Masdar Visionary Tells the Untold Story

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to bring you interesting cleantech reading, is proud to repost this article courtesy of partner Green Prophet. Author credit goes to Karin Kloosterman.

He came from the dot-com market with a boom and a bust, but in the Arab world. Ziad Tassabehji has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Born in Lebanon and now living in the UK after more than two decades in the United Arab Emirates, Ziad started his first Internet company before there was even Internet in Dubai in 1995. By 2002 after a major downsizing to keep his tech company afloat, he changed course and moved into renewable energy and sustainable development.

Ever hear of Masdar, the zero-energy city in Abu Dhabi? The city that has moonscape mashrabiya surfaces, people podcar movers and a student body whose coffee is brewed by solar power?


image via Masdar

Masdar was Ziad’s idea presented to officials in the Arab world. Ziad was sure that Middle East governments and decision-makers needed to diversify their economies from oil and gas into renewables. The idea struck a cord and flew.

Masdar today is a renewable energy cluster that includes a zero carbon city, a research driven institute, several investments in technology companies and projects and a carbon portfolio. To complement the initiative and give it a more global reach, it also sponsors the World Future Energy Summit, a green powerhouse conference held in Abu Dhabi ending today, and the Zayed International Prize for the Environment.

This all lept from Ziad’s vision.

“I wanted to do something that has a legacy,” he tells me. “To make an impact on people, planet and on profits. Money was not a strong enough motivation and I was frustrated by the dot-coms because I could see how this industry could make fundamental changes to the way we live, yet at the same time it was hard to get funded. I wanted to move into a bigger league, impacting more peoples’ lives and being that change agent.

“You could say I was a treehugger without knowing it.”

Leaders he spoke with in the United Arab Emirates got it. Checkbooks were opened and Ziad landed the dream job. He catalyzed all these impressive achievements in a region where seemingly limitless oil production didn’t breed any kind of sustainable future for jobs, societies, real estate and energy use. He started by giving himself crash courses on renewables, learning all he could.

Another bust in 2009: real estate in the Gulf and Abu Dhabi came to a grinding halt. Markets tumbled and it was clear from Masdar’s parent company that there was no appetite for new investments. Ziad used this opportunity to gracefully leave the region and relocate with his family to London.

There he he co-founded Grenea a zero carbon zero waste company that catalyzes the creation of sustainable communities. Grenea aspires to make green communities efficient and profitable. He finds governments or landowners and helps them build communities for people to live, work and play all in the same community, but built sustainably of course. He has two projects just started in China.

Linking stakeholders — land owners, governments — with green architects, suppliers and financiers: “We are the glue that ensures that all stakeholders that haves something to gain.”

If you like the idea already, read more on Grenea here. Want more behind the scenes on Masdar? The untold story? Read my Q&A with Ziad on the next page.

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