The UAE’s smallest emirate is home to a member of the royal family who has adopted a green outlook on life. Ajman’s Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Ali Al Nuaimi is using his royal linage to promote charitable and environmental causes in and around the emirate.
Read BGreen’s exclusive interview with the Sheikh who embraced sustainability.
BG: How did you get your nickname the ‘Green Sheikh’, and what are the benefits and pitfalls of carrying such a title?
The Green Sheikh: The title ‘Green Sheikh’ was unconsciously given to me in my childhood through my father’s vision. He was one of the few pioneers in falconry in the region and when I was six years old I went with him on a hunting trip. On the trip I said to him: “Baba, I want to be like you when I am older.” He responded by telling me: “No, you may focus on your education and one day I want you to be the falcon himself.” Other reasons came from environmental activists in the UAE and GCC region, and the fact that my carbon footprint is a third less than my peers across the county’s royal family. The title inspires me towards continued environmental stewardship where I encourage all types of communities, especially youths. There are not many pitfalls once projects, programmes and activities have been initiated. Jealousy and misconception, however, are the main issues, and I normally overcome these by turning to Allah and by walking the talk.
BG: What inspired your environmental outlook?
The Green Sheikh: There are five things that inspire my environmental outlook. Firstly I want to be a great example for others; I encourage people to take responsibility for their actions; it is a part of my lifestyle, I believe in the concept ‘award for the hereafter’, and finally I believe it is important to leave a sustainable peace legacy.
BG: What is the key to encouraging sustainability in the Middle East?
The Green Sheikh: On one side it is about connecting stronger bonds between faith and cultural understanding with relation to sustainability; these are related to morals, values and ethics. On the other side, it is about continuous education and awareness in sustainability, as well as knowledge of low-cost green technologies.
BG: What reaction do you get from people when you introduce yourself as the ‘Green Sheikh’?
The Green Sheikh: Most people respond with surprise and are often impressed and inspired. Sometimes, however, people react negatively through annoyance and panic!
BG: Is it difficult to get the sustainability message across to those in top government and private sector positions in the Middle East?
The Green Sheikh: It is not difficult at all. Once there are profit outcomes, short pay back and future resources management for the generations, people in the region will — for the most part — be encouraged. The most vital method of delivering the message is through the third sphere of partnership between public-private NOGs. This cooperation will definitely enhance the message of sustainability collectively and through collaboration.
BG: Are you able to influence environmental policy in the Middle East?
The Green Sheikh: In the medium to long term I am able to influence policy through a bottom-up approach of young ambassadors who I have guided and inspired on the role they will play in a sustainable future and the responsibilities that come with that.
BG: What ‘green’ projects have impressed you most and why?
The Green Sheikh: I have been most impressed with geothermal and biomass projects, and with industrial symbiosis; this concept contains a key metric of industry, that waste from one could feed another. The reason I am impressed, is that it will reduce the resources from both feed-in and waste-out streams.
BG: From a sustainable point of view, are you impressed with the development that has taken place in the UAE over the past two decades
The Green Sheikh: Yes and no — yes because there are many great examples of sustainable projects, but they were high-cost investments. No, because there are still places in the UAE lacking basic infrastructure, such as electricity, water quality, sewage, landscaping, waste management, and environmental laws and regulations. Housekeeping devices for saving energy and water are essential in the country, where more than 60% of energy and water supplies are not fully utilised.
BG: Are you ‘green’ at home?
The Green Sheikh: At home my personal carbon footprint is 37 tons of CO2 emissions per year. I shower for less than three minutes per day, which uses about 15 litres of water and I use the minimum of water for ablution — the ritual washing before prayers. I recycle papers, batteries and other waste materials, and I have reduced air-conditioning usage in unused rooms. I only have one meal of meat a week and I follow a mostly vegetarian and seafood diet. I also educate my children at home with good manners and behaviour in environmental responsibilities. I only own one car for personal use and I grow native vegetation around my home.
BG: Finally, please tell us about your charity work in Ajman and the role it is playing in the emirate’s society?
The Green Sheikh: The Al Ihsan Charity Centre, of which I am chairman, was founded in Ajman in 1990 to meet the needs of children without sponsors, and women without spouses in the UAE. The beneficiaries are given a daily and monthly food ration, financial assistance, clothing, home necessities, school supplies and other donated items. The Centre, with the cooperation of local and international philanthropy, supplies these families with home necessities, new and used furniture, kitchen appliances, clothing, shoes and personal items. It also offers assistance to locals in acquiring health cards and medical prescriptions, as well as schooling supplies for their children.
Originally published by BGreen on 1st February 2011.