Dubai's Majid Al Futtaim bets on sustainability to solve COVID-19, climate crises

"Our sustainability strategy has three focus areas: transforming lives, empowering people and rethinking resources."

  
People walk near the fashion dome at the shopping center Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, January 11, 2012. Majid Al Futtaim launches mega sale in Dubai malls

People walk near the fashion dome at the shopping center Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, January 11, 2012. Majid Al Futtaim launches mega sale in Dubai malls

REUTERS/Jumana El-Heloueh

When the Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim Holding rolled out a sustainability strategy back in 2011, it was one of the first companies in the MENA region to attempt one. Nearly a decade later, Majid Al Futtaim’s strategy was put to test as the COVID-19 outbreak spread across the region.

The COVID-19 crisis has made companies realise the value of environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practices, says Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer at the retail and commercial property developer, which currently operates in 16 international markets.

To protect the workforce and keep operations running, Majid Al Futtaim quickly rolled out a region-wide employee redeployment programme to reskill and temporarily deploy more than 1,000 leisure, entertainment and cinema employees to its Carrefour retail business to assist with online order fulfilment, food packing, stock replenishment. 

Al-Zu’bi sees parallels between climate crisis and COVID-19: Both have a global impact and affect all of us; they prove that prevention is better than cure; the public needs to understand the gravity of the crises; and global collaboration is crucial to tackling them.

Additionally, trusting science and focusing on behavioural change holds true for climate crisis as well as COVID-19. “All the stakeholders are listening to experts and scientists. In the case of COVID-19, people have started to change behaviour; for example, they now wear masks [and] maintain hygiene, so changing behaviour is not something impossible.”

Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer at Majid Al Futtaim

SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING

In 2017, Majid Al Futtaim Holding had expanded its sustainability strategy’s remit beyond the properties business to its other operating companies. The expansion came with the commitment, a first in the MENA region, to become net positive in carbon and water across all operations, tenants, and developments by 2040.

In 2018, the company introduced its “Dare Today, Change Tomorrow” sustainability strategy, which supported the transition from energy, water and waste to the inclusion of wider sustainability topics, including health and wellbeing, circularity and social value. The rebooted strategy is also aligned with 10 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our sustainability strategy has three focus areas: transforming lives, empowering people and rethinking resources. Under these focus areas, we have sustainable business commitments, or SBCs. The champion of each SBC is the CEO of each operating company,” Al-Zu’bi explained.

He said the net-positive action plan comprises long-term and short-term targets, key performance indicators embedded in business objectives, and an interim commitment to achieve 37 percent reduction in operational carbon and water footprints by 2022. Progress is monitored against a 2016 baseline on an annual basis.

In June, Majid Al Futtaim launched its 2019 annual sustainability report, which showcased the year’s achievements. For Al-Zu’bi, the biggest highlight was the issue of two green sukuk worth $1.2 billion to fund existing and future green projects. “Last year, the markets were a bit slow, but there was a huge appetite. In the two rounds, we were almost four times oversubscribed.”

The initial $600 million issuance in May also became the world’s first benchmark corporate green sukuk, and the first to be issued by a corporation in the region. The company’s sustainability investments also paid off when its ESG credentials got a “low risk” rating from Sustainalytics and an “A” rating from MSCI.

Other 2019 highlights included 29 green-certified buildings and 2.5 million square metres of space with green credentials and the launch of the region’s first in-store hydroponic farms in its Carrefour business in the UAE. These farms use 90 percent less water than traditional soil agriculture to deliver 31 kilograms of fresh herbs and vegetables daily. The company is planning to increase the number of indoor farms in the Gulf countries to 10.

The company also launched the region’s first people of determination panel, which includes members of federal and local governments and people of determination. The retail business has recruited nearly 300 people of determination across nine countries in a variety of roles.

SUSTAINABLE OPERATIONS

Last year, the group reduced its operational carbon emissions by 2.4 per cent and water consumption by 1.6 per cent, despite an increase in operational floor area by 37 per cent since 2016. The company also generated almost 14 million kWh of renewable energy through its shopping malls.

The first phase of the journey towards net positive was mitigation in terms of efficiency. “The second part was adaptation, ensuring we had onsite renewable generation through a policy. We generate an average minimum of 7.5 percent of the peak landlord consumption onsite, and now, we have off-site through power purchasing agreements (PPAs) in Jordan and Dubai.”

The PPAs will provide 5.7 million kWh of clean energy to power Majid Al Futtaim – Retail in Jordan and Dubai. The third phase focuses on modelling and risk assessment.

 Al-Zu’bi said that Majid Al Futtaim is now focusing on the well-being of its 40,000 staff and over 500 million customers in addition its net-positive targets for 2020 and 2021. This year, the company launched a group-wide sustainability e-learning programme to provide employees with practical sustainability knowledge and skills. It also launched an innovation Centre of Excellence to encourage the sharing of business ideas and solving of sustainability challenges at operating company levels.

“COVID-19 announced that ‘business as usual’ no longer exists,” said Al-Zu’bi. “A new, sustainable business model should be implemented [in its place].”

(Reporting by Anoop Menon; Editing by Seban Scaria)

anoop.menon@refinitiv.com

#DUBAI #MAF #COVID19

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