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Wednesday 24 September, 2014

Sustainability is ready for world stage

On October 1st 2014, Coca-Cola Enterprises is teaming up with The Financial Times to host the Future for Sustainability Summit. One of the key discussions of the day will be around implementing a forward-looking sustainability agenda. Julian Marwitz, founder of Arineos, explains why leaps of faith are sometimes necessary to progress sustainability.

My very first hands-on experience with sustainability came through an internship, earlier in my career. Back then, figuring out what Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) was, and being aware of companies’ social and environmental impacts, was just emerging on the agenda. The companies I worked with in the past tended to react slowly to expectations from stakeholders and clients, often only adding social indicators into their reports and press releases as an answer. Sometimes, I saw valuable attempts to increase responsibility towards the environment and people, but other times I also saw CSR being utilised as a tool for public relations and marketing.

Having worked in the sustainability sphere for several years now, I actually see that genuine changes are starting to be implemented. Societal pressure is growing and many corporations are stepping up into role model positions, with a greater understanding of the impact they have. From my perspective, the biggest change maker in moving the sustainability agenda forward is to have a progressive business model, supported by top-level management.

Passionate about sustainability and aware of the growing environmental pressures, I decided to start my own company – Arineos. It is a construction company for green buildings, which also offers advice on sustainability throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Together with my co-founder, we were excited by the idea that we could reduce carbon emissions and help the environment while adding value to the economy. Improvements in materials and technical systems have since led to a more efficient way of consuming energy, and green buildings have become the predominant standard in the construction industry. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, significant costs have been saved by many companies.

Whilst more and more green buildings are being constructed, a question still remains among the industry – will green buildings ever be fully integrated into cities? A great example is Masdar City – a city located in the vast desert of Abu Dhabi and that has committed to making green buildings work on a whole new level. The huge, geometrical complex, composed of many glass buildings, has been designed to be ‘the most sustainable community on earth’. Not only that: The city hopes to eventually provide more than 70% of the entire country’s energy through solar power. However, the project has not been smooth sailing – it is already 15 years behind schedule, with uncertain financial support and ambitions now revised from ‘zero-carbon’ to ‘carbon-neutral’. But its residents remain optimistic, like Sanaa P. who is pursuing a PhD about food waste in the hospitality industry and has lived in the experimental city for three years already. She believes that “it is very important to learn from mistakes, so we should not rush in terms of timing.”

Despite its weaknesses and uncertain future, I consider this pilot as a great leap of faith – which is sometimes necessary if we want to continue to progress the sustainability agenda!  I look forward to seeing how Masdar City develops and what we can learn from it, not to mention how green buildings fulfil their central role. Sustainability is ready for the world stage.

Julian Marwitz

Founder, Arineos

Julian Marwitz is Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum in London. He is the founder of Arineos, a construction company focused on energy efficiency and sustainability advice.

Follow Arineos on twitter: @Arineos1  

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