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10 Reasons Why a Solar Plant in the Abu Dhabi Desert Matters for CSR


By Melissa Schweyer

Masdar has invited me to visit the United Arab Emirates to attend the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. It’s a week-long global forum that brings together thought-leaders, policymakers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development.

On my first day here, I took a tour of the Shams 1 Plant, the largest solar energy power plant in the Middle East. It’s located approximately 75 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi’s city centre, hours deep into the desert, stretching across 1.5 miles of sandy, arid land.

Though not inherently obvious during my tour, it later dawned on me that Shams 1 implements many CSR-related initiatives.

Below I’ve compiled a list of 10 takeaways which echo many best practices from the corporate social responsibility (CSR) community:

1. They’re a living testament to the importance and benefits of business diversification and innovation.

Though best known for its wealth in natural resources (i.e. oil), Abu Dhabi (and its renewable energy company, Masdar) have made significant strides to diversify its sectors of revenue by supporting projects such as Shams 1. To do this requires a lot of forward-thinking, innovative planning and calculated risk-taking.

Breaking the status quo certainly has its perks.

2. They value the health and safety of their employees.

The plant takes pride in their health and safety track records, beating their own rigorously set objectives by a landslide. 11,000,000 work hours have accumulated without major incident.

Safety signs seem to be displayed at every next turn—reinforcing their commitment to safety whilst reinforcing the importance of precautionary measures to staff. Employees are also prohibited from working outside during periods of extreme heat–lessening their chances of dehydration and heat stroke.

3. They break all of the employee engagement rates you’ve ever read or heard about.

Shams 1 boasts a 99 percent employee retention rate. Employees just “get it” and enjoy being part of something that’s cutting edge and sustainable.

4. They’re virtually spearheading a movement to help drive down industry costs, creating more competition and accessibility.

Arguably, massive projects such as Shams 1 give a lot of attention to the renewable energy sector, further legitimatizing the industry and accelerating growth within the renewable energy manufacturing sector. It’s quite conceivable that projects such as this one have helped increase competition and drive down costs over time.

5. They’re a living example of the statement “green sells.”

At the time, Shams 1 was named the largest financing transaction for any solar power project, bringing in a colossal US$600 million.

Who says green doesn’t sell?

6. They’ve helped — albeit symbolically — prove the success of impact investing.

Shams 1 brought in 103 percent of its targeted energy goals and continues to optimize its operations to gain efficiencies and growth.

The project has been funded by Masdar, Total and Abengoa Solar and stands as an excellent case study for successful renewable energy investment.

7. They illustrate the importance of incremental change on a mass scale.

Though the plant does not power the entire country (it provides power for about 20,000 households), it is a significant step in the right direction. The hope is that the success from this project will help support similar sustainably-driven initiatives in the future.

8. They’re a model example of alternative waster management.

Improvising solutions for optimization and efficiency, Shams 1 demonstrates how innovative thinking can help us find ways to mitigate waste. Fans are used instead of water to condense steam, no chemicals or soaps are used to clean solar mirrors, water is continuously reused and when all options are exhausted, they partner with waste management companies to properly dispose of leftovers.

9. They walk the talk of information sharing.

It’s obvious from the moment you enter the plant that you’re there to do more than take pretty photos. You’re treated as a student with the sole purpose to learn as much as possible.

As our tour guides so rightfully put it, the plant doubles as a museum with countless visitors receiving tours from the Shams 1 staff on an ongoing basis.

They’re all about sharing the wealth of knowledge.

10. They demonstrate that there’s always room for scaling impact. In this case, that includes making room to give back.

Though the plant is doing incredible purpose-driven work already, it still makes time to give back in many of the more conventional CSR ways. Shams 1 provides meaningful internship opportunities to students and gives sponsorship funding to local events and activities that relate to education, health and environmental initiatives.

The Shams 1 Solar Plant not only helps the world shift to a sustainable economy, but it also draws many parallels with CSR themes and best practices. Initiatives such as this one are crucial if we hope to meet our commitments from COP21 and advance our purpose-driven business sector.

Melissa Schweyer is a writer, people-person and change-maker with nearly five years of progressive work experience in the not-for-profit sector. Most recently, she’s teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Hamilton, utilizing many of her past experiences to help break the cycle of poverty in Hamilton, Canada. A CSR enthusiast at heart, Melissa also manages a blog, www.csrtist.com, where she shares her thoughts, ideas and new ways of thinking about corporations and how they can make a positive impact on our world. In her spare time, you’ll most likely find her writing, practicing yoga, enjoying cheese or spending time with family and friends.

Follow Melissa Schweyer @CSRtist

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