We recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Emad Ali Alharbi, a distinguished Sustainability Leader, Board Member, and Treasurer at the Saudi Space & Aviation Sciences Association (SSASA), Jeddah. Dr. Emad is widely recognized for his transformative contributions to the aviation, aerospace, and defense sectors. With a distinguished career spanning several years, Dr. Emad has consistently blended visionary leadership with technical excellence to drive sustainability and innovation within these industries, inspiring many.
Dr. Emad was pivotal in enhancing organizations standing to become top-rated suppliers, securing profitable business globally. His expertise extends to international markets, having successfully overseen complex programs across multiple countries. Beyond his extensive technical proficiency, Dr. Alharbi is committed to nurturing talent and promoting sustainability throughout his career. In this interview, Dr. Emad Ali Alharbi shares his profound insights about sustainability leadership, encouraging innovation in his field, and long-term plans for his organization.
Unlocking Major Milestones
We started the interview by asking, “Can you share key milestones and turning points in your journey as an industry leader?”
Emad Ali responds, “My journey as an industry leader with a strong focus on sustainability has been marked by several key milestones and turning points.
A significant turning point in my career was the transition into sustainability leadership. My pursuit of Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership at Harvard University signaled a deliberate shift toward addressing environmental and social challenges. Also, joining the Advisory Committee at GACA was another milestone, allowing me to contribute directly to developing GACA’s Civil Aviation Environmental Sustainability Plan (CAESP). It highlighted my expertise in sustainability strategy and my role in guiding Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation sector towards more environmentally responsible practices.”
Emad Ali added, “Moreover, accepting a position on the board of Saudi Space & Aviation Sciences Association was a notable milestone. This allowed me to play a crucial part in fostering knowledge exchange in the aerospace industry, promoting sustainable aviation practices, and contributing to Saudi Vision 2030. Throughout my tenure at Saab Group, I played a pivotal role in integrating sustainability into aerospace and defense programs, representing another crucial milestone in my journey.
And pursuing executive education at renowned institutions such as Harvard University and Columbia Business School was a continuous milestone. These milestones showcase my progression from technical roles to strategic leadership in sustainability, international engagement, and the drive to create a positive impact on organizations and the environment.”
Spark Behind The Journey
We were intrigued to learn more about the factors that played a crucial role in Dr. Emad Ali Alharbi’s journey. So, we asked, “What inspired you to start your sustainability journey in the aviation and aerospace industry?”
Emad Ali shared, “Commencing my sustainability journey within the aerospace, defense, and aviation industry was not just a career choice but a deeply inspired mission. Sustainability isn’t just a profession but a personal belief. I’ve always been passionate about protecting the environment and addressing global challenges, such as climate change, resource conservation, and the adverse impacts of aviation on the environment. With my PhD dissertation topic on enabling more green aviation operations, such as the Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) for arriving aircraft to land at airports, this passion is the cornerstone of my sustainability journey.
Saudi Vision 2030 is a visionary framework that laid the foundation for my sustainability journey. As an industry leader, I felt compelled to align my journey with this ambitious vision. Also, the desire to mitigate carbon emissions, reduce waste, and enhance sustainable practices in these industries became a driving force alongside the growing global awareness of sustainability imperatives.”
Emad Ali added, “With a solid background in aeronautical engineering, and advanced education in project management, industrial engineering and sustainability, I possessed the knowledge and expertise to drive sustainable initiatives within these industries. Also, my roles in academia and advisory committees exposed me to the intersection of sustainability and industry while instilling a desire to make a positive impact on the industry, society, and the environment. As an educator and advisor, I understood the potential of disseminating sustainability knowledge and influencing key decision-makers to foster change.
The commitment to collaboration with global stakeholders and experts is an integral part of my journey, joining international efforts to achieve civil aviation’s net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050. My inspiration to embark on a sustainability journey within the aerospace, defense, and aviation industry is rooted in a deep passion for environmental stewardship, alignment with national and global visions, a wealth of expertise, a desire for positive impact, and an eye for sustainable transformation, ultimately contributing to a greener, more sustainable future and advancing Saudi Arabia’s position on the global sustainability stage.”
