x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Green entrepreneurs help UAE residents to clean up their lives

A look at the various ways we can live an efficient, eco-friendly lifestyle in the UAE.

Tolga Soytekin, the founder of the cleaning-services outfit Eco Clean, says that as a Cypriot he is accustomed to ‘clean living in the open air with organic foods’.
Tolga Soytekin, the founder of the cleaning-services outfit Eco Clean, says that as a Cypriot he is accustomed to ‘clean living in the open air with organic foods’.

A look at the various ways we can live an efficient, eco-friendly lifestyle in the UAE.

After launching his green maid and maintenance service Eco Clean in Dubai at the end of 2010, Tolga Soytekin noticed a gap in the market.

With 400 clients now paying Dh35 an hour for his company's services and ranging from The Address hotels to students, the 31-year-old entrepreneur has been successful in proving that non-toxic, natural cleaning products are just as effective as the potent and often carcinogenic versions more commonly sold. The business, originally launched as Eco Maid, has been so successful that he plans to launch his own chemical-free range of products by the end of the month.

"Having lemon trees, olive groves and vegetable patches was a normal thing for us growing up." says Soytekin, who swapped the Mediterranean's fruit-bearing trees for the UAE's date palm variety a decade ago. "My family is from Cyprus and we're used to clean living in the open air with organic foods."

As political, academic and industry leaders in the field of clean and efficient energy gather in Abu Dhabi for the four-day World Future Energy Summit, which draws to a close tomorrow, a growing number of dedicated entrepreneurs are helping UAE residents to live increasingly green lives.

One who already relies upon Mother Nature's help to clean her house is Leena Al Abbas, the founder and chief executive of the country's first and so far only organic salon, Zen Beauty Lounge in Dubai.

"All I need at home is vinegar, lemon and baking soda," says the 40-year-old Emirati. "But I think it is a great move [by Eco Clean] and I fully support green businesses and entrepreneurs as I am one of them too. We really have to try to change people's way of thinking and introduce them to healthier living."

Al Abbas founded her company in 2009, having long searched in vain for a UAE salon offering fully organic products and treatments.

"I started getting skin allergies and rashes whenever I coloured my hair with ammonia and even when using regular mani-pedi products - the chemicals were affecting me, so I decided to launch the Lounge."

A visit to Al Abbas's eco-chic parlour is green from the get-go. Clients walk into a spacious bamboo-panelled room accented with shades of non-toxic paint, dotted overhead with energy-saving light bulbs illuminating neat piles of biodegradable towels.

From eyelash tints and massages to reflexology and face masks, she now offers the full spectrum of conventional treatments - all of them 100 per cent organic, natural, vegan or made from an in-house mix of fresh ingredients. Maintaining her green status, however, is not without its challenges.

"Unfortunately there are not many suppliers of [organic beauty] products here but I am lucky with our nail products, which I source here through Zoya - the first brand that took out the "chemical trio" of toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate. "

"I'm also the first in the market to do organic sugaring and it's a product I get from Canada. It's very popular for sensitive skins and is unlike hot wax which, containing petrochemical derivatives, can burn and scar you."

Like Soytekin, Al Abbas is quick to dispel the myth that eco-friendly products and services are prohibitively expensive.

"It's a perception that definitely used to be there. With beauty products - it's a bit like when people first started buying organic food. It was much more expensive so people would say, 'OK, I will treat myself'. But now, with all the local farmers, you can get amazing fruits and vegetables at a very reasonable cost."

Emirati Khalid Butti Al Shamsi, the owner of Abu Dhabi Organics Farm, couldn't agree more. He sells his pesticide-free outdoor-grown tomatoes for up to a dirham less than imported versions from Jordan and Syria.

"We need to respect the environment and care more about our carbon footprint. Why keep importing when we have a great climate in winter and it's so easy to produce healthy, affordable food in the UAE?" he says

"If blindfolded, for sure, I could taste the difference. If you keep vegetables overnight in the fridge you lose around 30 per cent of the taste. So why go for old stock? Go for organic, fresh and local."

Started as a pilot project in 2000 and given local and international certification in 2007, the UAE's first organic farm remains true to Al Shamsi's original philosophy of chemical-free agriculture with no genetic modifications.

Today, located about 15km east of Abu Dhabi airport, the expansive farm grows an array of vegetables from capsicum and wild rocket to cucumber and coriander. Lulu Hypermarket and Spinneys stock their produce and the farm's store, Mazaraa, in Al Mushrif is open to the public who clamour after free-range organic poultry, home-made honey and tropical fruits, according to Al Shamsi.

"What we are doing is not new," he says. "In fact it's exactly how we should all be growing fruit and vegetables. It's how farming was done 50 years ago and we're simply going back to that. We mix green and animal waste together and we compost it to reuse in the field again. Therefore, everything comes from our own farm. Chemicals are just not needed and of course there are side-effects for the environment and our bodies."

It was the potentially serious side effect of exposing his team to toxic dry-cleaning products such as perchlorethylene that lead 39-year-old Preeth Saphyadevan to establish the UAE's first environmentally friendly dry cleaners, Blossom, in Dubai just eight months ago.

"The traditional dry cleaning chemicals used are not necessarily harmful to the fabrics - but as they are petroleum-based solvents, the chemical particles will stay in the material after cleaning and these are very harmful to humans."

Having graduated from India as a textile engineer and working almost 20 years as a laundry manager for five-star hotel groups worldwide such as Le Meridien, Saphyadevans knew there had to be an environmentally sound alternative to the industrial chemicals commonly used.

Despite many of the chemicals used in dry cleaning being banned elsewhere, and some European countries beginning to produce only machine-washable clothes, demand for his eco-friendly service has been slow to build, he says.

"We are the only eco-friendly dry cleaner in the UAE and I think people just think laundry is menial, not aware of the [potential] consequences," he says. "But it's a new generation and I have great hope for the future."