Green Entrepreneurs & Champions
When it comes to the environment, the traditional metrics of growth do not necessarily apply. Given the rapidly growing population and ﬁnite nature of natural resources, progress falls to entrepreneurs with the imagination to do more with less. By questioning the status quo, harnessing innovation, and laying the foundation for a more sustainable ecosystem, the following green entrepreneurs and advocates are not only making an economic case for protecting the planet, but also creating greener spaces, cleaner waters, and the conditions that will allow the earth to outlast the damage inﬂicted by mankind over the past century. These are their stories.
PHOTOGRAPHY VERONICA TAY ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM & DENISE REI LOW STYLING C.K. KOO
HAIR & MAKEUP PETER LEE/ MOSCHE SALON, ANN LIN/ ATHENS SALON, ZOEL TEE & RIE MIURA
Plastic Can Be Fantastic
His urban landscaping company takes the oft-vilified material and turns it into a credible ecofriendly solution.
Alan Lee Founder and executive chairman, Elmich
WHAT IT DOES
Provides eco-friendly urban landscaping, waterproofing, drainage, green roofs and storm water management solutions.
For Alan Lee, making the transition from salaried employee to entrepreneur 33 years ago was a matter of life and death. As the general manager of a marine and ﬁshery company in the ’80s, he put his life on the line during work trips to places like Somalia, South Yemen, Russia and postwar Vietnam.
“Once, we were stopped by Somali guards with AK-47s as we drove past a roadblock in the desert. Later, we were told that we were lucky I was mistaken for a mainland Chinese or they would have shot us on the spot,” says Lee, now 67. At the time, the Chinese were viewed favourably as they provided aid to the country, he explains.
Four years into the job, Lee, who has a bachelor’s in engineering in naval architecture from the University of New South Wales in Australia, decided he had had enough close shaves. Through his work in the ﬁshery business, he became familiar with the petroleum industry and saw the opportunity to start his own business in supplying waterproof coating derived from petroleum to construction projects.
He founded Elmich in 1985 and went on to design recycled plastic products such as storm-water tanks and pedestals for boardwalks, as well as for green walls and roofs of buildings. “Recycled plastics are cheaper than virgin plastics,” he says of his choice of material. “More importantly, using recycled plastics saves a huge amount of energy and water, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which are consequences of manufacturing virgin plastics.”
Today, Elmich is a leading global provider of eco-friendly urban landscaping, waterprooﬁng, drainage, green roofs and storm water management solutions. The environmental beneﬁ ts include urban greening, the reuse of rainwater, and minimising storm water run off that contributes to erosion and the depositing of harmful sediments into water bodies. Last year, it saved 25,500 cubic metres of landﬁll space by recycling plastics that were designated as waste.
Elmich’s projects include South-east Asia’s largest green roof at Universal Studios in Sentosa and the world’s largest green wall project at ITE Central Campus. Globally, Elmich has supplied over 7 million sq m of drainage cells for green roofs, including those at Stanford University School of Medicine’s carpark in California.
His success is hard-earned. When he started out, he did not draw a salary for three years. “I was fortunate my wife was working as a merchant banker so she could support me. I was a house husband but didn’t take care of the house,” he quips.
Even though the Singapore-based company has gained international recognition and has offices in Malaysia, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the United States, Lee laments that some people in Singapore still view products by a home-grown brand as being inferior to those by a foreign brand. To prove critics wrong, he focuses on innovating existing offerings to stay ahead of the curve. The company spends 5 per cent of its turnover – revenue in 2016 was $18 million – on R&D and intellectual property expenses. To date, it holds over 130 patents. Recently, the company developed a type of plastic he believes offers the highest level of ﬁre-resistance among plastics.
“I’m a very competitive person. Maybe that’s why I don’t play golf, as it’s a game where you compete against yourself. I prefer Scrabble or mahjong,” he says. “I always have ideas for improvement and I will cannibalise my own market to come up with something new; I don’t want to wait for my competitors to come up with it.”
