Life & Style | Environment

The future's green for new Dubai store

A new one-stop shop in Dubai will make it even easier to switch to an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary speaks to its owner and finds out what's in store on the eve of Earth Hour

  • By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Friday magazine
  • Published: 00:00 March 30, 2012
  • Friday

Gundeep Singh
  • Image Credit: Dennis B. Mallari/ANM
  • Gundeep Singh is CEO and founder of The Change Initiative.
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It's 2015, 6.30am. Patricia stirs in her bed in her solar-powered home in Dubai. She gets up, walks to her kitchen, flicks on her energy-saving LED light, and turns on the eco-friendly coffee maker and toaster to prepare her breakfast. She looks out of the kitchen window and sees the turnips, tomatoes and runner beans growing in her organic kitchen garden, thriving thanks to the manure from her home-generated compost. While the organic coffee is percolating, she heads to the bathroom to stand under the water-saving shower that also filters out all impurities. Later, dressed in her designer suit, made from a yarn created entirely out of recycled plastic that is biodegradable, she gets into her hybrid car and heads to work.

Now for some numbers. Water conserved thanks to the green shower: almost two gallons. Fossil fuel used by her hybrid car: near zero. The combined energy Patricia employs to power everything she uses in the morning is less than you might spend switching on a battery-powered torch for half an hour.

Sound too good to be true? It's really not. Patricia may be a fictitious character but the sustainable lifestyle we've described here, which can help reduce our carbon footprint, will soon be a reality. 

One-stop green shop

Gundeep Singh, CEO of eco-conscious venture The Change Initiative, says, "It's time we started to think more of a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, one which can reduce the stress and strain our planet is experiencing. And the good news is that it is not too difficult."

On April 17, The Change Initiative will open a 4,000-square-metre shop in Al Barsha, Dubai, carrying a comprehensive range of sustainable living solutions covering energy conservation, waste management, organic food and lifestyle items.

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The brainchild of Dubai-based Gundeep, 48, and Change Initiative board member, US-based lawyer and activist Robert F Kennedy Jr, the store will stock its own products and environmentally friendly goods made by leading brands and multinational firms including Philips, Siemens and Bosch.

Says Gundeep: "It's still not too late to start making small, smart, lifestyle changes which will go a long way in helping keep the planet green at least for our children's sake.

"Global research indicates that increasing numbers of consumers are starting to appreciate the importance of adopting more environmentally sustainable behaviour.

"The fact that a growing community of people can now have the opportunity to factor sustainability into their purchase decisions and daily lifestyle is sure to make a huge difference in their lives.

"We all need to make an effort to preserve the planet and the sooner we realise that this is the only home we have, the sooner we will begin to take steps to clean it up and keep it that way,'' he says.

The shop will have close to 1,500 products and will be one of the few in the region offering so many green items under one roof. 

Eco-awakening

Until four years ago, Gundeep was like most residents here - oblivious to the energy-guzzling lifestyle he led, driving a sports car and sailing his yacht at weekends. A Fulbright scholar in India, Gundeep did his Masters in Business at Cornell University in New York and ESSEC Business School in Paris. He held senior management positions in several companies in India before coming to Dubai to start his own management consultancy business, the Learning Curve. Later, he joined Al Ghurair Group as a senior manager before quitting to become regional manager for human resources at HSBC UAE.

His interest in all things green was brought about when he decided to enter the solar-cell manufacturing business. While studying more about the sector, he realised there were several companies manufacturing environmentally friendly solar-cells, but not using them in their own factories or offices. Keen to practise what he preached, he planned to set up a store in Dubai stocking only green products. And to prove he was serious, Gundeep decided to adopt a sustainable-living lifestyle.

"I have made significant changes in my lifestyle - 75 per cent of my household lighting is driven by solar cells.

"I have put showers in my bathrooms instead of bathtubs and installed low-flow taps throughout my house, reducing water usage. Also, 99 per cent of my lighting is LED, reducing power consumption.

"I've also replaced all the kitchen appliances with low-energy-use appliances and have replaced my sports car with a hybrid car. Oh, I've also turned vegetarian."

Making these changes was the first step two years ago and then the research on the business model he had in mind began.

"I realised there was no single supply chain catering to clean technology as well as sustainable products and I saw huge potential in this space, as the world is moving towards sustainability. And that's when I thought of joining the dots by establishing The Change Initiative, a global supply chain for both sustainable and clean-tech solutions.

"The choices for sustainable living are made on functionality, utility and sustainable credentials and we make sure none of this is compromised." 

Like minds meet

Gundeep met his business partner Robert Kennedy, an environmental law specialist and campaigner, at a solar power conference in China three years ago.

Robert, the son of the late Robert Kennedy, and nephew of the late US president, John F Kennedy, feels very strongly about the environment and in 1999 was named one of Time magazine's ‘Heroes of the Planet' for his campaign to save the Hudson river in New York. A couple of meetings later Robert wholeheartedly lent his support to Gundeep's business model.

The two men have ensured that the store will have ecological alternatives for everything you need to run your life smoothly, such as LED lights, shower filters, energy-saving toasters, paper-saving notice boards and waste-recycling alternatives.

It is often argued by detractors of sustainable living that what discourages many people from going green is the high cost of making the switch. But Gundeep thinks consumers need to look at the long-term benefits and think of this as an investment in conservation.

"I think it's a fact that sustainability today seems more like an investment than an expense and that's what we want to do in future. LED lighting, for instance, lasts almost 25,000 hours compared to a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) which only lasts for 3,000 hours. Second, sustainability is related to health and I feel health in no way should be compromised.''

While the price of some of the products may appear steep - for instance a device to cut down power usage when charging mobile phones costs Dh349 - in the long run, they will prove their worth by helping trim electricity and water bills. Using eco-friendly products is of course not the only way to go green. The Emirates Environmental Group, for instance, on its website (www.eeg-uae.org) offers plenty of suggestions on how to reduce the use of water and electricity. Tips include running the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full or after ensuring that you match the water level with the size of the load. You could also wash fruit and vegetables in a pan of water instead of under a running tap. Once you are finished washing them, you can use the rinse water in the pan to water the lawn or the houseplants; and use water-saving showerheads in the washroom. 

Right time, right place

"Modern consumers already know that more sustainable products - from LED light bulbs to solar panels, ecologically sensitive detergents and beyond - will save them money and help their families lead healthier lives," Gundeep says. "The obstacles to mass conversion, however, have been a lack of purchasing convenience and product knowledge. The store addresses both of these obstacles for the consumer with a multitude of products and trusted brand names in one-stop physical and online stores.''

The two men are optimistic that people in the LOHAS category (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) will be early adopters, followed by others.

Robert too is optimistic about the venture. "It's happening at the right time and place,'' he says. "The Change Initiative will consolidate and make easier the purchase of a full array of sustainable products for homes, businesses and daily use.''

The store will also have demonstration areas or ‘learning lounges', and a mock-up office and apartment to show people how they can go green. It aims to open eight stores in the region and 20 to 25 globally in the next five years. 

Easy ways to go green today

  • Always use lids when cooking. This reduces heat loss and energy consumption and reduces condensation.
  • Switch to eco-friendly toiletries and cleaning products. Those with toxic chemicals leave residue which needs more water to dilute.
  • Use a steamer rather than individual saucepans for cooking vegetables. Use the water in the steamer to make gravy too!
  • Choose glass, ceramic and stainless steel over plastic wherever possible. These materials are long lasting, can often be transferred directly from the fridge to the oven or microwave, and, importantly, they won't leach chemicals into your food.

 

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