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‘People, planet, profit – The triple bottom line’

Ibrahim Al Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer, Majid Al Futtaim, unravels the long-term profitability of investing in sustainability and discusses how the organisation’s culture of innovation persuaded it to optimise air conditioning and cold chain operations as part of efforts to mitigate energy and water consumption and reduce food loss. Hannah Jo Uy has the story…

| | Sep 15, 2019 | 10:12 pm
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Ibrahim Al Zu’bi

Business as usual no longer exists, says Ibrahim Al Zu’bi. As the Chief Sustainability Officer of Majid Al Futtaim, Al Zu’bi believes there has been a fundamental shift in the mindset of businesses today, and that it is vital for companies to take into greater consideration their long- term impact on society, nation and the environment. “It’s about the triple bottom line,” he says, “People, planet and profit. It’s doing well, by doing good.” In Majid Al Futtaim, Al Zu’bi says, there is an overarching sustainability strategy based on three pillars: Rethinking resources, empowering people and transforming lives. “These three main pillars and commitments are translated to long- and short-term targets,” he explains. “We communicate internally and externally and work diligently, using a scientific approach to achieve reduction numbers in our assets.”

This work was covered extensively in Majid Al Futtaim 2018 Sustainability Report, which revealed the company’s achievement in terms of carbon reduction as well as energy and water saving, across its facilities. Considering the immensity of the company’s scope of operations, which includes 13 hotels, 25 shopping malls and 270 grocery retail outlets, spanning 15 countries, the savings achieved had a significant impact on the company’s operations, with Al Zu’bi pointing out that the numbers showcase the business model and validity of sustainable approaches. Although an investment in time and capex was needed to accelerate the move towards more resource-efficient operations,

Al Zu’bi emphasises that it has led to significant payback in terms of reduced operational cost and in alignment with the company’s environmental agenda. “We don’t decide without looking at sustainability, either socio-economic or environmental,” he says. “Everything is a result of commitment, investment and approach.”

With a long-term view of being net-positive by 2030, Al Zu’bi says that there is a strong policy framework within the organisation’s management, which supports the implementation of energy and building management strategies in relation to HVACR equipment, in recognition of the especially heavy burden it places on operations of facilities located in the Middle East.


Discussing works Majid Al Futtaim carried in relation to its air conditioning systems, Al Zu’bi says the company is in the process of reviewing and optimising air-side equipment and ventilation, taking into consideration air balance and pressure and its impact on chilled water systems, in a bid to reduce energy bills. “This is important for us, and it is embedded in the way we work,” he says. “When we do a review, we make sure we optimise the chilled water system to enhance performance.”

Following implementation of such optimisation strategies, Al Zu’bi says, Majid al Futtaim achieved AED 1.2 million in energy savings in City Center Bahrain in 2018. “We have implemented a system across utilities and different assets, and when we do that, we make sure to give priority to existing equipment to help reduce waste, save money and, most importantly, utilise the good equipment we already have,” he says. Al Zu’bi emphasises that the company undertakes continuous reviews of its systems, which is carried out in cooperation with FM committees that actively participate by providing feedback. “It’s part of a circular economy strategy,” he says. “We do it, because we save money.”


Another initiative Al Zu’bi feels passionately about is the use of captured air conditioning condensate. “People take this for granted,” he says. “It sounds simple, and it is simple to implement, but people don’t do it. We decided to implement the use of grey water in operating the condenser towers part of the refrigeration system of Ski Dubai. The annual consumption of three operating condenser towers equals to 38,000 cubic metres of water per year.” Al Zu’bi says Ski Dubai’s global snow technical team is currently investigating the potential of recycling 15,000 cubic metres of grey water. “Technically, we have access to fresh water that can be collected from AHUs and FCUs and best used for other places” he says. “This is not only Ski Dubai. It extends to AHUs and FCUs in Mall of Emirates and Magic Planet. We have lots of assets and utilities. We discovered we can achieve more if you think as a whole.” Al Zu’bi says that the engineering teams in Magic Planet and Ski Dubai are working together in this regard.


Al Zu’bi says that Majid al Futtaim’s commitment to a holistic approach extends to the design, operation and maintenance of its cold chain operations, as well. Al Zu’bi points out that by default, the company implements stringent food safety measures by ensuring temperature control throughout storage and shipping. “In terms of transportation, we have live temperature monitoring systems and live temperature tracking for fresh items and immediate response in case of deviations,” he says. Al Zu’bi says the company invests in ensuring there is on-the-spot response in the case of any leaks to ensure savings not only in time, to mitigate potential delays, but also money, as loss of perishable goods can be equated to loss in profits.

Al Zu’bi adds the company’s distribution centre also carries many third-party certifications to ensure the quality of operations, with facilities that are state-of-the-art from engineering, and health and safety perspectives. He adds that a minimum of 25% of the energy used by the distribution centres is from onsite renewable energy using solar PV, but that in Jordan the company went beyond the power purchase agreement to implement solar PVs and ensure the distribution centre can be 100% powered by renewable energy.

Al Zu’bi says that the cold chain is also a space where the company looks to accelerate the switch to more climate-friendly refrigerants with the long-term view of ensuring Majid Al Futtaim complies with the 2028 phase-down deadline given to Article 5 Group 2 countries in the Middle East, which is home to its many commercial developments. “When it comes to future-proofing HVACR equipment, we look at our assets as a good lab,” he says. “In My City Center Masdar, we have utilised a CO2 system. It’s the first of its kind, and it’s working really well. We are in discussions with manufacturers with regard to new refrigerants being introduced to the market and reviewing their implementation on existing equipment and systems to comply with phase-out requirements. We try to help and support knowledge transfer, and we invite people to join us in this journey.”

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