Lack of infrastructure a barrier to green living in the GCC

22 February 2021 5 min. read

High costs, poor infrastructure and lack of awareness are some of the key barriers to a sustainable lifestyle in GCC countries, where consumers are increasingly keen to go green. A new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) took a closer look at the region. 

BCG surveyed consumers across the GCC – spanning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The goal was to identify barriers to sustainability, in a region where electrification remains sluggish and only 10% of plastic and metal waste is recycled.

As it stands, consumer awareness doesn’t seem to be the decisive issue. More than 70% of consumers have taken cognisance of climate change risks across all GCC markets – barring Kuwait where the figure stands at just over 50%. The UAE is the highlight here, with over 80% of consumer claiming climate-change awareness.

Climate change awareness across GCC countries

Nearly half of all consumers feel personally affected by global warming, while over 60% predict a sizeable impact on future generations. And this is not just a passive nod to the problem – well over half of all GCC consumers want to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, while a staggering 80-95% are either willing to or are already taking action in this direction.

No doubt, there are some detractors. Roughly 30% of respondents actually think climate change will have a positive impact on the planet. But the bigger picture reveals that consumers are not the reason for the GCCs poor sustainability profile.

Barriers to sustainability

So what is? At first glance, it would appear to be a lack of infrastructure. Boston Consulting Group Managing Director and Senior Partner in the Middle East Joerg Hilderbrandt explained: “Consider recycling. Nearly 80% of waste in the UAE, and virtually 100% in Oman, ends up in landfills.”

“In contrast, 40% to 50% of all waste is recycled in Germany and the UK, and 34% is recycled in the US. In the GCC, 43% of survey respondents cited the lack of conveniently located recycling bins or collection sites as a major constraint. Another 35% cited a lack of recycling companies.”

Similar infrastructural constraints manifest in sustainable transportation options. 70% of GCC respondents acknowledge the need to reduce vehicle emissions. Yet, 20% or less use low-emission options such as public transport, walking or cycling – mainly owing to an immature mobility landscape.

Main barriers to sustainable living

Even electric vehicles need charging points and maintenance facilities – cited as lacking in the GCC by over 40% of respondents. The result is that under half of GCC consumers end up adopting these behaviours. That said, not all adoption barriers can be pegged on a lack of infrastructure.

The private sector needs to up its sustainability game as well – evidenced by the share of consumers citing a lack of availability and options as a key challenge. Be it organic food consumption, purchasing goods with biodegradable packaging, participating in community efforts, travelling to eco-friendly destinations, buying a sustainable home or driving an electric car: most consumers lack diversity in choice – if any.

Those options that are available are simply too expensive. Once again, organic foods, eco-friendly vacations, sustainable homes and electric cars are all pricey commodities – unsupported by any real incentive structure. They exist in a regulatory vacuum and deliver poor value for money – giving consumers little cause to uproot their existing lifestyle.

Building a sustainable future

The barriers are clear and obvious, which is challenging on the one hand but encouraging on the other. Stakeholders in the sustainability ecosystem know exactly where to focus their efforts in order to promote green behaviour in the GCC.

GCC sustainability roadmap

According to BCG, the government and public sector needs to kick off the green charge before handing over to private players. Creating awareness through better education; developing the right infrastructure and providing incentives to adopt a green lifestyle are all government mandates.

Once these enablers are in place, the private sector can work on delivering a wide range of quality sustainable products – a naturally competitive scenario that will also drive down the price of green living. The roadmap is clear, and some promising indicators already exist.

As noted by the researchers, GCC markets have signed up for Sustainable Development Goals, and have set clear energy targets. The renewable agenda is advancing in many countries, while many in the region’s thriving construction sector are transitioning to green materials and practices. 

Countries are also using landmark events as statements. The Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 and the Dubai World Expo 2021, for instance, have made prominent sustainability pledges. Combining these statements with concrete investments will likely put the GCC on its way to a green future, particularly given the high level of consumer willingness.