Friday, 2 July 2021

Your guide to living more sustainably in Egypt

The Beginning

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Your guide to living more sustainably in Egypt

Here at Enterprise, we the environment. And though we’re all increasingly aware that we live on a fragile planet with finite resources, the task of adjusting our lives to use and waste less can seem overwhelming, especially if we have no idea where to start. But we choose to believe that every little bit helps, so we’ve put together this simple guide offering suggestions on how you can live more sustainably in Egypt. Spotlighting a number of initiatives making a difference, as well as ideas that are easy to implement at home, this month’s issue of Your Wealth is all about the small things that can make our lives in this urban metropolis greener, cooler, and more environmentally friendly.

Greening your rooftop

Living sustainably could start with your roof: So-called green roofs are more than just a cute garden on a rooftop, with the more serious of them involving growing vegetation using waterproofing and drainage systems with the aim of boosting agriculture in urban areas. These roofs have a myriad of benefits for individuals, society, and the environment alike. The green spaces help mitigate heat islands, improve energy efficiency in buildings, increase biodiversity, and more, according to Urbanscape. Plus, it goes without saying that green roofs are easy on both the eyes and the soul.

Green roofs have increasingly been under the spotlight in Egypt, with the past few years seeing many initiatives that aim to green the Cairo skyline.

A small-scale solution to food security: Enthusiasts argue that these green roofs could be a solution to many of the challenges facing the country, most importantly food and water scarcity for many low-income families nationwide. Rapid growth in the capital city has taken a heavy toll on agricultural land, and green roofs are one of the initiatives that could help feed urban communities while generating income.

Have we mentioned they use less water? In 2001, a project titled ‘Green Food from Green Roofs in Urban and Peri-urban Environments’ was implemented in Cairo to develop rooftop micro-garden systems in four pilot sites in the city, according to the Innovation for Sustainable Development Network. With basic technology and simple planting techniques, water consumption fell 60% when compared with traditional agriculture.

What’s holding us back then? …our own laziness and the cost: While many people were enthusiastic about the ‘plant and eat’ aspect of green roofs, most didn’t want to invest the time and effort needed for the upkeep of the space. For low-income families, the cost of the endeavor played an even bigger factor and put them off of the idea, no matter how beneficial it may seem.

Enter these great initiatives: Social enterprise Schaduf was founded by brothers, Sherif and Tarek Hosny, and started off by offering microloans in the form of rooftop gardens for low-income Egyptians. When the venture proved successful. Schaduf began to expand into designing and implementing green walls and roof gardens for different clientele, customizing them to suit the needs and resources of each individual. Meanwhile, ​AUC’s Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) has also undertaken several projects to support sustainable agriculture through green roofs. RISE created a green roof on the AUC campus as a test site, experimenting with different technologies, substrate mixes, plants, irrigation schedules, and drainage systems, reports AUC News.

The government is in on it too: In 2019, Egypt’s Environment Ministry launched a nationwide green roof initiative to encourage planting flora on roofs, according to the local press. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency was planted with ornamental, medical, and aromatic plants and then-Minister Yasmine Fouad said that green roofs were “a new form of agriculture in the cities to reclaim greenish spaces.”

It’s not a hard feat to create your own green roof: Roof Garden is a home gardening support startup right here in Umm El Donia that helps people create their own spaces by selling plants and offering advice. They’re attentive to each person’s budget and take that into account when making suggestions on what to plant and how. For a more thorough approach, you can check out this journal article on the best techniques for maintaining green roofs, looking at successful green roof examples in Cairo, from schools to residential units. The article offers design principles, guidelines and tools that can assist in transforming existing roofs into productive green spaces.

Solar panels

Solar energy use in homes is a sure way to reduce a family’s monthly utility bill, while also helping curb carbon emissions. It can even raise the value of properties, with research looking at properties in the US finding that homebuyers are willing to pay extra for a solar-powered home. One study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that the increase in value can be as much as USD 15k for homes running on solar energy.

Solar is also great for areas with all-year-round sunlight: Besides looking pretty, solar installation can also connect to water storage tanks and be used as a cost-effective way to produce hot water for homes. Plus, solar systems don’t need much space as they’re usually installed on rooftops, and are a great backup for notorious summer power outages.

But those benefits come at a cost: Installing a solar system is a long-term investment that comes with a big-ticket upfront cost. The solar module itself is the most expensive item in an installation, as well as other necessary equipment including inverters to convert the current into energy a house can use and meters to measure output. In the US, the overall cost of a solar system in 2021 ranged from USD 11-15k.

