective January 2022. Can you talk to us about the FRA’s new ESG standards and how they compare to other international standards/regulations?

The regulations issued by the FRA will require EGX-listed firms and NBFS companies to publicly disclose their performance on key ESG metrics each year when they submit their annual financial statements.

The new regulatory framework covers the following disclosing elements:

  • Environmental operations and oversight
  • Carbon emission
  • Energy usage and mixture
  • Water usage
  • Waste management
  • Gender diversity and pay ratio
  • Employee turnover
  • Non-discrimination (including sexual harassment and racism)
  • Global health and safety measures
  • Child and forced labor
  • Labor rights
  • Diversity at the board of directors
  • Bribery/anti-corruption
  • Ethics and code of conduct
  • Data privacy
  • Sustainability reporting and disclosure
  • External assurance

The most advanced policy on ESG disclosure is found in the EU. The EU’s green taxonomy is the world’s first framework that attempts to define what constitutes a sustainable activity. On April 21, 2021, the European Commission adopted its first Delegated Act (the legally binding acts which enable the Commission to amend EU legislative acts) under the taxonomy regulation. Corporates will be required to disclose information against the taxonomy framework.

Our roadmap supports businesses and entities to fulfill the new ESG mandate by including and exceeding them as the B Impact Assessment and Report for the B Corp certification is recognized as the highest international standard for ESG commitment and impact internationally.

Are Egyptian companies ready to comply with the FRA’s new regulations? If not, can you generalize about what is necessary for them to become compliant and your potential role?

Yes, most Egyptian companies that have a solid focus on the future, would be glad to be on the bandwagon. Leveraging ESG teaches us to think big – to prioritize and strategically work on systematic risks to help avoid repeat deficiencies. Egyptian companies need to implement comprehensive policies and corporate governance structures for risk and compliance management.

Recognizing and improving the issues that are becoming as important to assessments of company performance as traditional financial metrics is key and Envirotectors Intl. governs in the areas of establishing and monitoring ESG standards that are communicable to all audiences. We set the highest standards and benchmarks for the market to follow.

While CSR may focus on brand equity and positioning for clients, staff, and communities, sustainability has become important for investors and fund managers who now have clearly communicated ESG investment mandates. How are you helping companies strike this balance between sustainability as a brand positioning tool, an investment or regulatory requirement, and a key plank in the preservation of people, the planet, and economies?

Great question. Because everything is essentially intertwined by nature, when companies utilize ESG standards as a key differentiator in their business, differentiation is what they receive. Customers take notice of companies that go above and beyond to offer good products and services. It is important for all stakeholders to be aware of how the global goals embedded through ESG in businesses impact people, the planet, economies, and communities, which influence the overall quality of life, culture, and the future of a better nation that enjoys developed economies’ standards and relations.

Impact and returns are non-separable; the returns nurture all businesses' external and internal surroundings which reflects immediately on how the business performs.

Let’s talk about challenges, the ones that you face directly in your line of work, the ones that face corporations with their CSR strategies, and the ones that face governments and/or intra-state institutions with respect to policymaking over ESG and CSR.

Ultimately, the perceived challenges are primarily educational. To bring about real change and have an impact, we are constantly educating corporations on the expectations, standards, and the gap in what they are currently delivering. Taking a management’s mindset from perceiving CSR as a PR activity or philanthropic good work to properly enforcing ESG standards is similar to teaching a new language.

Of course, we do it with a smile on our faces because we understand the hardships and pressure that companies face in order to comply, stemming from initial insufficiency of understanding to take action, which can only develop through the process of understanding, implementing, and communicating the impact strategies and policies.

Can you make any forward-looking statements about where you see Egypt within the next few years with respect to ESG and CSR programs, especially as government bodies work on relevant policies?

The future of Egypt looks bright. The region now is open to change more than ever before and, with the support of international relations and a consistent exchange of expertise to share our achievements and experiences in different parts of the world, we should be able to reach global goals.

An essential element for this process to be fully activated is to build the foundations of the ethical principles that we work towards through educating stakeholders and businesses on the direct influence of those practices on everyone, including themselves.

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