I go on about two cruises a year. It is a very lazy way of travelling as you pack and unpack once, and that’s it. I can sit on the deck of the ship, watch the waves and dream.
I don’t do social media but I love gadgets. I read technology magazine T3 to find out about the latest cameras and phones.
I want to learn Mandarin.
TEXT KAREN TEE CLOTHES WOOL COAT, COTTON SHIRT, COTTON TROUSERS & SILK TIE, FROM BRUNELLO CUCINELLI
The Constant Gardener
Farming wasn’t always the industrial beast that overburdened our planet, and Bjorn Low is trying to remind us of that with every seed he sows.
Bjorn Low Founder, Edible Garden City
WHAT IT DOES
A social enterprise that promotes urban farming.
While known a Garden City, Singapore is no metropolis given to farming, considering how 90 per cent of its food is imported and only 1 per cent of the land is cultivated. Former ad man Bjorn Low is changing this mindset and leading the charge for a very different type of farming.
Low, 37, is the co-founder of Edible Garden City (EGC), a social enterprise that promotes urban farming. In a city as dense as Singapore, Low and his team seek out pockets of unused space – rooftops, restaurant courtyards and the like – to grow vegetables and edible ﬂora. Since the inception of EGC in 2012, its core business has been in building and maintaining herb gardens for clients like Marina Bay Sands, Six Senses Duxton, Fairmont Hotel and autismfocused Pathlight School. EGC also supplies herbs and edible ﬂowers to restaurants like Adrift, Alma by Juan Amador, Tippling Club and Open Farm Community (which Low opened in partnership with Spa Esprit Group) through its production arm, Citizen Farms.
Low’s journey began with the epiphany that he didn’t know how food was grown. After leaving well-paying jobs in digital marketing, he and his wife spent two years leading a farmer’s life: growing vegetables in farms in the UK and olives in Spain, and working at an eco village in Japan. He even attended the East Sussex Biodynamic Agriculture College, where he learnt about animal husbandry.
Whether it was growing crops or shovelling manure, his main takeaway was that modern farmers had lost their connection to the land. “It’s all about science and maths now, where you tweak something in a spreadsheet here and you have more crops appearing over there,” he says. “It’s rather sterile, so bringing back that feeling of connection is what I’m trying to achieve.” So what stemmed from a feeling of inadequacy has evolved into a full-ﬂedged business. And that business in turn isn’t just linking people with nature — it’s connecting people to one another.
Two years ago, he launched Ah Gong Farm, a farming project in the low-income York Hill Estate in Chinatown that aims to teach isolated, elderly men the joys of farming and forging friendships. “There was one man who was depressed and said nothing for the ﬁrst two weeks but, by the end of the sixth week, he couldn’t stop chatting. Now, he comes down to look at the planter boxes when he has insomnia,” he recalls.
He adds: “Every time we build a garden, we see people come, wanting to connect. And when they touch the soil and start understanding where their food comes from, it changes some of them.” Low admits not everyone emerges with a newfound respect for the earth’s nurturing ability but it certainly looks like EGC has plenty more seeds to sow. The company currently supplies herbs, microgreens and edible ﬂowers to 60 restaurants, averaging close to $6,000 worth of produce for each restaurant monthly.
Overall revenue, meanwhile, is expected to hit $1.5 million this year, and will compound in the next three years with strategic investments. “Our biggest challenge is scalability. When it comes to agriculture in the city, there’s limited land and only so much you can go vertical,” he says.
But Low doesn’t seem especially fazed. “I’ve learnt to slow down a little bit. We were rushing to expand and that’s just like adding chemical fertiliser to a plant and demanding it grow faster. I want to go back to the more spiritual approach of growing plants and apply that to growing the business.”
It’s a myth that I no longer go to the supermarket. There are only so many microgreens and edible flowers I can eat.
I just want to grow vegetables. The fact that this whole beast got created in the process is both amusing and amazing. But, ultimately, I want to lead a simple, self-sustainable life.
