A Green Economy Oasis
As the world takes one glacial step after another toward building sustainable, green economies, much of the international community is looking at the UAE for tutelage, as the country is in many ways miles ahead in transforming its economy. Within the UAE, however, there is a clear front runner leading the charge, to whom other Emirates seek to follow. For some time, Sharjah has been the clear leader in transforming its economy for the future, and this leadership is not only evident in the UAE or the Arabian Gulf, but globally. Whether it is hosting high profile green events, highly ambitious energy efficiency projects, or pioneering public awareness, the Emirate is often ahead of the curve, setting examples for how to successfully build a green economy.
Though the success of a green economy is detrimental to the future, it shares a fundamental similarity with other sectors, and that is that research and innovation are paramount. A necessary endeavor to this end is Sharjah’s Gulf Ecosystems Research Center (GERC). The center was founded in 2012 by both the American University of Sharjah and the Sharjah environmental management company Bee’ah as a joint initiative. With a five-year, AED30-million grant supplied by Bee’ah, the center will conduct extensive research on the ecosystems of the Arabian Gulf, and hopefully shape policy through offering advice and solutions to long-term problems for potential ecological problems.
Through focusing on analyzing both the natural and man-made interactions that influence one of the most diverse and colorful patches of water, the GERC hopes that its research will lead to a more comprehensive monitoring of the region’s ecosystems and their health.
Among the center’s extensive objectives, it hopes to assist the community in controlling problems in the waterway through its sharing of knowledge; to educate the Emirate and region on environmental science and ecology; bring in faculty from the American University in addition to other international researchers for studies and consultation; build collaborative ventures with both local industries and the academy; emphasize the importance of higher education that is multidisciplinary in fields like waste management, the environment, and water; become the region’s prime meeting place for R&D, as well as training, consultation, and funding; and, ultimately, bring Sharjah and the UAE to cultivate expertise in the necessary ecological fields that will produce groundbreaking discoveries that will bring benefits to not just the ecosystems but the economy as well. With its high profile backing and extensive initiatives, the GERC is poised to become not just a locally or regionally recognized environmental research center, but one that is internationally praised and referenced.
The GERC’s main benefactor, Bee’ah, is well known and recognized as the region’s eminent and fastest growing environmental management company. Established in 2007 long before the international drive for green economies began, the company’s goals are to create a sustainable future for the Emirates via creative and resourceful solutions. Since its founding, the company has been known for its ventures seeking to improve the lives of those in Sharjah and around the UAE through holistic approaches to air, water, and energy management
Technology has always been a key component of the company’s innovations. In June 2016, Sharjah debuted its Wi-Fi smart trash bins, installed by Bee’ah. The bins, perhaps the only of their kind in the world, are able to compact trash, notify their operator when they reach capacity, and, to the public’s great relief, offer Wi-Fi access. Bee’ah initially rolled out 10 of the smart bins, which are also solar powered, throughout Sharjah; the company has plans to distribute several hundred more throughout the country. Equipped with internal compactors, the bins are able to crush and store nearly five times more refuse than conventional bins.
In January 2017, Bee’ah introduced an unheard of contraption in the quest for a green economy: a lottery like reverse vending machine. Debuted at Abu Dhabi’s World Future Energy summit, the reverse vending machines allow citizens to deposit and recycle plastic bottles and aluminum cans throughout the country, and strategically placed in areas of high foot traffic, like malls, government institutions, airports, and schools. The reverse vending machines are associated with the Bee’ah mobile application, and after a user deposits a recyclable, the machine prints out a receipt with a unique bar code. On the application, users enter the codes they collect, and every month a random drawing of codes selects a number of winners. The prizes are outrageous, and range from Apple TVs and Nespresso machines to vacation packages.
