Louis Hakim joined Philips in 1998 and is currently the chairman of Philips Middle East and vice president of Royal Philips Electronics. Executive recently sat down with him for a candid chat about environmental issues facing the United Arab Emirates today. Philips has worked with private and public institutions across the globe to help them go green and in 2010 launched its ‘livable cities’ campaign.
E A recent report revealed that the United Arab Emirates has the largest environmental footprint in the world. How can the country be more environmentally conscious?
The UAE is taking positive steps to reduce its carbon footprint; you see it in several of their activities. The metro is one of them — initially the metro began as a project to address the congestion in Dubai. Now 120,000 passengers per day take the metro.
Each emirate is looking at ways to address the issue of power consumption. This can work well in their favor, but there are definitely more low hanging fruits that could be addressed by the authorities. For example, legislation — there is no clear legislation that forces people to use any standardized energy efficient approach in construction. Secondly, there are no incentives to make people opt for greener solutions. Day to day, water boilers — my favorite topic — consume the most energy at home. We live in a country where we have 365 days of sun! If you change them to solar water boilers, you automatically save a lot of energy. But now if you ask people to go and do it, it’s a major investment for an average person.
Lebanon took a bold step a few weeks ago, granting people zero interest loans over a period of five years if they change their water boilers.
For buildings to go green, the incentive could be a deduction or percentage discount on their power bills. What we’ve been doing so far is penalizing people for consuming more — but what did we do to push them to save more? I think there needs to be a change of mindset.
I know that Abu Dhabi is investing a serious amount in reducing their carbon footprint. They’re testing converting street lighting to LED lighting. They have several smart initiatives on the table. Masdar is another major project in that respect. We need to be fair: while the consumption is high, there is a lot that is happening in the background as well. Remember, during the growth period, you could not avoid such a high carbon footprint because it was a construction site 24 hours a day.
We have pollution as well. We have too many cars on the roads and there is also the issue of the flight frequency out of the UAE. Water consumption is also very high. It’s really the same topics as most countries.
E Is there a lack of awareness here about environmental issues?
Two years ago I would have said ‘yes’, but today I don’t think it’s the case. The people are aware, but no one knows how to go about [solving the problem]. Have we introduced smart meters in the country? No we have not. Have we pushed people or encouraged people to go into energy efficient lighting? No we did not. We really need major plans or initiatives in those respects.
E What about using private-public partnerships (PPPs) to provide incentives for going green?
You need a regulatory framework that does not exist in the Arab world — except in Jordan and Saudi — to do PPP projects. The benefit of PPPs is that they take pressure off the government and allow the private sector to contribute, be it financially or be it through the expertise and the solutions they have. PPPs also create jobs immediately. At the same time, it benefits the environment so it’s sort of a triple win for everybody. But still it doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s agenda. This still keeps us puzzled although we advocate and keep on preaching PPP everywhere we go.
E What does Philips do, internally, to show its commitment to the environment? How are you socially responsible from within?
Most recently we told our employees to bring in all their light bulbs and we gave them energy efficient home light bulbs for free. We recycled their old bulbs immediately. An energy efficient lamp consumes one-fifth of an incandescent lamp. A 100-watt incandescent lamp generates around 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. These are energy burners and heat generators. Go to any hotel lobby or office today, you see these spotlights. This technology is pre-1970. It’s a shame that we still use it. It should be banned. The heat that is generated by these lamps makes your air conditioning work 30 percent more!
Several months back we decided to no longer use regular paper, and now only use recycled paper. We did the cost analysis and the difference was minimal, so we moved ahead. We’ve been looking at the numbers, and I think we’ve managed to save something like 20 kilograms of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions and 200 trees during that period. We are changing our offices all around the world to green lighting — you won’t see any Philips offices that are not 100 percent compliant.
There is an ongoing engagement campaign to keep people aware. The most recent was the lamps. We’re talking about 80 percent savings on energy bills in a domestic environment.
E What are your green advocacy plans for the UAE?
What we’re trying to push for as much as possible is making organizations aware of the benefits of energy efficiency and again, the triple win benefit of PPPs. Personally I’m a true believer that without any PPP structure, neither the government can do it alone, nor the private sector can do it alone and the people definitely won’t. So the two of us have to sit together and try to find solutions.
A good example — the Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City. A year ago we engaged in a discussion with the Dubai Tourism Board. They decided that by 2012, hotels need to be at least 20 percent more energy efficient. One of the first projects we worked on was that hotel. They had conventional lighting inside the hotel — 35,000 light points, that’s a huge number. We changed, in less than six months, all the indoor and outdoor lighting of the hotel. They saved around 40 to 50 percent in energy consumption. Today, they not only benefit from the savings but also from the improved image of being a good corporate citizen themselves.
E What advice do you have for companies in the UAE that are trying to ‘go green’?
Any organization that doesn’t have any cash flow issues should not think twice about going green because they benefit immediately. Who does not want to save? The only thing they need to do is realize that they could save beyond their expectations.
E You mentioned that at the time of its economic surge, the UAE’s footprint could not have been any less than it was. Why do you think developers were not using green materials a few years ago?
To be honest with you… going green has been on the table for about 20 years. Everybody knew about it and that we needed to do something about the environment. The momentum did not pick up until the last 18 months; it coincided with the crisis.
Now is the time, under the current circumstances to say ‘from now on this is how we’re going to address construction’ — it needs to be green, energy efficient and follow certain protocols. If you don’t follow certain protocols and we get a third party to come and certify that you didn’t, then you don’t get your license, for example.
Another problem is the people who build the buildings are not the people who live in them. If I were an owner, I would look at the marketing benefit and the premium that I could rent or sell a building if it’s totally green.
Being green can happen in stages. Pre-construction, you need proper insulation – glass or wall insulation. You need to use screens. Lighting is another big thing. Also, solar water heaters. Make sure that your windows are airtight. The construction needs to be very high quality.