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Insight from:

Dr Abdullah

BEng. (Aero. Eng.), MSc. (Mech. Eng.), PhD. (Mech. Eng.)

Research Fellow in Mechanical Engineering (Materials Science and Manufacturing)

School of the Built Environment and Architecture | London South Bank University

Dr Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the School of the Built Environment and Architecture (BEA) at London South Bank University (LSBU). He is also a part of our Sustainable Innovation (SI) programme here at South Bank Innovation (SBI). Abdullah manages projects that support the sustainable business strategies of SMEs’ and start-ups' clean products, services, or processes.

Dr Abdullah Qaban

Dr Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the School of the Built Environment and Architecture (BEA) at London South Bank University (LSBU). He is also a part of our Sustainable Innovation (SI) programme here at South Bank Innovation (SBI). Abdullah manages projects that support the sustainable business strategies of SMEs’ and start-ups' clean products, services, or processes.

As part of our SI programme, Dr Abdullah has led 25 projects nationally and internationally – including Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Businesses have come from a variety of sectors, covering renewable energy, water purification, construction, logistics, packaging, and more. His work faces down climate challenges and contributes to the sustainability of a wide range of organisations.

Working with SBI, Abdullah performs life cycle assessments (LCA) to help SMEs and entrepreneurs understand the environmental impacts of their products and optimise their materials/processes to reduce their carbon footprint. He can do this through SI thanks to his access to funding and equipment not usually found outside a professional lab. This opens scalable growth potential and often brings SMEs to the MVP stage and beyond.

Recently, Abdullah started a new programme to help 50 SMEs measure, report and verify their business greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide guidance to minimise their GHG level.

Dr Abdullah also sees a huge personal benefit to working closely with SMEs.

“My experience in working with SMEs is very useful as I became more aware of the technical and business-related challenges faced by start-up businesses. Moreover, since I’ve worked with SMEs in different sectors, I’ve developed my knowledge and skills in various areas, for example, learning the use of new energy software to build cost effective, reliable and sustainable energy systems.”

Abdullah’s passion for the work he performs with SMEs is clear. We asked him, based on his experience, what he thought were the key benefits to SMEs of academic support and funding. Here are his very clear top five:  

1. More than Consultancy

Normally when SMEs need specific expertise, they approach private companies to get their support. For example, a SME will launch a new product and want to know its carbon footprint so they will contact a Business Environment Consultancy. Although the SME will get a report with the results, there could be many gaps in the final report.

Consultancy companies tend to use a consistent procedure to perform the assessment. They will follow the same standards and use the same databases to assess products in various sectors e.g., construction and packaging. Although the results are not wrong, they are general and so may not be accurate.

So, what we do in SI is go deeper into the assessment by looking at the latest publications in the sector and finding the relevant standards and datasets that are more specific to the SME’s sector.

Data keeps changing and datasets grow over time, so we must be up to date with the recent findings. Moreover, only telling the SME their carbon dioxide emission is not enough and so we help them to set goals and give them guidance to reduce their carbon footprint over the long term.  

2. Giving More Results

When a SME asks us to test their product, we do so but we try not to limit the tests to what is requested, when needed of course.

When it comes to life cycle assessment most SMEs ask for carbon footprint but when we do the assessment we realise that there are other environmental categories that should be covered.

For example, Envopap are developing innovative, sustainable paper and packaging that’s kind to the planet. By using renewable sources—like agricultural waste instead of wood—the production has a much smaller environmental footprint than traditional packaging and still delivers an industry-leading product. They asked us to assess their packaging’s carbon footprint, which was provided, but we also realised that there are other environmental impacts that should be considered due to their high contribution. On the top of the carbon footprint, we provided 16 environmental categories e.g., water footprint, acidification, toxicity, impact on human health, land use, etc.

Envopap were happy that we included a comprehensive assessment which gave them a full picture of the sustainability of their packaging.  

3. Making the Complicated Uncomplicated

When we communicate with SMEs, e.g., sending reports or in meetings, we realise that they may not understand all the terms and concepts we use so we always make sure we are simplifying things or making thing clearer to them.

For example, a life cycle assessment report may indicate that this product releases 100kg of carbon dioxide. SMEs may wonder if this is high or low, so we tell them about their position in the market, e.g., “your carbon footprint is less than 90% of the carbon footprint of similar products in the market, which is very good.”  

4. International Impacts

So far, we have supported businesses in the UK, the Middle East, and Africa. For example, Phioneers was looking for a solution for the housing sector in rural areas of Gambia because most houses there are built using clay and they get destroyed in rainy and windy conditions.

It was not easy for us to find an alternative material because we did not know the building standards there and what resources or materials were available. However, we did extensive research relevant to the built environment in Gambia and, after lab testing, provided straw bale strengthened using goat hair and coconut fibre mixture, all available in Gambia.

We did the test at London South Bank University and proved the material’s suitability, which has high strength, low cost and is sustainable.  

5. Exceeding Expectations

We try not only to meet a SME’s expectations but to exceed them. For example, Hybrid Energy Solutions requested support in designing an energy system which combined solar panels and wind turbines. Their project aims to bring affordable and reliable clean energy to home or business owners primarily in the sub-Saharan Africa region through the provision of solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems and mini wind turbines – a hybrid energy system.

Based on my research, I recommended they add a tracking system to the solar panel to tilt its angle, so as the sun is moving throughout the day the panel will rotate to follow the sun’s direction. This allows it to take the maximum amount of sunlight which enhances the system’s efficiency at low cost. The SME was glad of this recommendation as this was not in their requirements list.  


Our huge thank you to Dr Abdullah for his insights and work with sustainable start-ups and SMEs. He is an integral part of the success of the Sustainable Innovation programme.

We wish him luck for 2023 when he plans to expand his research contribution to help decarbonise and reduce the environmental impact of buildings (domestic and non-domestic) and their associated assets. He hopes to accelerate the current rates of retrofit/building improvement to meet London’s net-zero ambitions.

If you’d like to learn more about our work on net zero, you may want to check out this article. You can also learn more about Sustainable Innovation here or sign up for our fully funded greenhouse gas calculator assessment.

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