I have a tattoo of a fish because I used to be a competitive swimmer when I was younger. When I left the corporate world, I got a tattoo of a seedling to mark that new beginning.
TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG CLOTHES WOOL BLEND JACKET, COTTON TEE, COTTON TROUSERS & SUEDE LOAFERS, FROM BOTTEGA VENETA
Leaps and Bounds
Thanks to its commitment to research and development, Huawei continues to raise the bar on smartphone technology.
With 10 per cent or more of its annual revenue funnelled back to research and development, it is no wonder that Chinese tech giant Huawei has been making big strides in the smartphone world. The numbers are testament to this. In the second quarter of this year, Huawei sold a staggering 49.8 million phones, and now holds the spot as the world’s second largest seller of smartphones after Samsung. And its latest launch is set to be a conversation piece.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a beautiful piece of engineering that’s designed – and, possibly, destined – to overshadow the competition. The phone is armed with the new Kirin 980 chipset, which, according to speed tests on GSMArena, could well be faster than the A12 Bionic that powers Apple’s new stable of phones, making the Mate 20 Pro the fastest phone on the planet for now.
The Mate 20 Pro boasts both form and function. It comes with a sleek 6.39-inch curved Oled display with minimal bezels for maximum screen estate. It has a huge 4,200 mAh battery, the largest in the market so far, that supercharges from zero to 70 per cent in 30 minutes with a 40W charger. And the Mate 20 Pro’s wireless charging system is able to reverse-charge compatible accessories and any smartphone that supports this type of battery repowering.
Huawei has also kept both avid and casual photographers in mind while designing the Mate 20 Pro. The phone features an f2.0 front camera and an AI-powered triple-camera system on the back, which includes an 40MP ultra wide-angle Leica lens with an f1.8 aperture for excellent low-light performance (pictured). The superior AI not only keeps subjects in focus and in frame, it also pulls information from the Internet about subjects in the photo.
All these boundary-pushing capabilities are reason enough to impress, but the kicker is the price. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes with a recommended retail price of $1,348.
When it comes to saving the environment, Esther An bucks the trend and sets precedents.
Esther An Chief sustainability officer, City Developments Limited
WHEN SHE JOINED
WHAT SHE DOES
Builds the company’s leadership in CSR/sustainability.
While many of us now take our own shopping totes to the supermarket, Esther An was one of the ﬁrst to introduce recyclable shopping bags to staff and key tenants of City Developments Limited (CDL) over 20 years ago. “People called me crazy. But, before long, we became visionaries,” recalls CDL’s chief sustainability officer.
She was only into her ﬁrst year on the job when she spearheaded that movement. “Human nature is against drastic change, so you have to ﬁnd ways to engage people, and let them share your vision and understand the reason behind it at a pace that is comfortable.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong, An was ﬁrst hired by CDL to set up its public relations department 23 years ago. But a conversation with then boss and mentor, the late Kwek Leng Joo, changed that. “During the interview, he asked for my impression of the building sector. I told him that there seemed to be quite a bit of negative environmental impact before construction. He liked what I said and we naturally came into this ethos of conserving as we constructed.
“He was the mountain behind me. I can dream up a lot of ideas to go green and engage the community, but, if the top leaders aren’t supportive, I can’t drive change.”
In 2002, An initiated Project: Eco-Office, in partnership with Singapore Environment Council. It aimed to create awareness among office workers to conserve energy and resources at work, and has since reached out to thousands of individuals beyond CDL’s tenants, in public and private organisations.
An’s passion for the environment started with her enjoyment of nature when she was young. In fact, her ﬁrst job was to promote the Clean & Green campaign in Hong Kong. Following that, she was inspired to create innovative community and youth programmes that aim to raise eco-consciousness among the young. In 2013, for example, she oversaw the development of the world’s ﬁrst green library at Singapore’s Central Public Library. Named My Treehouse, its canopy is made from over 3,000 recycled plastic bottles.