Bee’ah demonstrated its role as a pioneer once more when it announced in May 2017 a joint venture with its counterpart in Abu Dhabi, the renewable energy company Masdar, to build the first waste-to-energy plant in the region. The announcement follows Bee’ah’s ambitious original plan to achieve zero waste in Sharjah. When the facility’s first phase is completed, it will be able to process more than 300,000 tons of municipal solid waste per year, incinerate as much as 37.5 tons of solid waste per hour, and will have the capacity to produce close to 30MW of power. Sharjah currently diverts approximately 70% of its municipal solid waste away from landfills. Once the new facility is up and running, it is expected to take in the remaining waste, thus achieving the Emirate’s goal of diverting 100% of trash away from landfills, and, more prominently, making Sharjah the first city in the Middle East to do so.
In reference to the joint venture, the UAE Minister of Climate Change, HE Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, was quoted in Zawya as saying how the facility will be of particular significance to the country. “The Waste-to-Energy joint venture in Sharjah represents an important step in our endeavor towards sustainability and a bold and unconventional solution to address the increasing development challenges in a sustainable way to achieve the objectives of the National Agenda for UAE Vision 2021,” the Minister said. “Hence, this pioneering national project is particularly important in the realization of two main objectives of our National Agenda; raising the percentage of treated waste to 75% and increasing the contribution of clean energy in the national energy mix to 27%.”
Through Bee’ah, Sharjah is also home to the region’s first, as well as the world’s largest, gasification plant. The project, originally won by the UK firm Chinook Sciences and estimated to be worth GBP300 million, is able to process close to 160,000 tons of non-recyclable waste, transforming the materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. The plant can generate as much as 35MW of energy, enough to power close to 50,000 of Sharjah’s homes.
While Bee’ah is leading the region, if not the world, in green projects, it is working equally hard to educate the next generation. The company recently entered a long-term partnership with Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre, Sheraa that is designed to seek out, inspire, and aid emerging entrepreneurs in the field of sustainability. Following the announcement, Bee’ah Group CEO Khaled Al Huraimel cited the significance of the new partnership. “The strategic partnership with Sheraa reflects our belief in the positive impact that young entrepreneurs can have on social and economic development,” he said. “This partnership will provide them with the support needed to bring about the latest innovations in the sustainability and environmental fields. Together, we will work to create the next wave of sustainability entrepreneurs. Fields that provide environmental solutions have the greatest need for youthful ingenuity. We need to support young talent that is creative and can think outside the box because they will overcome future obstacles on the road to sustainability.”
Bee’ah is not the only organization focused on education. The Emirates Green Building Council, an independent forum working for environmental conservation through greener building standards, has partnered with universities throughout the UAE to strengthen awareness of the green building sector. In an interview with TBY, the chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council, Saeed Al Abbar, described the extent of the council’s involvement with the education sector. “EmiratesGBC has a dedicated education and awareness program and our efforts to develop long-term partnerships with tertiary level education providers in the UAE have proven successful in preparing the new generation of green building industry professionals,” Al Abbar said. “For example, we work with the British University in Dubai to offer students and professionals preparatory courses for credentials such as LEED, CEM, and CEA. We collaborated with Heriot-Watt to offer architectural engineering students with real world industry examples and experiences.”
The Emirate’s efforts at forging and perfecting a green economy seem to know no bounds. In March 2017, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), in collaboration with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority, started work on the Kalba Kingfisher Lodge, one of the most state of the art eco-tourism projects in the world. The five-star lodge will be located in the heart of Kalba, among the mangrove nature reserve. The groundbreaking project is poised for completion before the first half of 2017. It will consist of approximately 20 luxury tents, each with its own private swimming pool and designed to indulge guests in privacy and comfort, all while enjoying the magnificent views of the Indian Ocean and the mangrove forest. As the name suggests, it is also home to several kingfishers, as well as a wide diversity of plant and wildlife.
The Emirate is finding ways left and right to incorporate green initiatives in every sector and service. Not even the police force is safe from the green wave. In May 2017, the Sharjah Police launched a new patrol force that will be mounted on electric bikes and stationed around areas in the Emirate that receive high foot traffic. With the force located in popular spots like Al Qasba, the new mobility is set to help the police be more effective and enhance security. The police’s new vehicles will not only produce zero exhaust, but also help reduce noise pollution in the Emirate.
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