(MENAFN- Khaleej Times)
Rana Hajirasouli is a climate-tech expert and the founder of The Surpluss in November 2021.
Headquartered in Dubai, The Surpluss is touted as a global climate-tech solution, allowing businesses to engage in effective cross-industrial collaboration for resource exchange, profitably.
The start-up offers a digital ecosystem where companies — it's a business-to-business (B2B) model — can share their surplus resources to enhance their sustainability and innovation and become more competitive.
Rana, who grew up in the UAE, has been passionate about environmental change since she was a child. At a tender age of six years, she had organised the UAE's first beach clean-up in early 1990s, including plastic collection initiative, at her school.
She had initiated a plastic upcycling programme at the age of 10, transforming recycled litter into art.
Her academic credentials are impressive and makes her a natural fit to power The Surpluss to dizzy heights.
She holds an LLM and M.Phil in International Law and International Peace and Security from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, and is certified by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Sustainability Excellence Association curriculum. She is also a candidate at Cambridge University's Institute for Sustainability Leadership and her research focuses on achieving industrial ecosystem sustainability in the UAE.
She weighed in on the big idea behind the start-up.
“The Surpluss was formed in November 2021, registered both in the United Kingdom (UK) and the UAE as a climate-tech start-up. The inspiration behind The Surpluss came from the unrealised potential of underutilised resources, and how we can trace these origins back to nature's cyclical patterns of converting 'waste' to value. I was working on designing an air pollution capture unit for heavy industry, focusing on carbon capture. Whilst the sustainability community is often focused on carbon as the enemy, I decided to take a biomimetic approach (by observing nature's cycles) to offer a different perspective. We may have been wrong all along. Perhaps, we have just produced carbon in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong duration. So I asked 'what would nature do?'
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Nature does not condemn carbon underground, nor is it the enemy — rather, it works in a broader ecosystem as a feedstock and is transferred to another cycle where it can be used and given value. This made me curious as to whether this principle could be translated into materials, spaces, and the word 'waste' at large. Would it be possible to reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions by reallocating and sharing resources by breaking down barriers between industries?
“In the initial phases of the start-up, we held workshops for executives from various industries and matched them to form 'synergies' (or informal partnerships) — the overall goal was to reduce waste. During these workshops, we learned a valuable lesson: materials only lose value once we stop finding uses for them. After several pilot runs, we gained some valuable insights from synergies that succeeded, but also learned that failure was a significant driver for change. Soon, I decided to develop a digital product that could equip companies to use collective intelligence to make the most use of their resources, assets, materials and knowledge,” she said.
Rana is leveraging the power of climate tech as The Surpluss is designed to democratise access to sustainability for any business — large or small.
“The platform democratises access as it does not require complex, expensive infrastructure, nor does it require large amounts of investment or several hours of training to use it. Consequently, companies can be onboarded, trained within 15 minutes, and gain insights into the pain points within their supply chain from a new perspective. Previously, this opportunity was missed.
“This aspect is particularly important for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) that make up over 94 per cent of the UAE economy. It empowers them to make better choices to reduce their waste, challenge their production and consumption habits, as well as benefit from cross-industrial expertise through knowledge exchanges.
“Democratisation holds the key in contexts where smaller businesses may not have the capital to parttake in certain market exchanges. Smaller companies can benefit from commitments towards the UN (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whilst diversifying their revenue streams, and improving their overall business resilience. Whereas, for larger companies, they can benefit from pairing up with smaller, or mid-sized companies and gain access to a new market, bridge technical expertise, as well as reaping a positive social and environmental impact and cost reduction by reducing their high overheads by making use of them,” she added.
Rana is being credited with using nature's blueprints to design the framework, integrating artificial and collective intelligence into a unique biomimetic platform.
“Whilst there are several cases of successful implementation of industrial symbiosis and circular economy, there is still a lack of widespread adoption due to high barriers of entry: whether it is technical, technological, financial, or a lack of physical infrastructure. A digital portal enhances these existing practices, allowing them to form in novel settings. To accelerate climate-intelligence, businesses need to work with what they have to change their trajectory to meet global goals.
The inspiration of the architecture of the platform was quite unique in its foundation: it adopts learnings from slime mould.
“However unlikely it may seem; slime mould is fascinating in that it has an 'externalised' spatial memory: by leaving a trail of extracellular matter where it has been. This means that when it encounters slime, it tries a different route. This is the foundation of the artificial intelligence (AI) learnings adapted to the platform: synergies that are unsuccessful can enhance companies' resilience by not making the same mistake twice and applying these learnings to the rest of the larger ecosystem. Broadly speaking, it works on the concept of collective intelligence: where an entire organisation, not only the user, can benefit from one misstep and find opportunity from learned experiences to a better suited synergy.
“Secondly, 'symbiosis' is used in both the industrial and ecological context. The platform will allow companies to take inspiration from nature: where organisms don't work together to 'diversify their assets', they work together to solve problems to thrive in volatile conditions. In order to do this, we have taken a unique approach where we celebrate incompatibility. Natural symbiosis always occurs between the most unlikely partners. We can redirect market exchanges by disrupting linear economic systems. Businesses can expect innovation to form when they are paired with unlikely partners from other industries. This is the core of The Surpluss,” she added.
Initially, The Surpluss was targeting resource-intensive sectors, particularly manufacturing, but later it has evolved into a sector-agnostic platform and can drive value for a wide array of industries — from healthcare to oil and gas.
“The UAE government is working hard to develop wide-spread infrastructure, legislation and regulation to align themselves as global leaders towards climate change. Recently, they have set out their second nationally determined contribution (NDC) to align with the Glasgow Pact, a main outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26). Announcing more ambitious targets to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions by 31 per cent by 2030 (or 301 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, CO2e). The industrial sector would have to account for 16.6 per cent of these emission reduction targets. No wonder, private businesses have a huge role to play and should start taking measures for a sustainable future.
There are many ways businesses can become more climate-intelligent, reduce costs, increase revenue and become more resilient. Whether it is by changing their production practices by sourcing secondary materials, or co-sharing logistics to bring down their GHG (greenhouse gas emissions) and costs, or perhaps relaying technical expertise to an SME to reach their net-zero targets. It is clear every business has a role to play and can have a huge impact,” she said.
The platform was launched in end-September and“is exclusively available for UAE companies and soon it will be available internationally”.
Rana's objective is clear.
“We'd like to unlock underutilised value for businesses of all sizes by simplifying cross-industrial collaboration and disrupting linear economic systems. Our vision is to revolutionise business resilience and 10,000 companies are likely to sign up in the first year of the platform's launch,” she added. What is climate tech?
Climate-tech is defined as technologies that are focused on reducing GHG emissions or addressing the impacts of global warming. They can be grouped into technologies that mitigate or remove emissions, help us adapt to the impacts of climate change, or enhance our understanding of the climate. Climate-tech now accounts for 14 cents of every venture capital dollar with 210 per cent growth in investment year-on-year. Global industry and manufacturing is responsible for almost 30 per cent of GHG emissions and one of the most difficult challenge areas to abate due to the need to retrofit, upgrade, replace existing equipment and more importantly, transform the associated supply chains. On a broader level, climate-tech varies from renewable energy, to mobility, to digital technologies. The number of climate-tech unicorns has grown to 78, the biggest number of these unicorns sit in mobility and transport.