Khadija Al Bastaki, Senior Vice President of Dubai Design District, part of TECOM Group PJSC, discusses the UAE’s hosting of COP28, d3’s sustainable initiatives, and creating awareness for and supporting sustainable designs.

What do you think about sustainability and its role in Dubai Design District’s (d3) growth?

The creative and design sectors are fundamental to building a sustainable future, from sustainable urban planning to building and furnishings and designing products that impact how we live, work, engage and interact. Design is also integral to making sustainability more accessible to businesses and consumers alike. We’re proud that the UAE has hosted COP28 – it shows that the UAE’s global business hub enables important conversations and collaborations in sustainability and climate action.

At d3, we see so many incredible companies and brands investing time, resources and knowledge into ensuring how they create – whether fashion, product design, architecture, interior design or the arts – can contribute to a better tomorrow for our planet. By providing these brands with the infrastructure, enabling platforms and opportunities to empower their ambitions, d3 aims to facilitate investment and push the envelope further. Our goal is to attract even more visionaries like this to Dubai, shaping a sustainable tomorrow through creative and innovative design, and positioning the city at the forefront of global creative discourse.

Could you name a few d3 companies at the forefront of sustainability?

A significant number of companies in our district are paving the way for sustainable design and many have already been recognised for the initiatives they have introduced and work they have done. Desert Ink is one that instantly comes to mind. It’s a homegrown UAE-based landscape design consultancy involved in the award-winning “Terra” Sustainability Pavilion at the Expo 2020 Dubai. They consider sustainability from start to end in their work, such as sourcing local materials to reduce their carbon footprint, being mindful of material wastage and using flora that improves microclimates.

The world-renowned Foster + Partners is another industry-leading brand in d3, especially regarding sustainability. They have designed the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi, incorporating innovative design techniques, including solar thermal towers and natural cooling techniques that celebrate local heritage and history while honouring our leadership’s commitment to sustainability. They were also involved in the masterplan for the groundbreaking sustainable urban community Masdar City, amongst others, and last month, they won the ‘Sustainability in Design Award’ at the 11th Architizer A+Awards. Cosentino is another d3-based innovative architecture and design firm that owns its own waste management and treatment plan. They received a Forbes Sustainability award in 2022.

We also have so many interior firms doing incredible work: d3’s Interface have worked hard in reducing their carbon footprint in producing carpet and have won a UN Global Climate Action award for end-to-end sustainable practices; Tarket are a fantastic example of how to recycle and repurpose flooring; and Perennials have worked on returning water after fabric production in a purified way and use.  These are just a few examples and there are many more.

What challenges do you see?

Perhaps the first and foremost challenge we must overcome is changing people’s mindset towards sustainability. Prioritising people and the planet over profits can be a tough sell for businesses. Still, we’re seeing more and more consumers who are increasingly interested in supporting brands that share their values – and sustainability is a big one globally. So, businesses need to respond and join the sustainability movement, whether it’s in how they produce their products, distribute them and the circular economy or how they embed sustainability practices in their own internal operations, such as being more mindful of creating waste and use of energy.

How do you motivate young talent to take the lead and establish a sustainable standard?

Providing young talent with the platforms and opportunities to engage with global brands who are leaders in the field and learn from industry experts is vital in attracting them to the creative sector and devising actionable, long-term change. Youth are integral to the sustainability conversation because they will shape and live in the future world. d3 is home to a wide range of fashion and design universities, including the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), FAD Institute of Fashion and Style and L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts, all of which instil technical and theoretical skills that can define how sustainable evolves in various sectors. Even in5 Design, a start-up incubator by TECOM Group, connects young creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs to mentors, facilitating access to potential investment opportunities and providing learning platforms so that their creativity, enthusiasm and ambitions can produce a real-world impact.

Are you conducting any training to raise awareness about this issue, as well as how education in schools and universities may make a significant difference?

Raising awareness for sustainability and promoting sustainable design are core parts of our programme and platforms like Dubai Design Week and Dubai Fashion Week. We organise a dynamic calendar of events, ranging from workshops to panel discussions and exhibitions, through which experts tackle sustainability from different angles. It was a recurring theme in our latest Dubai Fashion Week programme, cofounded by d3 and the Arab Fashion Council. Several designers challenged fast fashion with sustainable explorations, particularly Pipatchara, who used her platform to raise awareness for plastic waste. Sustainability was also the foundation of this year’s Dubai Design Week, of which we were strategic partners. We collaborated with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – Gulf Chapter to curate this year’s d3 Architecture Exhibition, which explored the past, present and future of sustainable architecture through the perspective of global and regional studios and upcoming talent. It’s also at the heart of DIDI’s curriculum, which actively strives to teach a form of design thinking that puts the needs of people and the planet first.

What are your future goals?

We are keen to continue empowering the creative community in line with the Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, enhancing our infrastructure and strengthening our platforms so that businesses can continue growing, experimenting, innovating for a sustainable future. By creating such a supportive ecosystem, we want to attract more businesses and talent in the sustainability area, encouraging greater investment, innovation and inspiration in the creative sector. A huge part of this is evolving and enhancing platforms like Dubai Design Week and Dubai Fashion Week to raise even more awareness around sustainability and sustainable choices while embedding it into how events are sustainably planned and executed. Such efforts will strengthen Dubai as a future-ready creative capital.