Sowing the seed for change

Dubai will deliver an Expo that integrates sustainable principles not only in its design and operations but also in the experiences, impact and legacy

Expo 2020 Dubai

H.E. Reem Al Hashimy
UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General, Expo 2020 Dubai Bureau

There is no greater priority at this time than cultivating a more sustainable way of living to ensure viability of our natural resources for future generations. It is a mission of universal importance; a priority for Dubai, the UAE, our region and the entire world.

Humanity no longer influences only local environments in limited ways; our impact on the Earth’s eco-systems can indeed rival the powers of nature. Our economic and technological success as a species, however, is now tipping the balance between what humanity currently consumes, and what the Earth can naturally supply and absorb.

That is why now is a critical time to address the issue of sustainability, and is the impetus for Expo 2020 Dubai’s decision to choose sustainability as one of its subthemes.

Expo 2020 will be an unprecedented opportunity to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs and policymakers from hundreds of nations for six months to help address the many challenges of living in balance with our environment, nurturing the critical bonds that connect a prosperous society, a healthy economy and a thriving planet.

Expo 2020 will be held in a location where, historically, survival has always depended on managing limited resources and preserving biodiversity.

The UAE Government has made sustainability a priority in its national strategy and is actively championing it in areas such as energy, water, food security, green buildings, biodiversity and conservation, and, importantly, education and innovation.

The environment of the UAE and the rapid development and urbanisation of the country brings lessons and challenges that can inform our priorities for sustainable development, including in education, awareness and lifestyle.

We intend to share these lessons at Expo 2020, while providing an international platform to share best practices and develop new ideas, as part of our theme 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future'.

Expo 2020’s contribution to sustainability

We intend to deliver an Expo that integrates sustainable principles not only in its design and operations but also in the experiences, impact and legacy.

It will focus on creating inspirational narratives through exhibitions and events that we hope will convey the message that while the world is indeed facing sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, we live at a particularly important time, where we have the knowledge, technology and, increasingly, the will to find new solutions to live in harmony with our environment.

Through the convening power of Expo 2020, we also aim to support the UAE national sustainability strategy, while giving all participants a platform to showcase their own initiatives and achievements in the area of sustainability. The global event will provide a platform to connect minds to share ideas and best practices, and find creative solutions to these key concerns, not only of the UAE but of the majority of cities and communities around the world.

Expo 2020 will demonstrate that the foundation for sustainability is the values that we have embraced for our organisational culture: humility, excellence, collaboration, respect and integrity. Expo 2020 will leverage those values to integrate sustainability into our own actions, including how we collaborate with our partners, what we expect from our suppliers, and how we create the Expo 2020 experience.

We hope to also shape a new narrative for sustainability. One that is hopeful, exciting and inspirational. One that demonstrates the opportunities available in addressing our current and future challenges.

How Expo 2020 will deliver its commitment to sustainability

Expo 2020 Dubai aims to address the issue of sustainability in a multi-faceted approach that is inclusive of the global population and inspires a new era of living in harmony with our planet. This legacy will cover not only physical measures but also the impact of connections to the economy, businesses, youth, innovators and society.

Sustainability is no longer a luxury, or an extra drawcard. It is the new baseline. Similarly, it is no longer purely a reference to preserving the environment. The sustainability of a World Expo now naturally encompasses a wide gamut of intangibles, from its enduring economic and social impact to its ability to instil new values and inspiration in visitors, particularly youth, which are both real and virtual.

"Expo 2020 will be simply a seed from which a new, more sustainable era may flourish"

Expo 2020 aims to help shape dialogue and education around sustainability, while also inspiring youth to take up this important mission and carry forward our progress.

This concept of ensuring that the Expo leaves an enduring legacy – physically, economically, socially and in reputation – has been at the heart of planning since Dubai won the right to host Expo 2020. We believe a sustainable Expo will be one that continues to reap benefits for the foreseeable future, acting as a catalyst and potentially compounding the results experienced during the six-month global destination. It will be simply a seed from which a new, more sustainable era may flourish.

Expo 2020’s physical sustainability targets

Expo 2020 will lead by example. It will not only be the Sustainability Pavilion that pushes the limits of sustainable practice and technology; the entire site is being designed and constructed with the most sustainable technology, materials and operational practices. All permanent buildings will achieve LEED Gold certification as a minimum and will be connected to smart infrastructure that we will use to monitor and manage water and energy use, as well as carbon emissions.

Bringing together a combination of passive and active solutions enhanced by innovation and technology, the Expo site, and particularly the Sustainability Pavilion, will be a demonstration in both operations and exhibitions of the synergy between traditional and new solutions, between historical approaches and emerging best practices.

