Dubai has the inside track on green office interiors

The Life: Many businesses push for eco-friendly changes, but few can paint their entire business model green from the inside out. Here's one Dubai company that did.

Marcos Bish is the managing director of Summertown Interiors in Dubai, which creates eco-friendly corporate offices. Here he talks about painting his business model green, from the inside out.

Summertown used to solely trade in wooden doors, with just 22 employees. Now it has almost 250 staff. How did the business evolve?

In 2000, we also did bespoke carpentry - like counters and doors - for high-end retail and hospitality clients. Some of our clients were more satisfied with the work we did than contractors doing a total fit-out. We were asked 'could you not do the whole fit-out for us'? We resisted for a long time.


Because it would mean going into competition with some of our existing clients at the time. But, eventually we did, and set up a fit-out design department in 2003.

Did you lose customers?

No, we still have those customers today. We tried to maintain a good relationship with them. At the end of the day, you need competitors.

What did you learn while becoming the UAE's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) gold certified company, meaning it is rated ultra eco-friendly?

It was a steep learning curve. When you go for "green" interiors, there are three areas that are challenging. One is documentation; there's a lot involved. Second is sourcing materials: you're using a lot of products within a certain radius. If you start flying and shipping them it's not very green. Third is the fit-out, or construction, itself.

How was fitting-out challenging?

We had a 12-week plan for our office. In the end, it took 24 weeks. It was good it was our own interior, because we're very committed to deadlines when it concerns clients. We learnt a lot in doing it ourselves.

So what's green about your office space?

The floor is biodegradable. We use paints and glues that don't give off gasses. In lighting a conventional office, you'd have 25 watts per square metre; we have less than 7 watts. We looked at our airconditioning system and tried to minimise cooling. Overall, we have achieved energy savings of 55 to 60 per cent a month. I think it's actually higher because our lights are not on in the daytime: every occupant in the office has a direct view to the outside and natural light.

How do you pitch these ideas to potential clients?

Consider 40 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions are as a result of the buildings we live in. When we talked from an environmental point of view they were all interested but nobody took the bait. Then we changed our discussion. We also started talking to[chief executives], managing directors and facility managers about the operational savings they could get by going green. Once you do that there's a change, because everyone is interested in improving their bottom line.