Greenwashing in the Desert?


Greenwashing, as we know it, is the “deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly”.  And I could not help but think that there was a bit of greenwashing going on in the newly opened Princess Nora bint Abdelrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Said to be the largest women’s university in the world, the campus has also launched several eco-friendly initiatives such as using solar energy for up to 18% of the power used for air-conditioning and the use of electric buggies. However, what I seemed to have taken with a pinch of salt, was the fact that it prides itself with the aim of being a car-free zone.

I could not help but question, what was the real motive of making  a women’s university in Saudi Arabia covering 8 million square feet a car-free zone? Was it merely a convenient excuse to abide by the country’s norms of not allowing women to drive (which has nothing to do Islam. Duh!)?

Whether a convenient excuse or noble environmental cause, the policy could nevertheless pose an inconvenience to not only women on campus, but also to the University’s budgets. So, ok great there’s a shuttle monorail but what are its operation hours – especially during those late nights of cramming for exams? Yay for electric buggies, but who drives them?  Given the fact that its highly unlikely that the fairer sex will be behind buggy wheels, this would perhaps create the need for male buggy drivers [Read: Foreign Labour… so much for Saudization policies] to meet the needs of a campus population of 50,000.

This economic rationale however still misses the point. Driving is almost universally a choice and provides a sense of empowerment, liberty and mobility for women.

I am not suggesting that adopting a  car-free system in the University is a bad idea and that we should go on emitting carbon, but rather the time and place chosen to implement the system deems greater analysis (or dare I say scrutiny) in light of broader issues. Just saying.

To Saudi sisters reading this, I have two messages:-

1) This post is just my modest two cents worth, and I look forward to any thoughts you may have on it.

2) For those choosing to make a stand on June 17, Allah Ma3ak 🙂

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