Sustainability is becoming a major concern across the Middle East. As the region’s water consumption and reliance on non-renewable energy sources continue to rise, more communities are thinking about how they can use resources more efficiently, provide cleaner air and water, and improve quality of life.
In recent years, the Middle Eastern startup ecosystem has seen an influx of companies that are looking to solve the region’s most pressing sustainability crises. Some are branching out from the Middle East, providing green solutions to communities in other regions.
Read on to take a look at five of the most interesting sustainability-focused startups in the Middle East:
Since its inception in 2013, Up-Fuse has paired fashion and sustainability in its unique line of accessories. Founders Rana Rafie and Yara Yassin developed their social enterprise to address one of Egypt’s (and the world’s) most pressing environmental issues: a rise in disposable plastic bag use. Like other countries, Egypt throws away millions of plastic bags, which take centuries to decompose once they end up in landfills. The team is hoping to make a big difference by taking some of these bags and upcycling them into stunning backpacks, laptop cases, and other items. Typically, between 15 and 30 plastic bags go into each bag at Up-Fuse.
The startup goes beyond environmental sustainability, however. In collaboration with the Manshiyat Naser-based NGO Roh El Shabab, Up-Fuse shows local youth and women how to upcycle items to earn income.
Zero Mass Water
Water scarcity is a significant problem across the Middle East. In fact, the World Resources Institute identified nine MENA countries on its list of 11 nations projected to become extremely water-stressed by the year 2040.
Fortunately, Middle East startups like Zero Mass Water are leveraging the region’s most abundant resources—air and sunlight—to solve this problem. The company has developed a proprietary technology called Source, which uses solar panels to extract humidity directly from the air. A standard dual-panel array for a residential home can condense and purify up to 10 liters of potable water, while an attached reservoir stores up to 30 liters. The system also enhances the taste of the water by adding minerals to it. To date, Zero Mass Water’s technology has produced more than 83,000 liters of water—literally from thin air.
Though it’s based in the UAE, Pawame is looking to provide electricity to millions of homes across sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of households in this region are without any access to power due to their remote location and the high cost of connecting to the power grid. As a result, people here rely on kerosene lamps for all their lighting needs. Not only is this ultimately expensive and unhealthy, but the lack of reliable electricity hinders local economic and social development.
Pawame is helping those in sub-Saharan Africa overcome these challenges with its PawaHome Solar Home System. Equipped with a solar array, lighting, a radio, and more, the solution provides the guaranteed access to electricity that households need while helping them save money each month. The impact of Pawame’s system also extends to the community—with a dependable source of power, there are more possibilities for entrepreneurship, and schools and businesses can operate more regularly.
Over the last three decades, Lebanon has seen an increase in “garbage mountains”—huge dumping grounds for the nation’s trash. The problem reached a breaking point in 2014 and 2015, after Beirut closed its busiest dumpsite and left residents with nowhere to send their waste. This gave Nizar Haddad, an architecture school graduate, the idea to build a sustainable home out of materials usually destined for landfills.
Haddad’s idea blossomed into Lifehaus, a startup project that sources local materials to build small, energy-neutral houses. These green dwellings boast a number of features, including greenhouses and solar panels. Residents can also minimize their reliance on local water systems by reusing grey water and collecting rainwater. Moreover, the homes utilize passive design to regulate the indoor temperature during the hottest and coldest parts of the year.
All these features are helping more Lebanese citizens live off the grid. More importantly, Lifehaus dwellings cost much less than most homes in the country, making them more accessible to the average person.
Taka Solutions is tackling a huge challenge in Dubai: improving the energy efficiency of the city’s buildings. The startup begins this process by taking a comprehensive look at a building’s systems—such as its air conditioning, lighting, and plumbing systems—and assessing how much energy they consume. With this information, the company develops and implements upgrades to boost the building’s efficiency and save the owner or property manager money. After the retrofits are complete, Taka Solutions monitors the building’s energy consumption to ensure it remains in line with the desired performance.
Since its inception, Taka Solutions has helped clients save more than $3 million in energy costs and reduce their carbon emissions by 21,500 tons.