How She Leads: Nawal Al-Hosany, Masdar

How She Leads is a regular feature spotlighting influential women in sustainable business.

Meet Nawal Al-Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, and director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. She leads Masdar’s sustainability standards and policies team, and oversees sustainability auditing, monitoring and reporting. In 2011, Abu Dhabi Magazine cited Al-Hosany as one of the 40 most influential Emiratis who have helped shape the country. She was also the first female deputy director of the Abu Dhabi Police. Her accolades include the Emirates Business Women Award in the Professional and Career Achievements category. In addition, Al-Hosany is one of the first two Emirati women to have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Masdar, a renewable energy company in the UAE, was founded in 2006 as a government initiative to incubate and establish the new energy industry in Abu Dhabi and around the world. The enterprise includes the Masdar Institute, a graduate-level research university; Masdar City, one of the world's most sustainable urban developments; Masdar Clean Energy, a commercial-scale, renewable energy developer; and Masdar Capital, investor in the world’s most promising clean tech companies.

Here, Al-Hosany explains what it takes for women to lead positive change throughout the Middle East.

Maya Albanese: What is your background prior to working in the director of sustainability role?

Al-Hosany: I studied architectural engineering, worked in a small consulting office and later as a teaching assistant. I decided to leave academia to work for the defense department of Abu Dhabi. The police force was looking at building a new prison and they had to face a lot of international standards. At that point, I realized that the building could be constructed to optimize energy efficiency and make the inmates more comfortable. My eyes opened to the fact that sustainability is simply a better way to do business. From 1999 to 2002, I worked on my Ph.D. on this topic in the U.K. At that time, sustainability was still a very new concept, especially in the Middle East. When I came back to the UAE, I started to integrate sustainability into my job and into my different networks. I joined sustainability at Masdar City in 2008 just a couple months after its creation. We have realized that we need a sustainability policy for the entire company, though, so I have moved into my current role as director of sustainability at Masdar.

Albanese: What is Masdar City, and what was the purpose in creating?

Al-Hosany: Masdar City is part of the Masdar Initiative, which is Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company. It was started seven years ago with two main goals: Diversify the local economy and extend our leadership into the global energy sector. At Masdar, we play an important role of positioning Abu Dhabi as an intellectual center that can export new energy technology to other countries. Masdar City is one of the most sustainable urban communities in the world, a renewable energy zone that is already attracting top talent and businesses.

Albanese: Why is Masdar one of the most sustainable cities in the world?

Al-Hosany: Masdar is powered by renewable energy and other passive heating and cooling technologies to reduce its total energy and water demand. In this harsh climate, water is a big issue. The city has a diverse array of businesses operating in harmony with the local environment and climate. For example, the temperature is an average of 20 degrees Celsius lower on a street in Masdar than on a similar street in the rest of Abu Dhabi. The buildings and infrastructure are designed to absorb heat and cool everything naturally. The city took a lot of time to design because we wanted all the buildings to be oriented in just the right way to capitalize on the wind direction, sun angle, etc. We have also achieved an A+ on our sustainability reporting through the GRI framework for our sustainability reporting.

Next page: Incentives for clean energy