Here at home, a number of high-profile private companies are championing solar installations. Cairo Solar, KarmSolar, and SolarizEgypt have worked on over a dozen solar projects for factories, office buildings, and homes. In Egypt, the internal rate of return (IRR) — or how much money you get back for every EGP you invest in a solar project, is currently at least 25%, SolarizeEgypt managing director Hatem Tawfik told us last year. Families in Egypt can reasonably expect to save EGP 320k in a lifetime by installing solar panels on their homes, while business owners should expect a minimum of 10% savings compared to their current electricity bills, SolarizEgypt estimates.

Famous solar installations in Egypt include: A photovoltaic (PV) system SolarizEgypt installed in Coca Cola’s Sadat City plant, one by KarmSolar installed for Arkan Plaza in Sheikh Zayed, and another by Cairo Solar for Defense Ministry-run facilities in Sinai and Mostakbal City. Speaking to the local press last year, Cairo Solar’s Tawfik said a 1 MW PV plant, which is enough to power a facility with an area of around 10k sqm, costs between EGP 13-14 mn (watch, runtime: 6:52).

If you’re interested in having a solar system installed in your home, smaller 5 kWh systems can cost as little EGP 65k to install over a 40 sqm surface — and are usually enough for an average household — while the cost of installing a larger 10 kWh system can reach EGP 140k.


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Moving toward a zero waste lifestyle

Saving the planet starts with recycling, which has multiple benefits starting from conserving resources and saving energy, to protecting the environment and reducing landfill volumes. As of 2018, the formal sector in Egypt was said to collect 810k tonnes of waste annually with the informal sector collecting over 2.5 mn tonnes. Egypt is targeting an 80% rate for waste recycling rate over the next seven years compared to the 2019 rate of 20%.

Egypt has launched a number of initiatives to spur the recycling process: In March 2017, the government rolled out a “Sell your garbage” scheme, with kiosks set up across the city allowing people to deposit sorted waste of recyclables in return for money. This year, the Environment Ministry announced a three-year project valued at USD 3 mn in a bid to eliminate single-use plastic bags in the country. These initiatives are being complemented by other efforts to make the best use of waste, such as the “Zabaleen’’ neighborhood in Manshyet Nasser, where 60k garbage collectors recycle over 80% of their collected garbage every day, equivalent to 3k-4k tons.

The government has also sought to bring in the private sector: In 2012, the National Solid Waste Management Program obtained funding from the European Union and Germany to establish waste management departments in Gharbiya, Kafr El Sheikh, Assiut, and Qena, and contract the private sector to carry out the waste processing and recycling. The government would provide waste management companies with waste at no charge and lease them the land to build recycling facilities, whose byproducts they would then be able to sell. In some cases, companies are also contracted to collect the waste themselves. Qalaa Holding-owned waste management company ECARU was paid EGP 78 per tonne to process garbage, CEO Hisham El Sherif told Enterprise last year. Another company, Nahdet Misr (a subsidiary of Arab Contractors), was paid an annual fee of EGP 850k when they were hired in 2011, the company’s vice chairman Osama Elkholy also told us.

Specific firms also run their own waste management platforms: The Ministry of Environment launched last April the PepsiCo platform “Recycle for Tomorrow” to reduce plastic consumption, targeting 8 mn kg of plastic waste produced by PepsiCo by the end of 2021 with EGP 10 mn allocated for the first phase. In the same month, German company Henkel and recycler Plastik Bank established three plastic waste collection centers to tackle plastic pollution, with plans to reach an annual collection capacity of 5k tonnes by 2023. In late 2020, Nestlé Egypt also launched a digital platform to boost plastic recycling, after identifying Egypt as one of the 20 countries worldwide that produces are responsible for around 50% of consumption of plastics. The company established the Reverse Credit System to register and document plastic quantities among waste collectors in Manshiet Nasser, who then get monetary incentives upon meeting their monthly targets.

If you’re interested in recycling, there are a number of initiatives that can help you out: Bekia offers to buy solid waste such as old electronics, plastic, paper, tin, and other items in exchange for basic goods such as phone credits, groceries or metro tickets. Go clean also allows its clients to exchange their plastic, paper and metal in return for cash or household cleaning products. EverGreen also offers to come to the customer’s doorsteps to collect all types of plastic bottles, paper, card boxes and aluminum tins or cans, while Men Jadeed also collects solid waste and allocates the revenues generated to finance the charity organization Resala’s activities.

And if you have a business: Go Green is an organization that collects waste from companies, factories and cafes as well as households in exchange for cash or other items.

And there are some even more specialized recyclers: RecycloBekia focuses on collecting and recycling electronic waste. Recycling cooking oil also offers to buy used cooking oil for EGP 2 per liter, while Green Pan offers the same service for both individuals and businesses.

The recycling revolution is hitting everything from fashion and accessories to furniture: Zabbaleen Products offers handmade eco-friendly items made of recycled materials by craftswomen affiliated with the Association for the Protection of the Environment in Cairo, with products sold in Europe and North America. Zebala store also takes all the plastic, paper and carton waste, recycles them and then sells the byproducts through their store. The upcycling design studio Mobikya is another green brand that utilizes solid waste materials, such as old tires and plastic boxes to produce pieces of architecture and furniture. Reform design studio creates fashionable items from clothes to furniture from waste, while Upfuse sells a wide range of sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle products including bags, laptop sleeves, streetwear and footwear — all made of plastic bags and other plastic products — which the brand collects through sustainable collaboration with Cairo Garbage City, factories and donations.

Remember, sorting your trash is the first step: Even if you don’t plan on recycling yourself, sorting your waste into organic and non-organic recyclable materials can be a big help to the collectors who will process your waste.

How to eat more sustainably

What we eat has changed the planet. Food production is not only the greatest driver of wildlife loss, but a major contributor to climate change. The current global food system is responsible for about 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals and contributes to around 19-29% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As countries around the world — including Egypt — work towards achieving their Sustainable Development Goals, many are recognizing the key role of food systems. They are not only critical in ensuring food security and improved nutrition, but are important in achieving social, economic and environmental goals as well. And for food systems to become more sustainable, well-functioning market dynamics and linkages in the food supply chain are required for food to move safely and cheaply from farm to fork.

As part of Egypt 2030 Vision, the government has been in pursuit of a more sustainable ecosystem to achieve SDG #2.4, namely, to ensure sustainable food production systems by 2030. To that end, the government has launched a national project for the reclamation of 4 mn acres of agricultural land across the country, as part of a wider medium-term USD 454 mn joint project (pdf) with the World Food Program (WFP) that aims to strengthen Egypt’s capacities to implement its SDGs.The Agricultural Ministry, alongside the UN-backed program, will introduce improved agricultural technologies and practices including heat tolerant crop varieties, improved irrigation methods, as well as affordable harvesting and post-harvest technologies that will all contribute to reducing GHG emissions and water consumption.

SEKEM is one grassroots organization trying to overhaul the system: SEKEM, which owns the ISIS Organic food brand, applies an approach to farming in reclaimed desert land near Cairo that emphasizes zero use of synthetic fertilizers, known as “biodynamic agriculture.” Similar to organic farming, which uses 45% less energy, releases 40% less carbon emissions and fosters 30% more biodiversity compared to conventional farming, biodynamic agriculture emits fewer GHGs and is more likely to lead to carbon soil sequestration, which happens when CO2 is pulled out of the air by the soil. Biodynamic crops have been found to be more resilient to climate change and more energy efficient to grow than their non-organic counterparts.

Other initiatives bidding to make sustainable farming mainstream: The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have been working with multinational food company Danone since October 2019 towards helping “advance global efforts to improve nutrition and food safety, and make food systems more sustainable,” starting with Egypt as a pilot country. There’s also the Integrated Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (ISAI) — a joint venture between Egypt’s Foresight for Development and Innovation and the Netherlands-based Except Integrated Sustainability, supported by the Environment Ministry and the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE), to sustainably grow 100k feddans of agricultural land, in a bid to promote sustainable agriculture in the long term.

But it’s not just how we grow crops, what we eat also matters: If you want to holistically help the planet, reducing your intake of meat and dairy is your best bet. A study (pdf) from researchers at the University of Oxford found that ditching meat, eggs and cheese from your diet (aka veganism) could be the “single biggest way” to minimize your environmental impact. If people cut these foods from their diets, our dietary carbon footprint would be reduced by up to 73%, while global land use could be curtailed by as much as 75% — comparable to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined — and we would still manage to feed everybody. The research also found grass-fed beef — or “sustainable beef” thought to be relatively low impact — was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food.

Want a healthier, more sustainable diet? There are now plenty of places where you can consider purchasing your produce including ElMarket, a specialty mini grocery store that sells artisanal and organic food products created locally by small producers, providing some vegan and fermented foods such as natural pickles, dairy-free cheese as well as soy milk and cream. Eggs and fresh vegetables from organic and premium food brand Sara’s Organic Food should also be a mainstay of your household. You can even shop for groceries online through agriculture startup ElMazr3a’s online farmers market, which offers high-quality fresh produce and artisanal goods (there’s also an app for Android users and iPhone aficionados). Organic Egypt, which was created in cooperation with SEKEM’s Egyptian Biodynamic Association and Fayoum Organic Development Association, offers and markets a raft of Egypt-grown organic products to local and international markets. Family-run Makar Farms also follows a similar lead.

Your top 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in June:

  • France plans to be our third-largest source of FDI: France wants to be the third-largest foreign investor in Egypt, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire tells Enterprise in an exclusive interview.
  • Unified Tax Act executive regs are here: The final version of the Unified Tax Act’s executive regulations are published, detailing how the newly-launched single tax portal will work and outline instructions for taxpayers on using the platform to file and pay all types of state dues.
  • Interest rates on hold for fifth consecutive time: The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee left interest rates unchanged as it looks to preempt a possible increase in inflation, which already accelerated to 4.8% in May.
  • Four companies to IPO on the EGX in 2H2021: The EGX could see as many as four companies debut shares during the second half of the year, with possible candidates including Ebtikar, E-Finance and Macro Group.
  • Nafeza customs system postponed until October: The Finance Ministry has delayed the deadline to register for the one-stop platform, Nafeza, to October from the initial 1 July deadline.

Building sustainably

By building sustainably we can help mitigate the worst of climate change while driving down energy costs. Sustainable architecture boils down to using better materials and more efficient design to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check. This can be as simple as shifting a building’s spatial orientation to capture the right amount of sunlight exposure or using easily accessible materials like adobe and white clay brick, in places like Egypt, to create naturally temperature-controlled spaces. Other, more high-tech sustainable building strategies might look like contorted skyscrapers with large glass windows, roofs covered with photovoltaic solar panels with water recycling systems. The ultimate goal remains the same, using less harmful building materials and reducing energy consumption.

In Egypt, construction is responsible for at least 23% of our GHG emissions, making the industry one of our most significant environmental polluters. Manufacturing glass, red brick, paint and concrete are the main culprits behind construction pollution, of which Egypt is a major producer of—being one of the world’s top 12 cement producers over the past decade. Globally, the construction industry is confronted with a tremendous ecological dilemma as its activities account for some 40% of the world’s GHG emissions. We have more detail on this in our four part Going Green series, which you can check out here, here, here and here.

On a global scale, the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification has been the most widely used standard in building sustainability: It measures energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material selection and the impact of buildings on the surrounding environment. Some studies have shown that LEED-certified buildings have been able to produce 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally constructed buildings through improved water consumption and 48% fewer emissions from solid waste reduction. Domestically, we have the Egypt Green Building Council which has its own Tarsheed guidelines for sustainable residential, commercial and community buildings.

While major construction companies haven’t adopted sustainably on a large scale, there are still some promising domestic initiatives underway: Suez Cement, LaFarge Egypt and CEMEX Egypt are among the big players offering their own versions of less carbon intensive blended cement alternatives, but the extra cost of these marginally less polluting materials have kept wider adoption limited. Bastoob, a small-scale building materials project selling interlocking blended cement blocks is another domestic initiative taking the first steps towards low-cost construction efficiency. And local Biotech startup Mycelium is using fungi to convert rice or wheat straw into insulation material. Companies like 365 Ecology provide more high-tec solutions through smart sensors that are able to track movement inside buildings and automatically limit central AC and electricity usage.

Further up the supply-chain you have initiatives like Hand Over Projects who focus on sustainable building through nature driven design. The group’s work on public and residential projects in places like Luxor, Dahab and Al Ayat has mostly relied on low-cost materials like sand, mud and gravel available in the surrounding environment and low tech-solutions to air flow and temperature control. Still experimental but worth keeping an eye out for is 3D printed houses and enhanced salt bricks being developed by British University in Egypt lecturer Deena El Mahdy.

If this kind of thing interests you, Taimor El Hadidi’s personal home in Sheikh Zayed is a recent example of sustainability put to the test. The Nedal Badr-designed six building residence was made with over 3k used water bottles, recycled cement and discarded tires, and does not in any way look like a Mad Max-style garage. Built over the course of six years with the help of a 7 team member crew, they focused on locally sourcing all their construction materials to reduce fossil fuel emissions from transportation. This Mariam El Korachy-designed Fayoum House in Tunis village is another spectacular example of low-tech sustainability. Built mostly out of adobe and limestone, the building’s high ceiling, mezzanine and courtyard naturally regulate its temperature year round.

Want more on sustainable building in Egypt? Take a look at Hassan Fathy's oeuvre. Arguably the godfather of sustainable architecture, architect Hassan Fathy revived low cost earth building in the 1940s to meet the housing needs of rural communities in Egypt. Fathy’s approach to architecture was one that utilized naturally occuring materials in the surrounding environment—namely sun dried mud brick—to build sustainable housing at an affordable price, which he detailed in his pioneering work Architecture for the Poor. Drawing on pre-industrial building techniques from across the country to construct arches, vaults, domes and mashrabiyas, Fathy was determined to provide homes with improved air circulation and temperature control at minimal ecological cost. Some of his work includes the 1940s-designed New Gourna Village near Luxor, where Nubian residents of Old Gourna were meant to be relocated, and the New Baris village in the Western Desert.

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