Samer Kamal, a self-described environmentalist, capitalist and social entrepreneur, is dedicated to proving that sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand. How did this University of Toronto graduate end up in Dubai as a thought leader and expert on sustainability? Read on to learn what this visionary has to say as he educates us on his perspective and on what sustainable luxury means to him…
What is your personal definition of sustainability? My definition comes from Wikipedia because, as a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, it represents our common understanding of terms. Sustainability is simply defined as the capacity to endure. This overarching definition can be applied to any structure or system, from buildings to companies to social groups. We have to figure out what conduct will allow our systems to continue existing and thriving in the long term, and what changes need to be made to stop behavior that threatens those systems.How did you end up living in Dubai? I have my mom to thank for this. She’s an amazing business woman who has been managing private business holdings for the Ruling Family of Sharjah for the last 30 years. While visiting her in 2005/2006, I noticed that she wasn’t recycling cans or bottles. When I accused her of being old-fashioned for not recycling, she challenged me to find a way for her to do so. I found that there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure in the UAE to implement environmentally friendly systems. As a result, I developed a business plan to introduce recycling to the region. My mom was a board member on the first environmental company I set up in the UAE, Bee’ah. She is still a key voice on the direction of the company. Once I got started, there was no turning back.
Your experience in the world of environmental sustainability is impressive. What projects are you currently involved with? I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in a number of exciting projects and companies in the last couple of years. Presently, I am working in the following capacities:
- Founder and Managing Director of TMM: a CSR agency supporting leading global companies such as Grace Chemicals, Supreme Group, Etihad Airways, New York University and Air Miles in implementing sustainable practices.
- General Manager of Green Infra FM: a Dubai-based facilities-management company operating the only multi-developer sewage concession, recycling water for use by Dubai Sports City, Jumeirah Golf Estates, the Els Golf Club, and Emicool (district cooling).
- Investor and Chairman of the Board of Legacy Sports: a Qatar company dedicated to combating health problems caused by inactivity by advancing sport-as-play among children and corporate wellness programs in the GCC.
- Recycling Advisor and Investor for Talah Board: an agricultural recycling company using the waste from palm trees to make construction products.
- Regional Director of Business Development for Full Cycle Energy Fund: a project finance fund dedicated to generating industrial-grade energy from household waste.
- Regional Partner in the Green Gateway Fund 2: a private equity fund investing in, and globalizing cleantech companies from Europe.
- Community Outreach Advisor to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi Waste Master Plan 2040
What fuels your passion for environmental sustainability? Have you always had this fire burning? The truth is, I wasn’t very environmentally friendly before 2006 when I started working in the UAE. Environmental responsibility had never occurred to me. I lived in Toronto and knew that I should recycle, but didn’t have a vested interest in doing so. That all changed when I read about an amazing company in the USA called Interface Global. Interface is a carpet tile company whose CEO, Ray Anderson, read a book about the environment in the early 1990’s and realized that his company was hurting the planet. Since then, Interface has been committed to sustainability. Their commitment inspired me. I learned as much as I could about where the world is heading and how we play an integral role. The world is at a crossroads. We have the opportunity to be the generation that put the world on a healthy path, or risk being remembered in history as the ones who hammered the last nail into the coffin of the ecosystem.
How do you incorporate sustainability into your personal life? I am a believer that we all have to make choices as to how we conduct ourselves. Sustainability must be part of those choices. I am also a believer that no one is perfect and we must all find an equilibrium that works for our own individual lifestyle.
For me, that equilibrium includes a number of key decisions:
- Buying from ethical companies as much as possible. I do homework on the companies I am likely to buy products from and select the more ethical options.
- Buy local as much as possible. Next best, buy regional.
- Understand local social inequalities and find ways to fight against them. For me, this means treating everyone equally regardless of ethnic background, gender, or income level.
- Don’t drive a car. I choose not to own a car, which forces me to walk, take transit, and when necessary catch a ride with someone or grab an Uber.
- Recycle at home and at work.
- Fix things, and buy things that can be fixed. This might sound obvious, but most people these days consider their possessions disposable. I do my best to consider them repairable.
- Buy upcycled products whenever possible. In fact, I prefer upcycled to new as a style choice.
- Do the obvious stuff at home – don’t leave the lights on unnecessarily, don’t run the water without reason.
What is your definition of sustainable luxury and how does it influence your purchases and lifestyle? Luxury is about high value with no compromises, and this is completely aligned with sustainability. A truly luxurious product is one that is of the highest value, and therefore should be used with respect for that quality. This inevitably means caring for and maintaining that product, maximizing its useful life. Luxury is obviously not disposable and should come with no compromises. Buying luxury products that are not hurting people or the planet means buying luxury products without compromise. I love fashion and luxury, but I will not buy a product that, in its production, has hurt people or the ecosystem. I expect that the luxury brand I’m buying will elevate its conduct to improve the world. I expect the highest standards from my luxury goods, and then I keep and care for them.
You can follow Samer on twitter @samerbkamal.