“Every little bit counts,” she says. “No company or organisation can save the world alone.” Yet, her company has played an important role in this vast equation, pushing for sustainable design and practices in its developments. CDL holds the record, for example, for the largest use in Singapore of prefabricated preﬁnished volumetric construction (PPVC), a Lego-like modular system that is said to improve productivity and safety, while decreasing noise and dust pollution, on construction sites. “Singapore Land Authority now requires quite a few sites to adopt PPVC,” says An, who is in her 50s.
This September, she became the ﬁrst Singaporean to receive the UN SDG Pioneer Award, which recognises individuals who have tackled sustainable development issues, while contributing to business success.
Still, being one of the few women in a male-dominated industry has its challenges. So she is using her experience to help other women via Women4Green, Singapore’s ﬁrst sustainability network for women. “We have to empower women and give them bigger voices,” she says. “Women are the key decision makers for procurement. We want to educate and empower them to drive the green agenda and sustainable lifestyles at work, home and for entertainment.”
She is also spreading her passion online and has become quite the social media darling. “I’m not chasing ‘Likes’, but those 18,000 views show me that I’m reaching out,” says An, who also supports Feeding The 5000, a campaign that raises awareness of food wastage. “The satisfaction comes when I can inﬂuence the young. In fact, we need to step up because it’s getting more urgent.”
A habit I would like to adopt is walking more, for health reasons.
The best way to convince people is by doing it and showing results.
The soundtrack of my life is… (sings) I am woman, hear me roar!
TEXT KI’ERN TAN CLOTHES SILK BLAZER, FROM MAX MARA. THE REST, ESTHER AN’S OWN
The Long Haul
Vertical fish farming could be the key to saving our seafood, and Eric Ng is the first to do it.
Eric Ng Group CEO, Apollo Aquaculture Group
WHAT IT DOES
Uses technology and vertical farming to boost seafood production.
Things aren’t looking good for our oceans. Overﬁshing is depleting once-abundant species and whatever’s left (that’s edible) may end up suffocating due to falling oxygen levels in the seas caused by global warming.
For a solution to what’s happening, Eric Ng, group CEO of Apollo Aquaculture Group (AAG), is looking heavenward. His farm in Lim Chu Kang has been embracing vertical farming to maximise production and efficiency in landscarce Singapore since 2012.
The three-storey farm houses six ponds – two on each level – with each 135 sq m pond being able to hold 22,000 ﬁsh fry. This system allows AAG to farm 150kg to 250kg of ﬁsh per cubic metre of water, compared to the 25kg to 75kg that sea cage farming can yield. AAG’s farm is fully automated, with everything from water conditions and feeding being controlled remotely, thus reducing labour costs.
It’s a simple idea in theory, but one that took immense conviction to turn into reality. AAG was started by Ng’s father to cultivate ornamental ﬁsh. Ng gave up the chance to continue his studies in Australia to help with the family business, but he and his father “were ﬁghting all the time”, he recalls.
After three years, he left to start his own construction business. But when the market crashed, so did his company. “I hung my head and went back to my dad, who was grinning smugly. But that experience helped me relate to his challenges as a business owner, and he in turn let go a little more and gave me the freedom to explore different ways to operate.”
One of those ways was automation, which he admits was inspired by his own laziness. “I had to be at the farm before 7am, doing jobs like siphoning water from tanks and ﬁlling them up again – and we had 500 tanks,” he says. “During my experiments with semiautomation, I killed many ﬁsh and shrimp, but that’s where I gained the know-how. I realised that ﬁsh farming is both an art and a science.”
The science part received a major boost when Ng shifted from ornamental ﬁsh to food ﬁsh after his father passed away in 2009. He decided to farm ﬁsh on land, knowing the difficulties of farming them in sea cages. “Sea cage systems are difficult to control because everything is dependent on the weather, ﬁsh are vulnerable to diseases and you have to manage everything off shore. Should anything happen while you’re on land, you have to react very quickly and it’s very taxing on the mind,” he explains.
