Danish restaurant owner in Dubai goes green to help save Siberian tigers from extinction

Georgian-inspired restaurant Shvili and Italian venue Osteria Mario in Dubai Hills Mall also aim to be carbon neutral

Henrik Winther, owner of Tigrus Restaurants, was an early adopter of green business policies. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A Danish restaurant owner in Dubai is aiming for his businesses to become carbon neutral by planting thousands of trees, and attempting to adopt a zero-waste policy, all in the name of the Siberian tiger.

Businessman Henrik Winther, who for years operated about 385 restaurants across Russia, decided to branch out on his own in 2005 and launched Tigrus Holding.

The name was inspired by the plight of the endangered Siberian Amur tiger after he witnessed the rapid decline of the species across the Russian far east and felt more action needed to be taken.

"In my previous role I was already disconcerted about the global trends over threats to wildlife, rare species and pollution,” said Mr Winther.

“It was something that was bothering me personally. I knew I couldn’t change the world but I wanted to run a business that could be as socially responsible as possible."

Mr Winther himself is a supporter of tackling illegal poaching of tigers in Russia, and his chain of venues promotes sustainability and the protection of nature by adopting strict, environmentally sound practices.

He said that although it is impossible to become zero-waste he will attempt to minimise waste as much as he can, including in his two Dubai-based restaurants.

In 15 years, the the company has grown to include 53 restaurants worldwide with the first two opening in Dubai Hills Mall — the Georgian-inspired Shvili and Italian venue Osteria Mario.

Tigrus Holdings was an early adopter of green business policies in Russia, by planting thousands of trees across Eastern Europe, compensating for its carbon emissions under a UN programme.

Eight years on, kitchens across chain restaurants aim to use products that can be cooked in their entirety, reducing waste, while plastic products are kept to a minimum.

Green technology

Since 2015, all of Mr Winther's restaurants implemented “mindful consumption technology” to significantly reduce environmental impact.

Heat stoves were replaced by more energy-efficient induction cookers, while 90 per cent of plastic was ditched for sustainable alternatives.

Water and electricity consumption was constantly monitored across venues, as were the emissions of staff as they travelled for work, while a “doggy bag” service helped to slash food disposal.

Since its inception, the changes cut CO2 emissions across all of his restaurants by 43 per cent.

“This started out as a desire to compensate for our CO2 [emissions] but we realised we could do more than that,” said Mr Winther, who plans to open several more restaurants across the region.

“It gave me a road map of what was possible.

“This is not a project for marketing purposes, but it has had a positive effect with more people becoming educated about their environment."

People respect a brand that has strong values, he said, “that fits in with what we are trying to achieve”.

“We can never go to completely zero-waste but it is an idea to minimise waste as much as possible,” said Mr Winther.

“My mission in life is to become an example of how businesses can be more sustainable. The biggest misconception is that being ecologically sound comes at a cost."

Siberian tiger cubs at a sanctuary in Shenyang, China. The species is considered endangered, with fewer than 3,900 animals thought to survive in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss. Getty

Threat of extinction

The Siberian Amur tiger is found in the windswept, snow-covered lands of the Khabarovsk region in the Russian far east and into China.

The species is considered endangered, with fewer than 3,900 animals thought to survive in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss.

“At the time the tiger population in Russia had dropped to around 320 from numbers of 50,000 in just a few decades, so it was on an extinction decline.

“Protecting these tigers became a personal mission, so I named the company Tigrus — from Russian for tiger.

“There is a saying in Russia that you name your boat as you intend it to sail.”

Mr Winther started supporting protection efforts by the World Wildlife Fund and the tackling of illegal poaching of tigers in Russia.

“These tigers were coming into remote villages and eating dogs as they were usually injured or sick, so local people were shooting them,” he said.

“We supported a programme that emergency services in these areas could be contacted if a tiger was seen, and a response team would visit to deal with the animal properly by tranquillising it, treating it and then later releasing it back into remote areas.

“I made a personal commitment that if my restaurants could flourish then so could Russian tigers.”

Updated: April 22, 2023, 4:01 AM