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Driving the green movement: Small retail businesses with big sustainability goals

Kate Hardcastle

Published: Updated:

It’s no secret that sustainability has become a buzzword when it comes to new business announcements. Companies becoming sustainable or outlining their plans to be ‘100% sustainable by 2030’ is something we are regularly reading and is by no means unusual these days.

The Race to Zero campaign is the largest ever global alliance committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, with many businesses looking to get there before that deadline. One of the main reasons that businesses are taking notice now is a lot to do with consumer pressure. In 2015 a Nielsen global survey of 30,000 people across 60 countries found that nearly three out of four millennials were willing to pay extra for products and services that came from companies committed to a positive social and environmental impact.

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Whilst stories in the media of corporations becoming more sustainable can help to raise awareness and inspire others to follow suit, it’s important not to forget the sustainability efforts of micro-businesses, many of whom have been quietly working on sustainability initiatives for years, away from the glare of the media spotlight, not just because they feel under pressure from consumers and media to improve.

With small and medium enterprises (SMEs) accounting for 99.2 percent of businesses in Dubai, the potential of their collective power for change is immense, but with so many working independently or running a ‘one-man band,’ it is only with the right communication and collaboration that successes can be learned from and amplified.

In terms of sectors, the global beauty industry is widely recognized as being notoriously unsustainable, mainly due to the volume of single-use plastic produced. In 2018 it was reported that the beauty industry produced over 120 billion units of packaging, most of which were not recyclable.

A model displays a creation as part of Gucci Fall-Winter 2011-2012 ready-to-wear collection on February 23, 2011 during the Women's fashion week in Milan. (File photo: AFP)
A model displays a creation as part of Gucci Fall-Winter 2011-2012 ready-to-wear collection on February 23, 2011 during the Women's fashion week in Milan. (File photo: AFP)

And whilst many big brands such as The Body Shop, Lush and Neal’s Yard have driven much-needed change, there are also many smaller businesses working to educate some of the industry’s biggest global brands on working more sustainably.

Meanwhile, the fashion industry - which globally employs more than 300 million people along the value chain - has seen the production of clothing approximately double in the last 15 years, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This is mainly due to the fast-fashion phenomenon, with a quicker turnaround of new styles, increased number of collections per year and often lower prices.

The current system for producing, distributing and using clothes operates in an almost completely linear way. Large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short period, after which, the materials are largely lost to landfill or incineration. It is estimated that more than half of fast-fashion products are disposed of in under a year.

Fashion Designers in Dubai have been addressing these issues by utilizing deadstock, experimenting with upcycling and reimagining pieces from past collections. In addition, many smaller brands are now shifting their operations to Dubai - and choosing to follow a closed-loop system of production, guaranteeing full product traceability and ethical processes as consumer demand for locally produced collections grows.

Pre-Covid global brands still reigned supreme in the Middle East, but the pandemic has helped shed light onto small businesses, with the appetite for change continuing to grow, as the market becomes increasingly aware of the impact of fast fashion.

Underlining this change, The Middle East Fashion Council (MEFC) announced its debut as the world’s first fashion council with sustainability as its core value. The platform was born from the need to tackle climate change and pollution, with a focus on education, and positions the region as a key player on the global fashion scene and crucially, at the forefront of sustainability – driving both change and conversations. The council has even set out plans to host the first carbon-neutral fashion week, held at Sustainable City.

With an increase in global and local sustainability drives - bringing businesses of all sizes together, the future looks promising and if the ethos of SMEs is anything to go by, the future of UAE business will hopefully be authentically greener.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.