By investing in high-tech land-based farming, AAG promises its products – mainly grouper, trout and shrimp – are safe to consume and traceable. The next step was to increase output. “With my background in construction, I came up with ideas on how to build upwards,” he says. He had to mortgage his house to get started.
Today, his “ﬂoating ponds” concept is about to materialise in a massive 38,400 sq m hub in Neo Tiew Crescent, built at an estimated cost of $72 million. The farming block is due to be completed before next October, with the office and processing block the year after. “By escalating the model to eight tiers, we are able to reduce our energy costs from production from 30 per cent to 3 per cent, which adds up to $3.5 million in savings a year.”
The 45-year-old hopes more traditional farmers will adopt this model, since “ﬂoating ponds” can ﬁt into any unused urban space, including parks, rooftops, community spaces and viaducts. “The older generation is still farming like they did 30 years ago, but they have experience and soft skills. I hope to help the industry upgrade their hardware while maintaining their ‘software’,” he says. “Instead of a competitor, I hope the older generation will come to see me as a collaborator, so we can all make the world a better place to live in.”
I’d gone skydiving and canoeing, all without my parents’ knowledge because they wouldn’t allow it. So now I want to support my three children in whatever they want to do.
I’m the only child, but my father never pampered me. He could have bailed me out when my construction business failed, but he taught me to face what I needed to.
If I could farm anything, it would be bluefin tuna. Tuna are fast swimmers and migratory so I don’t think there are any land-based farms that can do it yet.
TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG CLOTHES ERIC NG’S OWN
McLaren’s $2.2b Venture
Supercar maker ready to switch into overdrive, with 18 new derivatives in the next seven years.
The McLaren name has woven many a great story. Its racing pedigree with 12 drivers’ and eight constructors’ titles in the Formula One world championships is legendary. In 2010, it embarked on another quest – to design and make sports cars and supercars under McLaren Automotive.
It has been an equally remarkable journey. In just a few short years, McLaren has emerged as a superpower in this segment, with the successful rollout of distinctive models from the MP4-12C, 540C, and 570S to the P1, 650S, 675LT and 720S. It has built more than 15,000 cars.
With the introduction of the iconic Senna in December 2017 and 600LT in July, the supercar maker is ready to switch gears into overdrive. It is backed by a business plan, Track25, to invest £1.2 billion (S$2.2 billion) into research and development, and launch 18 new derivatives, including a new P1, from now until 2025.
“Everyone at McLaren Automotive remains constant in their focus of designing and crafting the world’s best drivers’ cars,” says Mike Flewitt, chief executive officer of McLaren Automotive. “We are a luxury brand that is committed to investing in innovation, whether that’s in the development and manufacture of our own carbon ﬁbre tubs as part of a new £50 million British-based production centre, or of new powertrains with our entire range due to be hybrid by 2025, or in the deployment of technology to enhance the driving and owning experience.”
Senna, the second in the Ultimate series after P1, bears the name of legendary three-time Formula 1 champion, Ayrton Senna, while the 600LT (Longtail) embodies the McLaren philosophy of producing lightweight super sports cars that deliver extreme performance.
Says George Biggs, managing director of McLaren Automotive, Asia Paciﬁc: “Aggressive and uncompromising, Senna is the ultimate road-legal track car. It is the strongest expression yet of McLaren’s ‘form follows function’ philosophy. For the 600LT, it redeﬁnes expectations of super sports car performance and pays homage to McLaren’s rich racing history. Exclusivity is key for this car, as the production for this model will run for only 12 months.”
Power in Store
The lithium batteries manufactured by Singaporebased New Resources Technology are used in electric vehicles around the world, including the Netherlands, Japan and Belgium.
Kelvin Lim CEO, New Resources Technology –
WHAT IT DOES
Designs and manufactures lithium batteries for automotive and energy storage systems.
