Mall of the future: Delivering a positive impact for a sustainable tomorrow

Tenants and brands need to take full accountability and involvement in mall sustainability

By Khalifa Bin Braik

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The Mall of the Emirates.
The Mall of the Emirates.

Published: Thu 28 Dec 2023, 5:12 PM

When Galleria Vittorio, the world’s first shopping mall, opened its doors to the public in 1877, it was hailed as a resplendent community hub with an eclectic combination of shopping and dining – swiftly becoming the place to be seen in Milan.

From the germinal days of the Galleria Vittorio, shopping malls have gone through a century and a half of stunning evolution and reimagination to become vital social and lifestyle destinations that not only deliver a compelling proposition for brands to engage with savvy shoppers of all ages, but also help them nurture a purpose that transcends profit.

That’s why today, many malls around the world are seeking to contribute to a more sustainable planet, leading the remarkable shift towards sustainability within the retail industry. This is a critical development at many levels, because preserving our precious natural resources and biodiversity has never been more important than now – when we stand on the edge of a new industrial age where social, economic and environmental responsibilities merge.

A byproduct of the dramatic rise in global consumption and production over the last century has been environmental degradation and the depletion of our natural resources that threaten the very foundation of our future. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that the global population is now producing twice as much plastic waste as it did 20 years ago, and only nine per cent of it has ever been recycled. Similarly, drastically lowering our carbon consumption has become an urgent necessity to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C.

In other words, we need to do more and do better but with less.

Shopping malls have a significant role to play in this regard, especially in view of their responsibility to the communities that they serve. Right from energy conservation and waste management to preventing food wastage, optimising water usage and embracing sustainable design, shopping malls can become a major enabler of global sustainability.

Just as countries alone cannot achieve their ambitious net zero programmes without the participation of all stakeholders, shopping malls also cannot succeed in their sustainability efforts without the whole-hearted support of their tenants. The best strategy to encourage sustainability in malls is to empower tenants and brands to take full accountability and involvement in it through inclusive processes and campaigns to deliver astonishing outcomes.

At Majid Al Futtaim, we have set out to develop our own circular economy and become net positive in carbon and water by 2040. A major success in this direction is our first food rescue programme – ‘Feed the Future’ – which focuses on recovering leftover and edible food from restaurants, cafés, the Food Court, and workforce catering in Mall of the Emirates and repurposing it to the community in partnership with Replate and the UAE Food Bank. The initiative successfully recovered more than 2,000 meals, equating to 15kg of food daily, saved 2.28 million litres of water and diverted 2,050kg of CO2 from the environment.

Khalifa Bin Braik, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Asset Management
Khalifa Bin Braik, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Asset Management

According to the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence, around 38 per cent of the food prepared every day in the UAE is estimated to be wasted, and the decomposition process also emits methane – which is 25 times more damaging than CO2. In addition, the UAE imports 90 per cent of food, and food security is a key pillar of the UAE’s future vision. Encouraged by the success of Feed the Future, we have decided to extend it to three new shopping malls, which is expected to allow 10,000 meals to be recovered monthly per location with a 60 per cent participation rate from outlets.

This is an example of how the retail industry and shopping malls in particular need to move away from the traditional “take, make, use, dispose” model to a regenerative circular economy where consumption and production patterns are sustainable and lead to the uplift of humanity.

That’s exactly what the Green Star Rating system at Majid Al Futtaim has been designed to encourage tenants to do. By evaluating the sustainability of store fit-outs and limiting their environmental impact, the system has been a cornerstone of Majid Al Futtaim becoming the leading property developer in sustainability in the Middle East.

With some strategic planning, ingenuity and innovation, it is possible to transform shopping centres into eco-friendly hubs that maximise sustainability and help retailers rediscover the social and cultural roots of shopping. But this cannot be achieved without placing tenants at the front and centre of the strategy, and reinforcing strict benchmarks to improve environmental performance.

As these numerous examples demonstrate, retail precincts can not only blossom into community hubs of the future, but also boost long-term returns, improve engagement, and enhance the tenant experience by proactively integrating sustainable practices and making everyone part of that journey.

The writer is Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim – Asset Management Business.

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