Money & Me: ‘Taking a pay cut was worth it to help save the planet'

Shawn Green, managing director of Sprudel, says his best investment was buying an apartment in Germany 11 years ago

Shawn Green is the founder of water filtration business Sprudel, which aims to reduce plastic waste in water consumption by supplying sustainable equipment to companies. 

(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Shawn Green is managing director of Sprudel, a subscription-based eco-friendly water company he founded to reduce reliance on single-use plastic bottles.

British-born, he moved to the UAE in 1992, then went to Germany for almost 10 years where he experienced plastic-free water consumption.

Mr Green, now 37 and living in The Springs, Dubai, started Sprudel in 2014. It installs filtration machines in corporate offices, restaurants and cafes, bringing cost and environmental savings.

What brought you to the UAE?

My father was in construction in the UK. The industry took a turn for the worse in the 1990s and he lost his job. Then, it was a toss-up between Bahrain or Sharjah. Dad came to the UAE to make money for the family, initially for six months. We followed as a family that summer and loved it. I was nine. It was a small compound where everyone knew each other. It was like a prolonged holiday for us. We were in Sharjah for three years and then moved to Dubai.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

We weren’t the richest family, never been big spenders, but my parents took me and my elder brother on vacations. We came here with about Dh500. It had to be done, financially. That’s how we survived. I’m lucky to have had the upbringing I had here. I learned about sacrifice for survival. You do what you’ve got to do, especially for family.

How much were you paid in your first job?

Dad was a mobile cranes mechanic and I followed in his footsteps. From when I was six, I used to go to work with him at weekends where I fell in love with the industry. I said I wanted to work with Liebherr, a company that manufactured cranes.

At 20, I went to Germany to do an apprenticeship in mechatronic engineering, then did service engineer training. My first pay cheque was €520 (Dh2,250). I budgeted. I had rent to pay, but you also want some fun.

What brought you back to the UAE?

Initially construction, in 2010. The company my dad helped build was, and is, thriving. The plan was always to come back to work there, under him. I had a good three years, training people, using my knowledge and skills and started thinking about setting something up myself. Sprudel has been going six years and I’ve been with it full-time for three.

Why did you choose the drinking water sector?

In Germany, they live very differently when it comes to drinking water. They are a lot more sustainable and environmentally focused. We are capable of doing the same thing here (without plastic bottles).

In my previous job, going to corporate offices for meetings, you see they’re one of the larger culprits. Putting together a solution for them to go more sustainable was the key factor in setting up Sprudel. I’m a firm believer that if a human being has the correct education and knowledge, they will make the right decision.

Shawn Green is the founder of water filtration business Sprudel, which aims to reduce plastic waste in water consumption by supplying sustainable equipment to companies. 

(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Mr Green says his best investment is an apartment he bought 11 years ago in Germany. He bought it for €120,000 and it’s now worth €300,000. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National

Does everyone understand it?

The biggest frustration is when you sit opposite a restaurant manager and say, ‘We’ve got solutions where you can take your restaurant plastic-free’ and they laugh and say, ‘But I buy bottles of San Pellegrino for Dh2 and sell it for Dh48’.

The reason we do mainly corporates is that we can make a bigger impact in a shorter amount of time. I’d rather influence 300 people in one hit than waste petrol going door-to-door. We don’t slap a machine in and that’s it, we also do talks on health and environmental benefits.

Did you take a pay cut to run Sprudel?

Yes. Construction pays pretty well, especially with that qualification I got in Germany; it’s very niche, a maximum 80 people worldwide have that. I used savings for my company, initially founded as a side hustle. I was getting paid for my day job and investing into this until it got to the stage we’d grown quite well.

But I’m not interested in the money side. We’re in it for the right reasons … to help save the planet. I believe in what we do, that it’s worth taking a pay cut.

What is your attitude towards spending and saving?

I’ve always lived well within my means. I’ve never been one for splashing out, not on silly things. That comes back to my parents. I’m very capable of saving, I should save a lot more, but I’d rather invest it back into the business.

I've never been one for splashing out, not on silly things. I've never understood the materialistic thing

Where do you save?

Savings account … I try and keep it as simple as possible. I trust myself more than somebody else with my money. They might be able to get me 0.5 per cent more, but I like to be in control.

What has been your best investment?

When I was in Germany, I bought an apartment 11 years ago. Lucky timing. I bought it for €120,000 and it’s now worth €300,000. I’ve got that to fall back on.

What treats do you enjoy spending on?

The trips my partner and I have are very special. Life experiences I’m fortunate to be able to afford … that’s how you grow and appreciate what you have. We go to nice places, but not super expensive.

Do you have a philosophy towards money?

If it’s used in the right way, for good, and your energy and focus are going towards the right way, then it’s a very positive thing to have. We’re doing a lot of good for the planet … if we didn’t have the money, it wouldn’t be as possible. So, money’s a tool to make me happy through action, but I’ve never understood the materialistic thing. I drive my mum’s old 2004 model Lexus, 170,000km and still going. It’s just a mode of transport.

I’ve seen what money does to some people; become super rich, and someone I don’t want to associate with.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

I made the mistake of getting us a stand for a two-day hotel exhibition. It cost close to Dh30,000. That was six years ago and we wanted to get into that hotel world, but they weren’t ready. I put it down to experience.

How has the pandemic impacted your lifestyle?

I found that I was quite good at baking and put on six kilos. Then we bought a spinning bike, so I’ve lost four of those. We increased the use of local produce – spent considerably less, bulk bought – and also ordered directly from local restaurants instead of delivery apps. Home cooking isn’t necessarily cheaper than going out. If I spend over Dh20 on an Indian meal, I’m annoyed.

Do you have a retirement strategy?

My plan, since I can remember, is to retire at 45. Whether I achieve that, we’ll see, but that’s the focus. I’m investing short-term in myself and the company to grow to become the biggest sustainable company in Dubai, to then be able to pass it on to somebody else to carry the baton. I’ll happily sit in the back seat and be driven.

I imagine myself being 70, sat on a golf course chilling and looking back at the decisions I made.