Sarah El Battouty
Global Ambassador UNFCCC High Level Climate Champions. Green Entrepreneur Founder of ECONSULT, Owner of MùBun.
Advisor To Egyptian Presidency on Climate.
It was inspiring to hear Sarah El Battouty thoughts and journey as she and team grew ECOnsult in 2010 from a small consulting firm with a big dream, to a company that is now a leader in the climate change movement, impacting policy, raising the voices of the most vulnerable, sharing local knowledge for solutions that bring about more equitable, accessible and impactful approach to mitigation and adaptation of climate change. We have below some of the highlights of this unique interview:
1. We would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Global Ambassador for 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27), that will be held in Sharm el Sheihk this November. How important is this event for Egypt and the Middle East region?
COP27 is very important for the entire world, but it is especially significant for the Middle East region, and Egypt. Climate change is extremely high on the agenda for the entire world. We are seeing more and more challenges related to the global economy, social injustices, and increases in climate related disasters. This is not a phenomenon but a crisis that has built up over many years, with countries not paying attention their climate responsibilities. COP27 will be a moment to address this situation. It is also significant that COP 27 is being held in the global South because finally there will be emphasis on emerging economies, on extremely vulnerable groups, on women and on Africa. It is exciting, but also very challenging, many countries are looking to the meeting as a step towards improving their status and to developing effective and fair approaches to moving forward to address climate change.
2. There is lots of excitement around the COP 27 meeting, from your perspective what would be a successful outcome from this meeting?
COP27 must be seen as a culmination of all previous efforts and agreements built on the foundation of the Paris Agreement in 2015, an Agreement that aimed to cap rising temperature – the main cause of climate change. The focus needs to remain on reducing the emissions that are causing the rising temperatures. Reducing emissions will be high on the agenda of COP27, as well as the climate related projects that will be financed in the future. It will be critical for those countries that have been responsible for most of the global emissions, to take responsibility for it. It is also crucial that support be provided for emerging economies, so they can adapt to climate change and continue to grow sustainably. The South is willing to support climate change and is making commitment to climate change; Egypt for example, is one of the country’s that has made significant steps in this respect. As the South is the not the main cause of climate change, there needs to be an open dialogue at COP27 with rich countries on their role going forward to support the South. The most successful outcome from COP 27 would be that all the realistic options are put forward at both the global and regional level, especially for Africa and the Middle East and that the meeting results in binding promises, and solutions that include accountability mechanisms and financing measures.
3. Tell us about your journey to becoming a climate change champion and your work with ECOnsult, designing green and environmentally friendling buildings?
El Battouty graduated from the University of Cambridge and joined the family firm in architectural practice and over several years worked, with other firms as well. She started to question the lack of green buildings in Egypt and region, and to explore the potential of the field of architecture to become more responsive toward the future challenges, one of them being climate challenge and environmental degradation. At the time, it was not a prerequisite to receive climate awareness as part of the architecture curriculum. She went on to study environmental design and also achieved a Masters in Climate Policy and Rural project management in remote and hazardous regions from SOAS University. ECOnsult was established in 2010 with three passionate architects who had the vision to increase of portfolio of green buildings in Egypt and the region. This led them to explore the rating systems that were being used locally and in the region. They felt there was a need to localize the rating systems for buildings, to make this more easily accessible, achievable, and easily implementable, within reasonable budgets.
It was a tough journey to prove themselves, as it was the first green building services company. It was a novel idea, at that time there was no legislation or requirements for buildings to have any environmental considerations. In addition, their firm led by women, in a very technical and male dominated field. They found it difficult to get support from banks, clients, venture capitalist. The eco system for green buildings did not exist in Egypt at the time, and they found receptiveness mainly from international clients. They were not discouraged and persevered, becoming the highest certified green building consultancy in Egypt! ECOnsult signed the first carbon neutral project 5 years ago and is now in the position to influence local policy, in addition to being the leader of some of the largest development projects. ECOnsult`s team is currently work with a range of clients, changing how they perceive their assets and transitioning these assets to green assets, while utilizing local expertise and materials. Their portfolio has expanded to include projects in China, UK, Italy and they have a sister company that upcycles waste material from waste wood into furniture- Mubun sustainable furniture.
4. Are you concerned that many of the cities in this region could become uninhabitable as temperatures continue to rise due to climate change? What should we be doing now to adapt to these rising temperatures and to make our cities resilient?
The inhabitable cities and inadequate infrastructure are one of the major causes of climate but climate change has also resulted in loss of land, damage to agricultural and migration as people lose their livelihoods and are forced to move to find employment elsewhere. We do not want to keep reaching this point, climate resilience has be to be implemented for different levels, for agricultural areas, for new and emerging cities and for existing cities.
5. How important is technology and innovation in preventing our cities from overheating? Will these new innovations be available to all citizens or just those with higher incomes?
Innovation is the heart of everything, and technology is the backbone of moving forward. Innovation and technology cannot work in silos- they need to be integrated and homegrown for the user to be able to move forward. Often in the case of high-end cities, the technology remains in the confines of a group that can afford it. It does not make a difference to the majority of the people in the country. We need to be careful when we market a solution and ask important questions, such as: is a solution a solution if it only applies for a specific group of people? It is smart if only a group of people can use it? Is it just if only a certain age group, gender group can use it? Where are the local farmers, the women, or the youth in this respect, when they try to save energy and utilize climate resilience in the building, is it applicable to them? ECOnsult is conscious in developing accessible affordable and culturally sensitive design that can be used for all. The goal is to reach all income groups and that all citizens who have a right to climate justice. Most citizens live in buildings and these buildings cannot be segregated as to who gets the solution or who does not. I support better livelihoods vs glossy magazines and impressive design – it is fine for architecture to impress, however when it comes to calling for architectural solutions for humanity – it needs be accessible to everyone and does not cause any kind of discrimination.
6. What are the sustainable cooling and living solutions for poorer communities in our region? How will the Decent Life (Haya Karima) initiative that is bringing sustainable development to some of Egypt`s poorest communities, tackle the issue of extreme heat?
Haya Karima is a very ambitious project in Egypt one of the largest in the world. It targets over 58 million Egyptians that live in over 4000 rural farming villages. Bringing sustainable development into these villages requires a new approach. ECOnsult is an Ambassador to Haya Karima and signed an MOU with the Ministry of Planning and Development two years ago. ECOnsult is working on integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), not as an international tool for international communication, but as a tool to adapt in our local setting using a bottom-up approach. SDGs are very generic in content and the targets are achievable, but they need to be locally sensitive.
ECOnsult is working on the completion of the world’s first Green Buildings Guideline for rural communities. This is being done in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry for Planning and Development, UNDP and the World Green Building Council. It is a unique document that aims to look at saving energy, passive cooling, recycling, construction methodologies etc. These concepts will all be integrated in one document that is easy to follow that can be utilized by non-practitioners. This document will be show-cased in COP 27, In addition, to one of Haya Karima Villages – Faris Village, in Komombo Aswan, is expected to receive the first green certification.
7. What are the biggest obstacles to getting the issues of cooling our cities on the agenda in the Middle East? How can we bring more attention and resources to this challenge?
The problem is that the extreme heat in the region, has led people to use the conventional methods of cooling, such as air conditioners, that only adds to the problem and in increasing green gas house emissions, carbon emissions and it becomes a vicious cycle. Cooling is not impossible – ECOnsult have achieved 10 degrees Celsius reduction in temperature in the buildings that they have worked on by simply using the right material, design, and the knowledge from local expertise. There is a need to focus more on indigenous knowledge and to tap existing innovations that are available in the Middle East. In all the cities and villages, we can use ancients building techniques, and integrate these into our new designs.
It is also important to raise the awareness that buildings that are not designed for cooling, should not be built in countries where cooling is needed. It is important that architecture is taught in a way that highlights the role of the architect, not only to resolve a spatial problems, and create inspiring aesthetics, but for architects to be responsible to address climate challenges and this should be highlight by educational and financial institutions. Architects need to be asking key questions: Are climate challenges being addressed? Is the design contributing to the surrounding environment ? Is it it saving income? Is it providing for better livelihoods? Is it energy efficient? These are the questions that need to be asked, questions that ECOnsult have been asking all along.
8. What would be the most important action that would make a difference today?
The most important action is to share information and knowledge, and to share good solutions. Technology works in an inward way, where patents keep solutions private, and information are held until their launch. Climate adaptation and mitigation requires that knowledge is shared and disseminated. The idea is to ask the difficult questions and to share the knowledge that has been accumulated and to share these stories. It is essential to continue to work with government and to share with partners, both locally and internationally such as Ashden, Bloomberg, the World Green Business Council, Earthshot Prize etc. These establishments have supported ECOnsult to sharing their story, lessons learnt and to make a difference in impacting lives globally.
We wish Sarah El Battouty and her team at ECOnsult all the best on their journey. We are certain that they will continue to inspire and the raise the bar in bringing more equitable, sustainable and innovative solutions to Egypt, region and to the world.
His Excellency Dr. Eduardo Varela, Ambassador of Argentina in Egypt