How to live green in Dubai

Find out how to live a more sustainable life in Dubai

Area Guides
Area Guides

New sustainability and eco-friendly living campaigns spring up all the time, yet Dubai’s huge carbon footprint is still a force to be reckoned with. Holly Sands challenges herself to find out just how easy it is to go green in the city.

When you’re looking to work on your own personal green credentials, who better to turn to than the CEO of the company that owns one of the world’s most sustainable buildings? And it just so happens that man – and his building – reside in Dubai.

It’s no secret the UAE has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world. Bit by bit, however, the emirates are working to improve the country’s environmental standing, and 2013 has already seen a number of new initiatives and accolades for Dubai. Among them, Dubai Airports is set to install 192 solar panels on the roof of the new Concourse D, and use recycled materials in its construction. DEWA, meanwhile, has been encouraging customers across the city to reduce their electricity consumption with energy-efficient light bulbs and eco-friendly appliances.

In June Dubai’s The Change Initiative, which provides sustainable solutions for the city’s residents, set a world record for having the most sustainable commercial building on the planet. It’s high time then that residents made more of an effort than just separating their glass bottles from their aluminium cans. To get expert guidance on adopting a more environmentally friendly way of life here in Dubai we turned to Gundeep Singh, the company’s founder and CEO.

When I decide to take up a challenge to live as green as possible for a full seven days, Singh readily agrees to offer some solutions for things I can do at home, in the office, while I’m shopping and, taking into account it’s an inhospitable 40C out there, making my daily commute from The Greens to Media City. His first piece of advice for my home life is to start taking shorter showers – out with long soaks and in with express cleaning then. ‘A ten-minute shower is equal to a bath, so anything more than three minutes is in excess,’ he explains. An egg-timer now installed in my bathroom, so far, so easy (though I do have to choose between my razor and conditioning my hair on a few occasions). I recycle everything, with the exception of Tetri-pak juice cartons (I decide the petrol needed to get to the nearest location to recycle these negates my good intentions) and switch to a low ecological impact laundry detergent and cleaning products – which I’m happily surprised to find quite easily in my nearest supermarket. Singh also recommends buying less to use less, so instead of picking up a bunch of bananas to eat throughout the week and throwing the last two away when I stay over at a friend’s and they go off, I buy my bananas on the morning each day, and go without if I can’t find one that doesn’t come with any extra packaging. Surely the beauty of a banana is that it grows in its own bag.

At work, there’s little I can do towards building management (except screech obnoxiously at colleagues who open windows when the A/C is left on) and it’s instead up to me to make small changes. While my bosses aren’t sold on Singh’s suggestion to have staff work remotely, which he explains companies such as IBM and Fedex offer as an option to reduce their carbon footprint, I heed his advice to ‘look for opportunities to save’. I start by printing on both sides and using less paper (admittedly less fun than filing stories in my pyjamas, but something that could have a big impact on its own over the course of a year). I work hard to curtail my habit of doodling while on the phone and brainstorming, which can normally see me go through several sheets of A4 in a week.

While it’s impossible for me to make the journey to work by foot and metro in the mornings without arriving at my desk in a state of sweat-soaked dishevelment, I take up the habit on the way home, where my three-minute shower waits for me on the other side.

Singh also encourages me not to buy new clothes with every fashion season, but buy what I need, responsibly. A friend reminds me that it’s more important to dress well than to dress fashionably – though a week without buying new clothes is far easier than going a full year. In the supermarket, he warns me to avoid buying ‘bundle offers’, so I don’t end up with things that I never wanted. As a single woman, these are typically easy to avoid anyway, but if I were shopping for a family, I might find it slightly harder to resist the lure of what seems like a bargain. When I suggest bringing my own bags instead of using supermarket plastics, Singh urges me to look at the bigger picture. ‘If you look at a full grocery cart, it probably contains much more plastic than the bags,’ he explains. As a consumer, he notes that I should vote with my feet and choose products with less packaging – whether plastic, foil, card or a combination of different materials. I could even directly encourage manufacturers and distributors to use less in the first place.

In a week, I manage to make a wide range of small changes to my life. Of course, seven days is very different to a full shift in lifestyle, but over a longer period, many of them could benefit my bank balance as much as the environment. Buying fewer clothes, less food that will only end up getting thrown out and using less water and electricity could save me literally hundreds of dirhams every month – not to mention a few inches round the waist if I’m walking home every night.

Two weeks later, I’m still going strong, and I’ve managed to rope in my flatmate, who has managed to rope in her boss – and this is ultimately the key.

The city’s many tower blocks aren’t generating a huge carbon footprint all by themselves – more than two million residents contribute to the score. It’s time to get involved then, don’t you think?

Essential Green-lliving guidelines

Gundeep Singh’s environmental checklist for Dubai residents
Don’t be fashionable, be responsible. Changing clothes every season is not necessary.

Use less water at all costs. Water is gold and it uses up a lot of energy in the UAE – use all water as frugally as you would mineral water.

Buy less, use less. Buy everything in this order: health first, then for survival (such as groceries), then for life support (such as house, transportation, schooling, and so on), then for lifestyle and finally pleasure. Your expenses towards lifestyle and pleasure in a year should not exceed 15 percent of your net earnings.

Try to give a new life to anything that you might be about to throw away. Always try and find a second life for something.

Don’t save, just don’t use. Saving energy is good, but not using it at all is even better: negawatts is the mantra.

Think full cycle all the time: how is something made (consider the use of resources, impact of human health and the environment), how useful it is, how much will it need in terms of energy, water (as well as the impact on human health and the environment during use), once it has finished its useful lifespan how effectively can the item be ‘reborn’? Get informed.

Remember money cannot buy happiness. Always try to find new ways to reduce your footprint and be a role model to the next generation. Our children pick up our habits, so set good examples for the future.

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