Maryam Telmesani

Sustainability in Saudi

Maryam’s EMBA helped her discover a passion for sustainability, which led her to transition out of the fashion industry via roles in management, consulting, and project development. She now leads sustainability efforts in Saudi Arabia, where she recently launched her own consultancy. She is chair to the board of the Global Compact Local Network Saudi Arabia & advisory board member of Earth Academy.

Fashion has always been my passion. I studied fashion before pursuing a career as a designer. Later, I wanted to pass my knowledge and experience on to a younger generation with a similar passion so I started working in the academic field of fashion. I’m proud to say that most of the current successful Saudi designers were my students, including Heba AlQurashi and Wid Zahid.

My first fashion show in Lebanon. It was a huge success back then and a dream come true to me.

My transition from fashion to sustainability happened gradually. It was during my EMBA and consultancy work at Hult that I was introduced to circular economy and innovation courses. That was the initial spark that set me on my path into sustainability. After my EMBA, I joined Red Sea International (RSI), where I came across their sustainability plan, developed it, and then everything escalated from there. Can the fashion industry ever become sustainable? Realistically speaking, shifting any industry to becoming completely sustainable is a massive transformation requiring knowledge, time, and forced legislation to name a few. The fashion industry has a lot of sustainability impact areas that can be fixed with minimum efforts or investment—especially social ones such as human rights, diversity and inclusion, and labor conditions. As for improving environmental impact, it requires commitment and innovative thinking to change the negative impacts of fashion production across value chains. Companies can start with small shifts in responsible sourcing, green logistics, responsible consumption and production, and energy efficiency, alongside social and economic initiatives. Choose your brands carefully. Making the choice to support brands with sustainable strategies, on-the-ground initiatives, and accredited sustainability reports is the best thing you can do if you want to move fashion forward. Because in the end, buying decision is what shifts business trends! In the Middle East, the concept of sustainability is rapidly growing. Especially this past year. But there’s still a lack of knowledge around what sustainability actually means versus corporate social responsibility. The awareness and introduction of global standards and international sustainability agencies in the Middle East are helping to fill this gap.

CEOs themselves need to be aware of what sustainability actually means. And, therefore, what a qualified person should master in terms of sustainability knowledge infused with strategic thinking and change management traits. I’ve seen in my consulting work many “sustainability directors” who can’t actually differentiate between sustainability and CSR or understand global reporting initiatives or sustainable development goals. Recruiting the wrong people into such positions only serves to damage the company’s reputation.

My role as Chief Sustainability Officer of Al-Dabbagh Group was a wonderful experience. My work included creating sustainability strategies, roadmaps to achieve them, and overseeing implementation across group companies. I created the group’s sustainability policy, designed and conducted sustainability trainings per department function in each company, and assured the right training of global reporting standards. I also created the first official sustainability report for the group and helped develop the internal and external awards related to sustainability.

I’m the chairwoman of the UNGC Local Network Saudi Arabia. The United Nations Global Compact helps businesses to adopt a sustainable framework that focuses on 10 principles around human rights, anticorruption, labor, and environment. We’re dedicated to helping businesses operating in Saudi to allocate their Impact on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and have a sustainability strategy through the UNGC framework.

Join Us at Global Alumni Day

Global Alumni Day (GLAD) is a great way to catch up with fellow alumni such as Maryam and see how, together, we can make a real difference. Save the date for GLAD 2022: Thursday, September 29.

My work with UN Women has been very inspiring. I’ve had the pleasure to work with the Coordinate Resident in Saudi, Ms. Nathalie Fustier, among other inspiring UN women from the UNGC Global Office. Her drive and purpose to lead movements and make the world a better place is hugely motivating.

Embedding the right understanding of sustainability is a crucial next step for us here in Saudi. One of my current projects is designing and developing a program that will merge sustainability with our education system to help fill the gap in knowledge. This could turn KSA into a sustainability leading country (and could then be adopted in any country.) I believe that educating the new generation about sustainability—from kindergarten through to university level—is what will uplift our sustainability measures and make it the new way of living.