x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chance for Dubai to lift green uptake

The Life: The Change Initiative is a sustainable shop set to open next month in Dubai. It involves the environmental campaigner Robert F Kennedy Jr., though green issues are a relatively new issue of concern to the company's founder.

Gundeep Singh and the environmental campaigner Robert F Kennedy Jr, left, are setting up a shop to sell sustainable products in Dubai. The Change Initiative
Gundeep Singh and the environmental campaigner Robert F Kennedy Jr, left, are setting up a shop to sell sustainable products in Dubai. The Change Initiative

Thanks to a chance encounter in an elevator in China, Gundeep Singh is now finalising preparations to open a new shop that sells sustainable products in Dubai.

And a well known environmental campaigner in the US - Robert F Kennedy Jr, who also happens to be son of the late presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy and nephew of the late former president John F Kennedy - is on the board.

Mr Singh and Mr Kennedy, who has worked as an attorney specialising in environment law, first met two years ago at a solar conference.

"I met Gundeep in an elevator in Hannan, in China, and by the time we got out of the elevator we decided to meet again," recalls Mr Kennedy.

The next night the men started discussing a growing problem: how do consumers choose between the many products for sale that claim to be "green" or eco-friendly?

"Some of the products are, frankly, terrible," says Mr Kennedy.

"We looked at 100 solar chargers and only one of them worked. That kind of thing is what turns the consumer off from new energy sources," he adds.

And so the idea for The Change Initiative store, which is due to open next month in Dubai, was born.

The one-stop shop for sustainable products will occupy a large site on Sheikh Zayed Road and aims to sell products including organic food, electrical items, pots and pans, furniture and even carpets.

"The idea is that everything you can buy elsewhere you can buy it from us on a sustainable level and we are trying to make it affordable," says Mr Singh, the founder and chief executive of The Change Initiative.

But Mr Singh, who is based in the UAE, is the first to admit that his attitude towards reducing energy and helping the planet was very different four years ago. "I was completely the opposite," says Mr Singh, who owned a sports car and a yacht at the time.

He started taking an interest in the environment when he was looking into buying a solar cell company in Holland. The more he read, the more he realised he wanted to change his attitude.

The turning point came when he visited the Dutch factory and asked the chief executive how many solar cells he used for the facility itself. Mr Singh recalls the response he heard: "What are you talking about? Zero. It is other people who buy them."

Mr Singh says, "I thought, 'Wow, that's wrong.'"

Today, Mr Singh - who did not buy the solar cell company - drives a hybrid, owns a solar-powered house and is a vegetarian.

"My whole family has changed their lifestyle. Before I started this we had no idea what we were doing to ourselves," he says.

The Change Initiative will not only sell products. There will also be demonstration areas, "learning lounges", and a mock-up office and apartment to show people how they can go green.

The company plans to sell its own products, plus other environmentally-friendly goods made by leading brands and multinational firms, including LG.

About 20 per cent of the goods sold in The Change Initiative are to be imported because not everything the company wants to sell is available here.

It aims to open eight stores in the region and 20 to 25 globally in the next five years.

After the Middle East, Mr Singh favours Asian locations, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

But Mr Kennedy is trying to persuade him to open in the US soon.

"We need this as badly in Mount Kisco, New York, where I live, as we do here," says Mr Kennedy, who is a board member of the company.

"If we had a store like this in Mount Kisco you would see it flooded with people."

gduncan@thenational.ae