Why the UAE is ready for your green business idea

7 December 2016 Category:

When many people think of Dubai, the word ‘green’ doesn’t come to mind.

Yet in both public and private sectors, a huge amount of work is going on to turn the city into a more environmentally-friendly place. And given Dubai’s success at most things it sets out to achieve, you probably wouldn’t want to bet against it.

What this means is that there are opportunities for green businesses, and organisations that support them, across the emirates.

We’re talking about that perfect meeting point where visionary business leaders pioneer real solutions to environmental issues – essentially, turn a profit by doing the right thing.

So, let’s look at the type of green business-friendly environment that the UAE is seeking to create, as well as examine some legendary global green business figures – and see what we can take away for our own region. 

Dubai going green

So let’s start local, and look at the groundwork.

The Dubai government is making moves in multiple directions with regard to its environmental policy. The emirate is pushing for buildings to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner, and so creating opportunities in green design and construction. Not to mention upgrading existing buildings – with the UAE’s own Taka Solutions being one of the leaders in this area. The company focuses on improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon impact. And saving money. Named after the Arabic word for ‘energy’, they won The Venture regional competition in 2016 and were selected as global finalists to represent the whole Gulf region in the search for the most impactful social enterprises. This is just one example of a business spotting an opportunity, then leveraging the entrepreneur-friendly environment to make something exciting happen. In fact, there are a plethora of awards across most industries in the UAE that are now rewarding green innovations.

The Dubai government is making moves in multiple directions with regard to its environmental policy.

Elsewhere on the government side, we’re seeing green initiatives coming from the state electricity and water authorities, and of course solar power which is not only becoming famous thanks to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Abu Dhabi, but the fact that solar panels will be a requirement for all buildings by 2030.

So the list goes on, but the point is this: If you want to take the temperature of Dubai, if you want to get a feel for the way things are heading, study the type of initiatives the government is rewarding.

With that in mind, let’s now look further afield at some global green entrepreneurs – and ask whether there are lessons we can learn from them to implement in our own region. 

From PayPal to Tesla: Making green vehicles cool

So we jump to Silicon Valley. Elon Musk started his business empire co-founding PayPal and is now responsible for SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Hyperloop and Solar City. What’s different about Musk’s way of doing business is not just his uncompromising attitude about shaping and growing new markets around sustainability, but the way he wants to make everything look and feel desirable.

Enter Tesla. An electric car that is also a performance vehicle – the Model S for instance can accelerate from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and has autopilot functionality. People are prepared to pay the price tag for these vehicles too, which can be USD 70,000 upwards. Musk wanted the electric car sector to be aspirational to consumers, not just because of the business and environmental ethics but as high-value products themselves. In doing so, he threw out the idea that ‘green’ is a narrow customer demographic – he knew they could appeal to a variety of sectors, especially the luxury market.

These are transferable approaches – we know Dubai loves luxury. And we have seen a push towards green initiatives. It seems the foundation is there, and now is the right time for an entrepreneur with an eco-friendly idea to take advantage.

Before we leave Musk, it’s worth noting that his Hyperloop project – an electric transport system like a train carriage in a vacuum tube that travels at 700mph – looks like it may find a home here in the UAE. The discussion is underway to link Dubai to Abu Dhabi – with an incredible 12-minute journey time.

A trip to the mall: Green retail

One thing we know a lot about here in Dubai is shopping. And retail also offers an interesting story of sustainability and loyal customer communities.

Take the US innovator Eric Hudson who in 1996 launched a business called Preserve out of his apartment. They made toothbrushes from hard-to-recycle plastic. His idea was simple and during the period of launch, manufacturers rarely used recycled material to good effect.

Today, Preserve is one of the largest recyclers in north America of materials like polypropylene plastics and sells a range of products such as tableware, cups, mixing bowls and cutting boards. Hudson asks his community of ‘preservers’ to mail back their used products for recycling and provides special branded bins in 250 locations across the country, so people can drop off their plastic items for recycling. And since the brand’s core USP is recycling, followers are no doubt happy to participate in sending back items after they have finished their product life.

The lesson here is that green-minded consumers are a strong community that will go the extra mile for the cause – you can count on their loyalty if you have a good idea. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise to the entrepreneur, who is constantly in search of their perfect customer. But it’s not just a group of customers, it’s forming that all-important community, a bond that connects them. 

The green-minded consumers are a strong community that will go the extra mile for the cause – you can count on their loyalty if you have a good idea.

Your next business idea: Is it green?

For any entrepreneur in Dubai, it feels like the pace never lets up and the opportunities are there to grab if you have done your homework and set your business up in the right way. There’s no reason why luxury eco-products such as those pioneered by Elon Musk, or a product around which an environmentally-conscious community forms (like that of Eric Hudson), couldn’t flourish here.

So it’s over to you. There is global long-term support for environmentally-conscious projects, and the space is currently wide open. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of business leaders create for both their companies and the environments in which they operate.

About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup
About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup

With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit.