As the impact of climate change increases across the planet, sustainability has become a significant concern across the world. Buyers are becoming significantly more concerned about the environment, making changes to their purchasing habits. Because of this, businesses are expected to play a role in helping the planet. According to a study by Nielsen on consumer perception, 81 percent of the global population demand that businesses be more sustainable. Egypt, which produces over 22 million tons of waste per year, is increasingly confronted with the difficulty of waste management, and COVID-19 has not been improving the issue. Due to the increase of single-use items and “panic buying” during the pandemic, there is an increase in manufacturing and consumption, which undermines attempts to reduce plastic pollution. Yet, by reducing their carbon footprint and implementing eco-friendly methods, businesses can save the planet.
There is a growing wave of sustainable businesses opening in Egypt that have environmental concerns at the core of its business model.
Up-fuse is a social and environmental enterprise dedicated to waste minimization and social equality. Their production team is 90 percent women and is based in lower-income communities of Egypt, such as Hay el Zabbaleen and Nil el Forat. They occasionally cooperate with organizations and provide employment opportunities to provide a stable income for individuals in need. More impressively, all the products are sustainable and have zero waste in the making process; they are made out of plastic bags, car tires, or plastic bottles. Because of their commitment to reduce waste, they repurpose materials and give them a second life. Upcycling is the process of transforming an unwanted material into something that serves a new purpose and is higher in value. Since 2013, Upfuse have upcycled 675,000 plastic bags!
Laila Elmasry (’21), who manages Up-Fuse’s PR and communication, said that businesses should aim to reduce single-use items when having sustainability as a goal. “We come up with ideas of greener products through research, research, and research. We are very aligned with the fact that development comes with research and studying brands in more developed countries. We watch countries that have zero waste, such as Switzerland and Germany, and we see what they use to make products.”
But Up-fuse is not the only business focusing on waste reduction and social awareness. Sustainability can be the main drive to the start of many enterprises.
“We founded this company with intention of showing our kids that ethical, sustainable business is doable. Not just doable but also enjoyable, fulfilling and impactful,” said Norshek Fawzy, founder of ‘Norshek’.
During her pregnancy in 2012, Norshek Fawzy was on a mission to transform the beauty and health industry by abandoning the harsh chemicals used in many products. This started with a few trials and errors in her kitchen, which included burning her husband’s armpits a couple of times. At one point, she gave up, but things started rolling in 2018, and her company ‘Norshek’ came to life. Norshek is all about ethically-sourced, low-waste, cruelty-free, eco-conscious handmade products. Their body lotion and gel bottles are created from sugar cane waste biopolymer, and their sunblock is reef safe. Their deodorants are devoid of plastic and metal. And their packaging is eco-friendly.
Norshek seeks to engage and empower the local community through initiatives such as
Togetherness, “which supports homebound individuals who need to make extra income on the side by co-creating and selling their handmade products.”
Seastain Lab; which strives to decrease their products’ environmental impact by collaborating with R&D partner departments.
Happymess; which provides social development programs through art at all of the company’s coexist spaces, “engaging the community, encouraging collaborations, and celebrating differences.”
Co-Lab: Norshek also collaborates with other eco-friendly brands. “The latest is our #Bee2aAwi campaign in collaboration with Very Nile where we worked with them to clean up 432 kilos of plastic from the Nile, and upcycle single-use plastic bags transforming them into 4 products: makeup bag, pouch, tote bag, and supermarket bag.”
Fawzy, additionally, uses her platform to raise environmental concerns. The newest campaign is #AnaMshSaye7Hena, with an aim to increase awareness of climate change.
It can often be difficult to find sustainably-produced products in Egypt. Some websites are curating and featuring several brands that offer consumers an alternative for mainstream shopping.
The Kind Market is an online store where customers have access to entirely environmentally sustainable alternatives from several categories. They have strict guidelines regarding the items they advertise to guarantee that they are effective, clean, and sustainable. “The process involves a lot of testing, research, and sampling,” shared Reem Makeen, the founder of the Kind Market. To measure emissions and life cycle, they also consider the production process, components, and packaging.
Reem also shared a piece of advice for businesses that would like to become more environmentally friendly. “We would recommend starting an environmental audit as a first step to evaluate company practices on an ecological level. The next step would be developing a scheme to address those harmful practices. It could be something the company uses excessively and can drastically reduce or better yet omit, or it could be the way a department operates. Unsustainable practices differ from one company to another, and that’s why a thorough audit is a good first step.”
Of course, many challenges come with starting a business. “I thought female activists were exaggerating when saying women in business are not taken as seriously as men. And I apologize for that,” shared Norshek, who found it hard as a woman to get her voice heard. But even on the business side, things can get difficult creating and finding eco-friendly products. Norshek’s shampoo bars, for example, took two years in Research and Development (R & D).
If anything, this shows how in the end, success is nurtured with with passion and patience.
Other obstacles include convincing consumers to buy recycled products. For Up-fuse, “one of the biggest challenges was convincing people that just because it’s made of plastic doesn’t mean that it’s garbage.”
Indeed, it can be difficult to motivate individuals to be environmentally responsible. This is why education plays an essential role in driving consumers to use their purchasing power on sustainable products. Up-fuse aims to educate people about the importance of being environmentally conscious. “Each product has a tag that shows you how many pieces of plastic were recycled, and this allows the consumer to be aware of the difference they’re making even if it’s small.” They also organize educational school workshops where students can transform a material into a reusable item.
For the Kind Market, the main challenge had to do with the rising demand for sustainable products. “We were getting more orders than we could fulfill at the beginning, but we are currently expanding our operations to be able to meet the growing need for sustainable products.”
Eco-friendly businesses are booming in Egypt and are proving to have such a promising positive impact on the community, despite some challenges they may face. Only time will tell if businesses based on sustainable models will continue to increase and if demand will eco-friendliness will push them further.
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