Kelvin Lim dreams of transforming the lives of the needy with “large power packs” that can be used to store solar or wind energy in rural villages. Sounds like wishful thinking? The chief executive officer of New Resources Technology (NRT) is in fact closer to achieving this than most people are.
After all, his company supplies cells that are used to power those of electric vehicles. Instead of throwing away decommissioned batteries, he has a better idea. “Batteries at the end of their lives still function at 80 per cent, so imagine the impact on humanity if we can recycle them by taking them to rural locations that do not have electricity,” he says. “This is a big deal.”
By next year, NRT is expected to receive its ﬁrst batches of retired lithium batteries that it has supplied to electric vehicle ﬂeets around the world, and intends to start trials to test the feasibility of this idea.
A self-professed machine geek, the 45-year-old Lim, who holds a master of science in control systems from Imperial College London, has always been interested in electric vehicles and clean energy. Before he joined NRT in 2014, he was vice-president of ST Kinetics’ Hybrid Electric Centre and general manager of Kinetics Systems Shanghai. He’s also on the board of the Electric Vehicle Association of Asia Paciﬁc.
While NRT was already supplying batteries to many cities in China, its big break in Europe came in 2016 when a company running large bus ﬂeets in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, was on the lookout for a battery supplier. “A typical electric bus takes about ﬁve hours to slow charge. We can provide lightweight batteries that have a fast charging time of 15 minutes,” he says.
It won the contract and this battery system has since been adopted by ﬂeets in Germany and Finland. “It’s changed the way transport systems are set up,” he says.
Today, NRT’s lithium batteries are used by Japanese electric car manufacturer Fomm, electric buses in China and speciality autonomous vehicles in Germany. Its advanced lithium battery cell technologies are also used for energy storage such as smart-grid and microgrid systems. In March, Banpu Inﬁnergy Company Limited, a Thai company that provides solar energy solutions, acquired a 44.84 per cent stake in NRT for $45.1 million.
Even though NRT’s battery cell solutions are among the best in the world, offering higher power and energy density, and a longer life cycle, Lim says that as a Singapore-based company, “we need to make extra effort to make ourselves known”.
“We are more well-known in Europe than in Singapore,” he says with a chuckle. It is partly because Singapore has been slow in adopting the use of electric vehicles. He believes what’s needed is a mindset change. “We have no lack of technology in Singapore but what’s lacking is acceptance and an open mind. Some sectors are afraid of failure, perhaps, and, so, are resistant to adopting new technology.”
In the four years since he’s joined NRT, he has grown the company’s footprint from a mostly China-centric business to one that has a market presence in 20 cities across South-east Asia, Japan, China, India and Europe. The hustle means he’s had to sacriﬁce precious family time with his daughters, aged ﬁve and nine.
“I don’t get to spend enough time with them,” he laments. “But we need to be responsible for what we do. I hope I can make a positive impact on their lives.”
I never miss out on birthdays and anniversaries of family members. I’ll fly back if I have to. I have a 100 per cent track record.
My strength is that I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t always succeed but I need to be proven wrong.
When I travel, I take pictures and post them on Instagram so my family can see where I am and what I’m doing. It has grown into a hobby.
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He’s reducing the region’s carbon footprint, building by building.
Poyan Rajamand CEO and co-founder, Barghest Building Performance
WHAT IT DOES
Helps building owners achieve quantifiable energy savings by optimising efficiency of existing equipment.
To be cool, or not to be – that is a question that the Rajamand household often asks. “My wife likes the comfort that air-conditioning brings but I don’t think it’s necessary,” Poyan Rajamand says with a chuckle.
It is more than just a matter of personal preference. Rajamand’s energy efficiency services start-up, Barghest Building Performance (BBP), has made a name for itself by using software-based technology to reduce the energy consumption of buildings – half of which powers air -conditioning and refrigeration – simply by optimising the way cooling systems are run.