The pavilion will strongly focus on minimising water waste and maximising efficient water usage and recycling. A series of iconic and innovative ‘water trees’ will demonstrate how water can be harvested from humidity in a process inspired by photosynthesis. These features remind us that the UAE’s resilience was built on a profound understanding of our environment and how to coexist with it.

We have committed to a number of targets, including:

  • Achieving a 40 percent reduction in drinkable water usage in buildings, with all water for irrigation and cooling to be from recycled sources.
  • Segregating at least 85 percent of Expo’s waste at source to enable more efficient recycling and to reduce waste to landfill.
  • Adhering to stringent air quality standards and a transport strategy that facilitates low-emission modes of transport, including a direct Dubai Metro line and the ExpoRider public bus service.

A legacy of sustainable infrastructure

In the legacy phase, 80 percent of Expo’s buildings will be repurposed as part of District 2020, including the Thematic Districts. The Sustainability Pavilion, for example, will become a Children and Science Centre that will continue our efforts to engage and inspire young people to become responsible custodians of our planet and to imagine the next generation of sustainable solutions.

"District 2020 is envisaged as an environmentally progressive and sustainable place to live and work"

In other words, the site, in Dubai South, has been designed with a future city in mind and Expo 2020 is a key destination in its long-term journey. One of the best connected locations for companies and residents alike, District 2020 will be an inter-dependent community that will be an integral part of the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai beyond 2021.

District 2020 is envisaged as an environmentally progressive and sustainable place to live and work, setting new benchmarks for the urban experience. It will be home to iconic structures and spaces such as the Al Wasl Plaza at its heart, as well as the Theme Pavilions and the falcon-shaped UAE Pavilion, which have been designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects.

District 2020 will also maintain the Expo’s commitment to empowering children and youth by generating interest and benefit through social and cultural attractions, including the Children and Science Centre.

A conference and exhibition centre is also being developed by Dubai World Trade Centre to be the next step in Dubai’s evolution as the Middle East’s premier destination for major events, conferences and exhibitions, continuing on Expo 2020’s legacy of connecting minds to solve global challenges.

District 2020 will benefit from this incredible facility and the thousands of connections that will be made as visitors from around the region – and the world – come together to share ideas and create opportunities.

District 2020 has been deliberately designed to facilitate collaboration, between innovators, SMEs and corporations alike. Supporting the acceleration of the UAE’s development, District 2020 will be a long-term economic contributor for the country as a home for innovators, original thinkers, and pioneers. This is where you could see the next big idea become a reality from 2021.

Connecting minds to solve problems worth solving

Expo 2020 is bringing together more than 200 countries, international organisations, businesses and NGOs, and we anticipate 70 percent of visitors - who will make up an expected total of 25 million visits - to be from people outside the UAE, the highest proportion in the history of World Expos. We intend for Expo 2020 to be the most globally inclusive and diverse Expo, creating an extraordinary opportunity to help address the many challenges around sustainability. But, more importantly, the connections will be built to last and the outcomes of such connections will generate creative solutions to this pressing global challenge.

As suggested by Expo 2020’s theme, “Connecting minds, Creating the future”, connections are imperative to ensuring our Expo is sustainable. Whether it is two innovators sharing ideas that produce the next great invention or a start-up in Africa forging a relationship with an established firm from Europe that allows it to upscale and enter international markets, Expo 2020 will be designed to encourage and facilitate such connections, physically and virtually.

We are already doing this through our series of business events and programmes, which aim to not only engage businesses with Expo and its opportunities but also to connect them to Expo’s partners and to each other, building ties that will remain well beyond 2020.

Highlighting the economic opportunity in sustainability

Preserving the planet is not only about cutting back and Expo 2020 aims to uncover the potential, particularly economic, in addressing challenges around sustainability. This will be a key component of the new narrative we will write on sustainability.

We aim to find, develop and showcase sustainable solutions that are scalable, demonstrating that creative ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, extending benefits to the wider UAE economy, as well as the region and the world. We are already doing this through our flagship programme Expo Live (see below).

Expo 2020 is expected to generate many thousands of direct and indirect jobs, with the economic reverberations felt in housing, tourism, education, healthcare, retail and entertainment, among other sectors.

But through the procurement process, we are challenging our supply chain to move beyond ‘business as usual’ to higher levels of environmental awareness and stewardship. This will not only inspire businesses to redevelop their products and services to be more in harmony with our natural resources but also demonstrate that doing so can be profitable.

Expo 2020 is also a significant trunk for the UAE Government’s vision to diversify towards a knowledge-based and environmentally-friendly economy. It is acting as a catalyst for sustainability efforts in Dubai and the UAE as they strive to meet ambitious and internationally-leading targets for renewable energy and environmentally-friendly practices.

The strategy for the Expo and its legacy also will set new ground for the country going forward, deliberately targeting the strategic sectors identified by the government as being key to its economic future. They are logistics and transport, travel and tourism, construction and real estate, and education – all of which will be infused with a new sustainability ethos.

