After setting up one of Dubai's first biofuel companies more than a decade ago, Yousif bin Saeed Al Lootah is on another mission – to tackle people's penchant for overpurchasing things.
On Friday, the Emirati launched an app called Yjoz, which serves as a marketplace for people to lend and borrow all manner of things. It works similarly to Dubizzle, but instead of a buy-and-sell model, Al Lootah's version is all about renting.
It's a straightforward platform – people can list their appliances, electronics, toys and even furniture and jewellery for rent, and others book them for a certain period, from just a day to months on end.
“Rather than buying stuff, storing it in a cabinet and forgetting about it, why not share with others and make money from it,” Al Lootah tells The National.
Eco-friendliness aside, this can prove helpful to those looking for items for short-term use; think camping gear and birthday party essentials. However, big-ticket items such as appliances and second-hand furniture are also available to rent, from sofa sets to dining tables.
The end game is to encourage an “alternative lifestyle”, where instead of acquiring stuff that is most likely to end up in landfill, people cut down on waste by sharing items.
Given his background in sustainability, Al Lootah is inspired by other successful models in the sharing economy space, such as carpooling and subletting – which have been associated with a positive environmental impact.
At a government level, caring about the environment comes in the form of policies and regulations, but Al Lootah believes consumers can do their part by simply deciding to rent an item they know they won't use for long.
“Caring about the environment is a must and has never been more important than now,” he says.
Al Lootah is a member of one of the most prominent business families in the UAE, which owns Lootah Group, a mega-conglomerate with stakes in industries such as construction, real estate, agriculture and healthcare.
In 2010, he led the launch of Lootah Biofuels, which employs used cooking oil to produce alternative fuel sources for vehicles. Although this has a more intuitive business model, he admits the rental platform Yjoz will have to overcome some challenges before people start buying into it.
“When I launched Lootah Biofuels, people weren't really aware about biofuel or even sustainability,” he says. But now, he adds, there has been a huge shift in mindset and “sustainability is trending”.
It's why he hopes Yjoz will find an audience. The app, which has been in soft-launch phase until now, requires users to create an account before they can start browsing the collection of items for rent, but is free to download. A quick scan reveals a Sony PlayStation 5 is listed at Dh80 per day, but the longer you rent it, the lower the cost is. It becomes Dh33 per day if booked more than 30 days. Buying a new console costs about Dh2,000.
Other items for rent include giant inflatable bouncy slides for Dh1,950 a day; luggage for Dh45 a day; and a popcorn machine for Dh165 a day.
Aside from items with one-off uses, Yjoz has a massive collection of furniture and other household essentials, such as dining chairs, coffee tables and sofa sets. Price-wise, an L-shaped six-seater sofa costs Dh349 a day or about Dh100 per day if booked for more than a month.
Renting furniture for residential houses is not a new concept, and is gaining traction in the West as younger people opt for a more nomadic lifestyle. The UAE is one of the most expatriate-heavy countries in the world, with foreign residents and workers accounting for the majority of the population.
This demographic make-up, and the continuing push to attract more foreign workers, lends itself to a hyper-active residential rental market. By the end of September last year, a total of 140,685 leases were signed in Dubai – 58.71 per cent of which were new contacts, while the rest were renewals, according to data from the emirate's land department.
However, it's not easy to pinpoint where new renters are getting their home furniture, especially with a bustling second-hand market, as well as the rise of fast furniture shops that sell items on a bargain.
Aside from cost, there are other concerns about renting used furniture. For Fritzelaine Dizon, who has been living in Dubai for nine years, it's both an issue of wear and tear, as well as hygiene and safety.
“I would be more at peace buying new furniture, knowing that the ones up for rent have been used by someone else already,” she says. Pest infestation is a common issue in UAE homes and new furniture is guaranteed to be clean and safe, she adds.
While it might take some convincing before furniture leasing takes off in the UAE, Al Lootah believes people are becoming more conscious about their role in saving the environment, even if they start by renting rather than buying a set of Jenga blocks for game night.
“I believe the sharing economy is going to be the future,” he says, as people start to realise how even the littlest decisions have impact the environment in one way or another.