To learn more about the approaches adopted by Dr. Emad Ali Alharbi to ensure innovative techniques in his leadership, we asked, “How do you foster Innovation in your sustainability leadership? Can you provide an example of a successful innovation initiative you plan to introduce?”
Emad Ali shared, “Innovation is at the core of my sustainability leadership. Innovation in sustainability is critical not only for reducing environmental footprints but also for ensuring the long-term viability and competitiveness of organizations. I encourage cross-functional collaboration, bringing together experts from diverse fields, leading to innovative solutions. For instance, in my previous role at Saab as a Programs and Contracts Director, I facilitated collaboration between program managers, systems engineers, and business development teams, resulting in innovative program strategies and cost-effective solutions.
I also emphasize continuous learning and staying updated with industry trends and technological advancements. It’s crucial to explore new sustainability practices, which may involve adopting cutting-edge technologies or adapting to emerging regulations. By pinpointing aspects with the highest environmental footprint, we can direct resources toward creating sustainable alternatives.”
“Through data analysis, we can identify areas for improvement, develop innovative strategies, and measure their effectiveness. This process requires continuous feedback and adaptation. Encouraging knowledge sharing within the organization creates an environment where employees feel comfortable proposing new ideas. As such, instituting forums for employees to share innovative sustainability practices would be essential.
An example of a successful innovation initiative I plan to introduce is developing a Sustainable Practices Enablement and Adoption Review (SPEAR) program. By introducing SPEAR, I’m not only aiming to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint but also support Saudi Vision 2030’s sustainability goals and drive innovation within the industry. It’s a tangible example of how I’m committed to fostering Innovation in my sustainability leadership efforts in this dynamic field of aviation and air transportation.” Emad added.
Networking and Mentorship are an inevitable part of a professional’s journey. We asked, How vital has Mentorship and networking been in your professional journey?
Emad Ali passionately responds, “Mentorship and networking have been pivotal in my professional journey, particularly in the context of sustainability leadership in the aerospace and defense industry. Mentorship has played a crucial role in shaping my career. I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who are seasoned leaders in the aviation and aerospace sectors. They’ve provided guidance, shared their experiences, and offered insights into sustainable practices, proving invaluable in understanding the nuances of the industry and the importance of sustainability.
One key turning point was when my mentor encouraged me to pursue sustainability leadership certification through Harvard University’s executive education program, expanding my skill set while opening doors to more significant responsibilities, particularly in leading sustainability-focused projects. In an ever-evolving field like sustainability, this guidance has been indispensable.”
Emad Ali continued, “Networking has been equally significant. I’ve actively engaged with professionals, both within and outside the aerospace and defense industry, who share a passion for sustainability. It has allowed me to stay updated on the latest sustainability trends, technologies, and best practices while enabling me to form partnerships and collaborations with organizations committed to environmental stewardship.
For instance, my involvement with the Saudi Space & Aviation Sciences Association (SSASA) and the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) Advisory Committee has provided me with a platform to network with industry experts, government representatives, and researchers. This collaborative approach has been instrumental in shaping sustainability strategies and driving initiatives that align with national goals.
One example of the power of networking is the engagement and collaboration when I had the privilege to connect, engage, and exchange knowledge and experiences with like-minded sustainability leaders from several industries with diverse backgrounds and sustainability challenges through Harvard’s Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership program (EESL). It’s through this exchange of ideas that I have learned about innovative sustainability solutions and how to overcome obstacles.”
Adaptability Through Challenges
We further asked, “As a sustainability leader, how do you assess and mitigate risks in your sustainability initiatives and programs?”
Emad Ali shared, “Given the complex and dynamic nature of the aviation and aerospace industry, assessing and mitigating risks is a critical aspect of my role in sustainability leadership. Here’s how I approach risk assessment and mitigation. I begin by conducting a comprehensive sustainability risk assessment by identifying potential environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks that may impact the business. By understanding the full spectrum of sustainability-related risks, I can develop strategies to mitigate them effectively.