The six-year-old company helps its 20 clients such as Resorts World Sentosa, Capella Singapore, Dairy Farms and Changi Airport Group achieve combined energy savings of 30 million kwh annually, or the monetary equivalent of $3 million. It uses a third party, technology auditing company DNV GL, to quantify clients’ energy savings, of which BBP gets paid a percentage.
In 2015, BBP led Philips Lumileds into becoming the ﬁrst manufacturing plant in Singapore to be awarded the Green Mark Platinum for Existing Buildings by the Building and Construction Authority. Philips Lumileds now saves 3.3 million kwh annually. “When we achieved this in Singapore, which is a competitive market for sustainable solutions, we realised we had something truly unique,” says the 42-year-old Iranian-born Swede, who is now a permanent resident.
As attractive as BBP’s sales pitch might sound, no one bought it in the beginning. The idea was that clients could achieve 20 to 30 per cent energy savings with zero upfront cost. BBP would get paid a portion of its clients’ savings only if its solution worked.
Yet, people questioned the installation process, the sustainability of the young company and potential issues if the system failed, recalls Rajamand, whose previous role as consultant at McKinsey & Co saw him work on energy and clean ﬁnancing matters.
Meanwhile, the seed capital of $1 million, which Rajamand and his co-founder, Ong En-Ping, took from their personal savings, was fast depleting. Even when they ﬁnally clinched their ﬁrst deal, it was over budget and delayed. “But at least it showed that what we were doing, worked,” he says. “At the start, you rely on people taking a leap of faith in you.
“Status quo is beautiful. No one will ﬁre you for not taking a risk. But, if you try something new and it goes horribly wrong, you’ll be in trouble. That mentality slows down technology adaptation.
“I do not think it’s unfair. It’s up to us in the sustainability space to better make our case. Our solution must make economic sense. It must be operationally as good as, if not better than, whatever is in the market. We should have a better solution for people, while delivering on environmental impact.”
Investors have caught on. BBP recently raised $45 million for regional expansion. It is currently in eight territories, including India, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia. So far this year, it has secured $18 million worth of contracts. To further drive down energy consumption and enhance savings, it has been investing in cloud technology and data analytics for real-time insight and improved control.
Even as he drives the business forward, Rajamand has another pressing issue: relevance. His, to be exact. “The question of whether I’m an asset to my business, or a drag, always plagues me,” he says. “The business needs different sets of people to grow it, at different stages. At a certain point, it won’t be me. Keeping the business as a separate entity from myself has helped me. I believe the business is bigger than me.”
At home, my wife and I leave our mobile phones in the kitchen so we are physically and mentally present when we are with our two children.
When shopping for appliances, I look at energy consumption labels. Even though the impact is small, it’s my duty to do so.
Being an entrepreneur forces you to do things you’re not fond of but that need to be done. Legal contracts are my definition of hell.
TEXT GERMAINE CHEONG CLOTHES SILK BLAZER & WOOL SWEATER, FROM DUNHILL
Together in Electric Dreams
Mitsubishi Electric Asia doesn’t just manufacture technology products, it’s also building a greener and more sustainable future.
While Mitsubishi Electric Asia is a household name in Singapore, with a longstanding reputation for providing quality technology products, what is lesser known is that behind its manufacturing processes, it is a company that is also working to build a greener future for the world, thanks to its Eco Changes policy.
Eco Changes is a mission that started with Mitsubishi Electric Asia’s parent company, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, to promote respect for biodiversity and the environment, as well as sustainability efforts such as recycling. It has two overarching goals: to sell products and services that contribute to the environment and to society, and to hone its efficient manufacturing techniques that their overall environmental impact is minimised.
An example of an efficient product with such beneﬁts is Mitsubishi Electric’s latest Starmex FN Wall Mounted air-conditioning series. Those units boast a Dual Barrier coating on the inner surface to prevent dust and dirt from adhering to the air-conditioner, while a microparticle ﬁlter fences out up to 99 per cent of harmful PM2.5 particles. An Easy Clean feature improves operating efficiency and energy savings by up to 45 per cent. Deservedly, