Thursday, May 15, 2008

Green Culture

Salam alaikom,
I am back to Kuwait after my quick trip to the USA. It was very therapeutic to spend a few days back in the green paradise of Washington state. The air was so crisp and fresh and the skies were a brilliant blue. It felt so nice to sit in the grass under the trees on my university campus again. here is a pic of my campus.

I never noticed how green my campus or even my city was until I saw it for the first time after spending almost one year in the desert climate of Kuwait.

I also noticed that people really care about the environment. I even noticed this in Europe when I had a 8 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as in the capital of the USA, Washington, DC where I spent a day visiting with my good friend.

Everywhere I turned I found a recycling bin or a sign promoting environmentally friendly actions. It was everywhere, from the hundreds of bicyclers and skateboarders on my university campus, to the hybrid electric cars driving down the street, new light rail systems, to benefit concerts to raise awareness about such topics as solar power and debates on CNN about which presidential candidate is more green. It seemed to me that green was everywhere I looked.

I remember a time when people were more conscious about the idea of recycling and saw it as a great alternative to just dumping their waste. But now it has become a part of the culture. It is difficult NOT to find recycle bins around. They are everywhere I look from the Fedex Kinko's to the airport to the school copy room, and even along the streets one can find recycle bins. There are many alternatives to cars with regards to public transportation and not only is it convenient it is less polluting on the environment and produces less traffic.

Green has become so popular that is even a fashion statement now. Everywhere I looked in the malls I could find t-shirts that say "recycle" or "green is the new black" or "i love organic." Even the mannequins in the window of the mall shops were promoting environmental websites.
It is actually "cool" to not ride a car to the university at the University of Washington. Before, only people who could not afford a car and a few green-conscious folk used to ride bikes or skate boards to school. It almost had a stigma attached to it, but now, it is a status thing if you ride your bike or carry your skateboard around campus. People are carrying their skateboards into class decorated with many different styles and stickers, some of which say to recycle or other environmental causes. It has become cool to be a preppy student and have a skateboard in hand at the same time. Who would have thought those categories would have gone together? I remember a time when students were judged on how cool of a ride they had, now this is not as much of a factor anymore and that is a refreshing change.

I don't know if this could happen in Kuwait since it would not be very fun to ride to school on a bike in 130 degree heat. So what would be the alternative for them someday? Maybe electric cars and a solar powered city! I know that Kuwait is planning a new city. Wouldn't it be cool if Kuwait, being one of the world's largest oil exporters, is one of the first countries to switch to electric cars? It would be nice to see as well as innovative and creative. Anything is possible.

I noticed that it is getting harder and harder to see any type of trash laying around. Every photo I took of my campus for example was void even of a candy wrapper or pepsi can.

I was relieved to find recycle bins even in airports. The bins in Germany had them even in multiple languages so passengers getting off their planes could dump their empty plastic containers, wrappers or newspapers into the bins without any confusion.

As for riding on the planes, there was not much waste other than that which was connected with eating. My advice for lowering the amount of waste produced is to pack a lunch. Just be sure to avoid any fresh foods like fruits and vegetables because they could affect the agriculture in other countries in addition to it being prohibited. Try brining nuts and raisins and a peanut butter sandwich or anything that will give you energy and protein. Keep in mind that traveling takes a lot out of you so eat well before you leave the house, something light but at the same time nutritious.

Be sure to hydrate as well because you will have to dump your water bottle as they are not allowed on the flight. I think they allow empty bottles, so you can bring your thermos but be sure to drink whatever is in it before you go through security. Bringing your own lunch in reusable containers will not only be healthier, you will avoid all the waste from the on-flight meals and snacks and the candy bar wrappers from the shops along the way. If you do have any waste, be sure to hold on to it in a bag until you get off the plane where you will most likely find recycle bins in the airport. I definitely saw them in every airport I was in.

Speaking of producing waste, another way to avoid it is to make sure you are not carrying any cosmetics containing liquid in your carry on or make sure they are each smaller than 3 ounces and fit into a ziploc bag. If you don't take care about this, you will end up losing money and producing waste when they ask you to throw away all your products before passing through security. I saw so many trash bins full of peoples' water bottles, cosmetics, creams and hygiene products next to security, so be sure to remember this point.

I hope that someday we can see all this happening in Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world.
If green-consciousness can appear in other countries, it can happen in the Middle East too. I have a lot of faith in the Arab people to adopt more socially and environmentally conscious practices after seeing how it has become a part of the culture in other places, something they now take for granted, just like brushing teeth before going to bed or turning off the faucet after filling a glass of water.

Here are some pics from my travels:

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How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.