Data is also crucial in assessing sustainability risks. A data-driven approach helps in identifying emerging sustainability risks early and making informed decisions. Another essential aspect is scenario planning. By modelling different outcomes, I can proactively develop strategies for each scenario, ensuring the organization’s resilience in the face of sustainability-related challenges.”
“Engaging with stakeholders, including customers, investors, and employees, is a crucial element of sustainability risk mitigation. Their perspectives and concerns provide valuable insights into sustainability risks. Relying solely on one sustainability initiative can create concentration risk. I advocate for diversifying our sustainability efforts, ensuring that we have a range of industries spanning ESG areas.
Also, a well-structured governance framework aids in risk monitoring and mitigation alongside building sustainable and resilient supply chains. Further, staying compliant with evolving sustainability regulations is crucial. Sustainability risk management is an ongoing process. I implement systems for continual monitoring and reporting of ESG performance and risks. I ensure keeping an eye on industry benchmarks and best practices in sustainability leadership.” Emad added.
Retaining The Right Talent
Having the right team is paramount for the success of any initiative. So, we asked, “As a sustainability leader, how do you attract and retain top talent in your team?”
“Attracting and retaining top talent, especially in the context of sustainability leadership, is a multifaceted process that involves a blend of strategic initiatives and a compelling vision. I articulate a clear and inspiring vision for the team that emphasizes our commitment to sustainability and the positive impact we aim to create. Also, I highlight the meaningful nature of our work and how it aligns with individuals’ values and desire to contribute to a more sustainable future.
I ensure investing in the growth and development of team members, including opportunities for learning and skill development related to sustainability. Top talent is attracted to organizations that support their professional development. Sustainability often requires cross-functional collaboration. I create an environment where team members collaborate not only within the team but also with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, fostering a culture of Innovation and knowledge sharing. Also, they are empowered by giving them the autonomy to make decisions and drive sustainability initiatives.”
Dr. Emad Ali continued, “Sustainability leadership is about innovation and finding creative solutions to complex challenges. I encourage team members to think innovatively and provide a platform for them to contribute their ideas. Top talent is drawn to organizations that value innovation and offer competitive compensation. Sustainability and inclusion go hand in hand, so I promote a diverse and inclusive workplace where all team members are treated respectfully and have equal opportunities.
Sustainability leadership involves long-term commitments, so maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. I support flexible work arrangements, telecommuting options, and other practices to ensure this approach while acknowledging and rewarding exceptional performance and contributions related to sustainability. This recognition not only motivates team members but also retains their enthusiasm for the organization’s sustainability goals.”
Capitalizing Through Emerging Trends
We asked, “How do you adapt your sustainability strategy to capitalize on emerging opportunities and industry shifts?”
Dr. Emad Ali asserts, “Adapting my sustainability strategy to seize emerging opportunities and navigate industry shifts has been pivotal in my leadership journey. Sustainability is about staying resilient and innovative. Regularly scanning the sustainability landscape helps identify opportunities and potential risks, allowing me to adjust our strategy proactively. Also, collaborating with diverse stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, customers, and suppliers, enables us to tap into their expertise and insights.
Sustainability and innovation often go hand in hand. Embracing new technologies, such as eco-friendly materials, renewable energy sources, and cleaner propulsion systems, can open doors to sustainable opportunities while reducing environmental impact. Also, maintaining flexibility in the sustainability plan allows for timely adjustments in response to changing circumstances. Tracking and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) helps us understand what’s working and needs adjustment.”
Emad Ali added, “Moreover, it’s a long-term commitment. My approach involves aligning sustainability goals with a clear, forward-thinking vision. This vision guides our strategic adjustments in response to shifts in the industry. By assessing the potential impact of multiple scenarios, we can make informed choices and strategically position our initiatives. Industry peers often offer valuable insights into emerging opportunities and best practices.
Engaging with professional networks and attending sustainability forums provide a rich source of knowledge. In my journey, I’ve learned that adaptability and foresight are crucial to aligning sustainability with emerging opportunities and industry shifts. This approach ensures the organization remains relevant and forward-thinking in an ever-evolving landscape.”
Suggestions For Beginners
For beginners starting in a similar field, it will be inspiring to hear from an expert like Dr. Emad Ali Alharbi. So, we asked, “What advice would you give aspiring sustainability leaders in the aviation and aerospace industry? What key lessons have you learned along the way?”
Emad Ali shared, “To aspiring sustainability leaders in the aviation and aerospace industry, I offer the following advice and share critical lessons I’ve learned in my journey. Sustainability leadership in aviation requires a genuine passion for environmental and social causes. Find your purpose and let it drive your commitment to making a positive impact.
Also, stay updated with the latest sustainability trends, technologies, and regulations. The aviation sector is rapidly evolving, so continuous learning is essential. Sustainability in aviation is a multidisciplinary field. Collaborate with experts from various backgrounds, including engineering, policy, and environmental science. Remember, effective sustainability leadership involves building strong relationships with stakeholders, including government bodies, customers, and NGOs. Engage them early and often to foster a shared commitment to sustainable goals.”
Emad Ali added, “Use data to measure and communicate the impact of your sustainability initiatives. Data-driven insights enhance accountability and drive continuous improvement. Develop a clear, long-term vision for sustainability within your organization. Identify potential roadblocks and develop mitigation strategies to address them and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. Build a robust professional network and seek mentorship from experienced sustainability leaders.
Consider environmental, social, and economic factors. Sustainable initiatives should balance all three aspects. Lead with integrity and set an example for your team and peers. Effective communication is vital and maintain that at all times. Sustainability leadership can be challenging, with obstacles and setbacks along the way. Maintain resilience and determination to overcome these challenges. Also, be a vocal proponent of environmentally responsible practices. Uphold ethical standards in all sustainability decisions.
As a sustainability leader in the aviation and aerospace industry, I’ve found that success comes from a combination of knowledge, passion, adaptability, and a commitment to a long-term vision. By applying these principles and lessons, you can make a meaningful impact on sustainability in this dynamic sector.”
Long-Term Goals We Asked Emad Ali Alharbi
We ended the interview by asking, “As a sustainability leader, what are your long-term goals for the organization you will work for? How do you plan to help them remain competitive in the evolving sustainability landscape?”
Emad Ali shared, “As a sustainability leader, my long-term goals for the organization I work for revolve around driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage in the evolving sustainability landscape. I aim to develop and implement a comprehensive sustainability strategy that aligns with the organization’s core values and long-term vision. This strategy will encompass environmental, social, and economic dimensions to address the triple bottom line effectively.
To remain competitive, I will continuously explore innovative technologies and practices that enhance sustainability, including adopting eco-friendly processes, renewable energy sources, and the latest sustainable aviation technologies. Staying ahead of evolving sustainability regulations is essential. Engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including
customers, suppliers, investors, and local communities, is crucial.”
“By understanding their sustainability expectations and needs, we can tailor our initiatives accordingly and maintain trust. I plan to assess and balance the costs and benefits of sustainability projects to ensure they contribute to the organization’s overall financial health. To evaluate progress, I’ll establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for sustainability initiatives. Recognizing that sustainability goes beyond environmental concerns, I’ll work to implement social responsibility initiatives that benefit employees, local communities, and society.
I will evaluate and optimize the sustainability of our supply chain, including selecting eco-friendly suppliers and ensuring ethical practices. Raising awareness and instilling shared values are vital components of long-term success. Given the global nature of the aviation and aerospace industry, I will seek opportunities for international collaboration and partnerships to address sustainability challenges collectively. Preparing for potential disruptions and developing risk mitigation strategies will be crucial for sustained success.
By integrating these elements into our sustainability strategy, the organization will be well-positioned to thrive in the ever-evolving sustainability landscape. The long-
term goals aim to balance economic prosperity and environmental and social responsibility, ensuring that the organization remains competitive and sustainable for the future.” Dr. Emad concluded.
Find Emad Ali Alharbi on LinkedIn.