When will the region’s brands address sustainability? By Schneider Electric’s Alex Malouf

Do you remember the fires in Turkey, the droughts in Iran, or the latest IPCC report on climate change? If you were following much of the local media this summer, these issues may have passed you by. Likewise, it often seems that brands here do little when it comes to the issue of sustainability.

In some ways, I understand why sustainability isn’t top of mind for many of the region’s brands. There’s little in the way of public pressure, and there’s no Arabic Greta to focus people’s attention on the issue. And while governments are investing in areas such as renewables, they also aren’t pushing firms to do more when it comes to areas such as the environment or carbon emissions.

However, it should be pretty apparent to any experienced marcomms professional, or even those new to the industry, that the biggest issue of our lifetime is going to be the environment. We are already veering off course when it comes to combatting climate change and given where we are and our pre-existing geographic conditions (little usable water, arid land, and high temperature), our customers and stakeholders, including our own employees, are going to ask what we are doing as organizations to reduce our use of resources, minimise carbon emissions and become more sustainable.

This trend is already gaining ground with brands are Europe and the US, where it is now standard for firms to share their sustainability strategies and report on the actions they’re taking to meet these goals. Others are going further, by rolling out sustainability-designed products that promote ideas such as a circular economy. You have global names like Adidas launching shoes made from ocean plastic, Lego committing to phase out plastic by 2030, and Unilever pushing eco-refill products.

And there’s another reason to think about sustainability. If you’re a business that is even remotely interested in financing (which is ninety-nine per cent of firms) then investors are going to begin asking about your ESG reporting. And then there’s incoming legislation; exporters to the US or Europe will soon be liable for carbon taxes which look to balance the playing field for companies which rely on subsidized electricity and water, which is most organizations in the Gulf; if you’re not investing in renewables or energy efficiency technology, you’re going to be taxed.

The underlying message is simple. Every one of your major stakeholders will be asking, “what are you doing to address sustainability?” And you need to have answers, both for the short term and the long term. This is an issue that will be on top of our minds for decades to come. And the Middle East’s brands have got to begin talking about what they’re doing to help make the world greener. The question I want to ask every one of you is when do we start talking about sustainability?