Just how environmentally aware are companies in Qatar?

As businesses increasingly acknowledge the impacts of sustainability agendas, CSR teams now have an opportunity to secure long term profitability.

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Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are increasingly important in today’s business world. Due to the growing awareness of environmental issues, many companies are increasingly targeting their CSR goals to focus upon the need for environmental improvement, with the aim of reducing environmental impact.

The adoption of strategies of sustainability, for example installing ‘green’ technologies like solar and wind programs to power business environs, demonstrate to the consumer that particular companies and organisations constantly monitor the present and future impact of their activities on the environment.

Bader N. Al-Saadi, nuclear engineer, Qatar Ministry of Environment.
Bader N. Al-Saadi, nuclear engineer, Qatar Ministry of Environment.

This message is usually best presented to the public through effective and targeted publicity and educational programs.

“CSR is a method to integrate the vision of a company with the realization of its social and environmental responsibilities,” says Nuclear Engineer at the Qatar Ministry of Environment, Bader N. Al-Saadi and adds that a company should emphasise the importance of an understanding of climate change as an imminent threat to the environment through the process of conducting their business. “In the long term, if this integration is not achieved, it could affect Qatari companies and the future of their business,” he says.

With rapid urbanisation, the boom in construction, and an ever increasing population, Qatar is experiencing tremendous challenges in protecting the environment while sustaining its natural resources. According to Al-Saadi, the most problematic environmental issue in Qatar lies in the complacency demonstrated by business and organisations with regard to environmental concerns, and a resistance towards adopting progressive measures to address these concerns and achieve sustainability.

He states: “In other words, in Qatar, it is hard to be a ‘green’ individual, and this difficulty stretches all the way through both business and human behaviour. The reason I believe in the importance of addressing these issues is the ultimately finite nature of resources such as oil and gas.”

The average annual temperature in Qatar is 106o Fahrenheit, although it can surpass 114o at the peak of day. As a consequence, the country spends vast amounts of energy on air-conditioning systems to cool malls, residential buildings, high-rise hotels, towers, stadiums and all other buildings. Notably, electricity and water are free for Qatari citizens and subsidised for expatriates, with the consequence that the recipients of this free or cheap energy become unaware about the true value of these resources.

According to an expert: “From a micro-environmental viewpoint, looking at people’s daily lives, one of Qatar’s weakest points is the huge consumption of these resources, and also waste generation. The prevalent mentality is to constantly use resources such as water and electricity with little regard for the environmental cost.”

Qatar has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the world, as high as 1.8 kg per person per day, but recycling solutions are lacking.

In our consumerist society, uncontrolled waste generation is not solved by widespread recycling, material re-use or re-generation strategies.

Qatar also relies on energy-intensive desalination plants for its fresh water production, further increasing demand for electricity. As a consequence of all these factors, the country has the world’s biggest carbon footprint per capita.

Kalyan Krishnan, representing Global Corporate Citizenship and Diversity at KPMG International, notes that Qatar and the other GCC countries tend to be some of the highest contributors towards GHG emissions per capita, and that, combined with high energy and water consumption, plays a significant role towards international climate change.

Krishnan believes that, in an increasingly complex world of population growth, urbanisation, scarcity of resources and environmental change, general success in combating these global problems will depend on how well companies and organisations in particular can analyse these issues, identify effective ways to address them and implement appropriate actions to solve them.

In essence, the future health and prosperity of humans the world over is vitally related to businesses adopting effective strategic approaches towards the monitoring and analysis of these environmental issues. CSR programs will need to evolve to change the way in which we do business, aiding both businesses and the communities they operate within to act in a more environmentally positive fashion.

Kalyan Krishnan, Global Corporate Citizenship and Diversity, KPMG International
Kalyan Krishnan, Global Corporate Citizenship and Diversity, KPMG International

And in this context, in Qatar, the news is positive. Huge civil society organisations such as the Qatar Foundation, Qatar Shell and RasGas are literally leading this progressive agenda on the international corporate and organisational stage. “This will only be successful if businesses are able to collaborate effectively with government and civil society to ensure that we are developing partnerships for good,” says Krishnan.

Qatar’s industrial production has clear environmental implications that can be solved, or at the very least, mitigated, through responsible business investment and technology, as well as an increased entrepreneurial awareness of more efficient, resourceful methods that can aid productivity while helping Qatar reducing its enormous and globally notorious carbon footprint per capita.

On a different note, Al-Saadi argues claims that radiation threats, chemical and biological, are at normal levels, are untrue. He points out some statistics do raise cause for concern, particularly in the environment statistics annual report issued by the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics in 2013.

He believes that education is the key to solving these issues, as he states: “Awareness programs should involve presentations, lectures, courses, brochures, and online documents – reports that can be accessed by the public of Qatar from fossil fuel companies to assure us they are truly concerned with social and environmental issues. And they could show the practices that companies could acquire to gradually achieve sustainability and limit compliance.”

 

The major challenge for contemporary organisations and businesses is that strategies to manage, develop and maintain effective CSR are not readily available in Qatar, and very few internationally recognised standards exist against which a company can effectively measure their progress in addressing or solving these issues.

Environmental sustainability in the Middle East in general and Qatar in particular still lacks effective agenda setting, responsiveness, measurement and an appropriate evaluation system. Although a few innovative corporations have inaugurated internal structures that organise and communicate their activities in these sectors, and do perform analysis and evaluation, the trend is still inadequate, unregulated and often focused on the short term. “A key challenge is that environmental sustainability is usually being considered as an add-on, rather than an inalienable business practice,” says the expert.

Once embedded as a core business practice, environmental efficiency becomes an opportunity rather than a cost. And, consequently, corporations who draft their sustainability agendas effectively go on to examine areas of environmental concern where they can produce the most positive outcomes in line with the needs and requirements of their core business. She adds: “Corporations may declare their commitment and activities through reports and media releases, however these are often not supported by long term frameworks, reporting, transparency and consistency.”

There is little doubt that the implementation of effective CSR strategies are vital components of a long term organisational approach to business development that takes into account the needs of communities, consumers and the environment in which they live and work.

Recent research has examined the adoption of environmental management practices by organisations indicating that companies are increasingly paying attention to their environmental impact, and adopting management practices to ameliorate or reduce negative impact.

RasGas, for example, implements a proactive CSR program that is aligned to the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the National Development Strategy 2011-2016, where they intend to make a sustainable and positive impact in four spheres critical to the sustainable development of Qatar, within the fields of community, education, environment and health.

Such sustainability programs serve to capitalise all our futures through the efforts that are made today. In this sense, the ideal goal is for the private sector to work hand in hand with the government to deliver long term, positive environmental goals, while simultaneously educating wider society as to how they can contribute. In this sense, corporate social responsibility is not just about business, or compliance with an arbitrary set of rules.

It has much wider implications for the society in general. Serious CSR programs propel organisations and businesses beyond the simple conformity to legislation and enables them to promote ethical values, respect their fellow citizens and communities, as well the natural environment in which we all live, consume, recreate and work. Qatar faces challenges, but it also has enormous potential to act as an international role model for other countries in driving forward a consistent, environmentally sustainable agenda.

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