Expo Live

The UAE has announced its intention to be a global leader in innovation and Expo 2020’s flagship social impact programme, Expo Live, is assisting in reaching this goal. Expo Live fulfils a promise made during the bid phase to support businesses and innovators by serving as an incubator for new models and new ideas. It supports innovative solutions that have a positive social or environmental impact, or both.

Expo Live’s programmes, including one dedicated to university students, have a total allocation of USD 100 million to back projects, as well as provide business guidance, technical assistance, promotion and connections, and the opportunity to potentially showcase the innovation to the world at Expo 2020 Dubai. Through these programmes we aim to inspire and act as a catalyst for creative and scalable solutions.

The Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme is open to anyone, anywhere, demonstrating how innovations coming from all places and people can advance the pace of progress and inspire a more inclusive and prosperous future.

Inspiring new stewards of our planet

Expo 2020 Dubai is the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, a region that boasts a substantial youth population, who possess an enormous wealth of potential. Expo 2020 is working to harness and nurture this talent, with the knowledge that our youth are the innovators and thought leaders of tomorrow and have a central role to play in creating a better future, not least as the new stewards of our planet.

Through inspiring, empowering and involving youth, Expo 2020 Dubai will help them take ownership of their own future. By engaging all youth living in the UAE, we aim to ensure young people experience meaningful participation in the planning of and during Expo 2020.

Through our former Youth Connect programme, we have already reached thousands of students via roadshows to schools across the UAE, Youth Labs, site tours and involvement in external events. The roadshows raised awareness about the Expo, inspired students and encouraged them to take a leading role in a shared journey to 2020 and beyond.

Our new Expo School Programme is taking this further, with the opening of a Visitor Centre, where school teachers and students can engage with the Expo themes and help shape and define elements of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Expo 2020 is also creating special experiences for young people by young people, through designing immersive and interactive exhibits that inspire, excite and engage youth. We will make Expo 2020 Dubai an ideal place for exploration and discovery for young visitors, including exciting programming and events that light up their imaginations and spirit of innovation. Successful youth engagement is critical in creating a meaningful social legacy for Expo 2020 Dubai.

We are also giving youth work experiences through apprenticeship and internship programmes, while we expect youth to make up a significant proportion of the 30,000-plus Expo 2020 Volunteers we are recruiting.

The apprenticeship programme is helping competent and highly skilled young professionals broaden their skills and experience for the eventual benefit of the UAE. About 80 percent of apprentices who have graduated so far have continued at Expo 2020 Dubai as full-time employees.

Expo Live has also extended its initial strategy to recently launch a team-orientated University Innovation Programme after recognising that about one-quarter of applications to the flagship Innovation Impact Grant Programme were from universities, even though they were not directly targeted. The programme seeks to intrigue and empower UAE university students to look at global problems worth solving and connect minds with their peers to come up with a solution. Shortlisted candidates will go through a design thinking workshop that will empower them to improve and develop their ideas further, in preparation for a live pitch. Expo Live will also support some innovations to be taken to prototype stage and even be showcased at Expo 2020.

More than 30,000 volunteers of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds will be the face of Expo 2020. We have created strategic roles to ensure volunteers gain the most out of their experience, including skills that they can go on to use in the workplace or in their daily lives, and unrivalled exposure as they help to put on one of the world’s largest events.

During the Expo, there will be more than 45 volunteering roles, from welcoming guests and guiding them around the Expo districts to managing events, with more than 16 million volunteering hours across 173 days.

"We are at a crossroads in determining how our planet, and our population, builds resilience. Expo 2020 Dubai is set to leave a profound footprint on this journey"

Setting the stage for a global transformation

Expo 2020 will not just be an event, it will be a platform from which an enduring legacy unfolds – and is already unfolding. It will help initiate and facilitate dialogue on the challenges of better stewardship of our world by offering a unique global platform for ‘connecting minds’.

The collaboration between youth, families, nations, businesses and other organisations to co-create this mega-project will boost our learning and our outcomes as we strive to solve common challenges and inspire a new narrative for sustainability. It is a recipe to identify great ideas, no matter how small or big, from all sources around the world and to provide a platform for those ideas to be exposed and shared, regardless of finances, geographical location or an individual’s single skill set. Put simply, to ensure no potential solution slips through the net.

We are at a crossroads in determining how our planet, and our population, builds resilience. Expo 2020 Dubai is set to leave a profound footprint on this journey.

For more on the next World Expo, visit the official website of Expo 2020 Dubai.


This article is a revised version of a contribution that initially appeared in "Sustainable Innovation and Legacies in Expos of the 21st Century: A World in Common", the 2017 edition of the BIE Bulletin.


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