Karim Elgendy is an architect and sustainability consultant based in London. He is the founder of Carboun, an initiative advocating sustainability and environmental conservation in the Middle East. Recently, he chatted with PSFK about the non-profit’s vision and the contribution it can make in response to various ecological concerns.
What do you do to promote sustainability and environmental protection in the Middle East?
So far Carboun has acted as an open source research center, writing reports, publishing articles, providing resources online, and advising experts and decision makers on sustainability. But unlike traditional research centers, Carboun has fully embraced social media as a means of reaching and engaging wider audiences in the region who might not otherwise care about environmental issues.
Social media outlets have proved instrumental in communicating developments that relate to energy, sustainable development, and the environment in a way that appeals to a younger demographic without compromising the integrity of its content. Carboun has also encouraged the development of a mature discourse on sustainable development amongst professionals through its professional networking group.
What can you tell us about your business model and how your team functions?
Carbounʼs business model is non-profit, and since it started less than a year ago, it has relied on a combination of consultation services and volunteer work. In the future Carboun will be seeking additional support in the form of sponsorship from organizations that share its values and commitment to sustainability.
What motivated you to start Carboun? And what are the development challenges?
Initially, we created an initiative that addresses the scarcity of reliable information on sustainability and environmental issues in the Middle East. The regionʼs role in the global environmental challenges was perceived as irrelevant at best and often reduced to its role as exporter of fossil fuel, without much attention to its growing population or its increasing consumption and urbanization. There was also a disconnect between state-of-the-art research on the role of the built environment in climate change and the predominant practices in the regionʼs building industries.
I was thus motivated to start Carboun to help advocate for sustainable development in the region by bridging the gap between research and practice, with a special focus on the role of the built environment and its relationship to environmental conservation and climate change.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
My sources of inspiration range from macroeconomics to design and from nature to technology.
Having said that, I am personally most inspired by the ingenious designs one finds in nature, particularly with how different creatures have adapted to their environments. I can be inspired by a design lesson from the structure of a sea shell or the hydrodynamics of a kelp forest.
Ironically, if we fail to design cities, buildings, and products that protect our local and global environment. We will ultimately lose these creatures from which we as designers have a lot to learn about how to design in a more environmentally responsive way.
I am also inspired by some of the environmentally responsive elements one finds in the traditional architecture and urbanism of many cultures. While one tries to avoid the nostalgia trap, I think there are lessons in traditional knowledge that must be preserved.
What makes you optimistic about the future?
While the obvious answer to this question is that one cannot afford to be pessimistic when the stakes are this high, the fact is we are actually witnessing several developments across the region that indicate that the tide is turning – albeit slowly- towards sustainability.
One can point here to the emergence of building projects across the region that embrace sustainability and energy efficiency, the unfolding of policy level developments such as the creation of sustainability frameworks and green building benchmarks, and the emergence of grassroots movements that advocate environmental protection.
What types of reactions have you gotten from people and clients?
At Carboun, we can testify to an increasing awareness of the need for sustainable development across the region. The emergence of Carboun has been well received and has allowed us to collaborate with great organizations and wonderful individuals in the region and around the world. We think that the positive feedback that we have been getting indicates that there is genuine need for skills to be developed and resources to be made available if the region is to adapt to the developmental and environmental challenges of the future.