Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Profits with sustainability 

The private sector could grasp investment opportunities valued at $600 billion in the MENA region by 2030 if it invests in projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, reports Sherine Abdel-Razek


Changing Cairo into a sustainable and safe city is a lucrative investment for the private sector
Changing Cairo into a sustainable and safe city is a lucrative investment for the private sector

In 2015, the UN chose 17 goals to help achieve global economic development by 2030. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 component targets are the outcome of discussions with governments, businesses and civil society worldwide and are a guide to actions to protect the planet’s resources and guarantee inclusive development.

They include combating poverty and hunger, improving health and education, creating better jobs and tackling environmental challenges. 

If the private sector worldwide started to invest in projects that serve these goals it could open up economic opportunities worth $12 trillion and generate up to 380 million jobs by 2030, according to the Better Business, Better World report launched in January 2017.

A series of reports with the same title has assessed how different regions have fared since then. The Better Business, Better World MENA report launched this week in Cairo points out that the value of investment opportunities in projects in line with the SDGs in the region could come out at $637 billion, creating up to 12.4 million jobs.

The report was prepared by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2016. It brings together leaders from business, finance, civil society, labour and international organisations. The MENA report was launched on the fringe of the American Chamber of Commerce’s conference on the role of the private sector in sustainable development taking place in Cairo this week.  

The report focuses on four areas of economic activity, namely energy and materials, cities, health and well-being, and food and agriculture, which could offer the best investment opportunities. 

According to the report, developments in urban construction, mobility and infrastructure could generate nearly six million jobs. A study by the World Bank has noted that the MENA region could generate 2.5 million jobs by meeting its annual basic infrastructure needs, while almost 20 per cent of the total employment potential in the region could be generated by working on affordable housing. 

In the energy and materials category, the report offers recycling cars, appliances and electronics businesses as promising opportunities. The recycling rate of electronic devices (e-waste) in MENA is 20 per cent less than the global average, and the region has the potential to recover 900,000 tons of metal by 2020, according to the report. 

Only five per cent of the region’s e-waste ends up being processed in the region, with most of it being shipped to India or China. The region does not only lack recycling facilities, but also the awareness of the potential dangers of e-waste toxins such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury, the report says.

Egypt has the biggest e-waste stockpile in the region, producing approximately 370,000 tons in 2014. 

The report sheds light on an Egyptian private e-waste recycling business. Founded in 2016, this capitalises on the fact that with low purchasing power, consumers in the region tend to buy low-quality electronics products with shorter lifespans, creating more e-waste than in wealthier countries.

Using an online application the company communicates with different customers who want to get rid of used electronics. It then collects, sorts, dismantles and recycles the components in its facilities. 

Materials that cannot be recycled are sent to a specialised landfill in Alexandria. Components that contain valuable materials such as gold, copper and silver are exported to Turkey and Belgium for processing. One year after its inception, the company was able to expand its operations to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. 

On the cities-related group of projects, the report says that “by 2050 nearly 400 million people in the MENA region will be living in cities, posing challenges to the value chains supporting the region’s urban mobility, infrastructure and housing.”

Cities-related projects included in the report focus on vehicles and transport-related sectors, housing, construction and utilities. One of the main projects is car-sharing companies like Uber and Careem. Reducing the total number of cars on the roads could offer $40 billion worth of investment opportunities, it says. 

Careem, founded in the UAE in 2012, works in 80 cities across the world and has grown by double and triple digits annually since its inception. 

“The SDGs offer a coherent framework to address fundamental societal challenges. Most importantly, they also serve as guidelines for targeting where capital can be allocated most productively for investors and corporate leaders,” Arif Naqvi, founder and CEO of the UAE’s Abraaj Group and commissioner of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission is quoted as saying in the report.

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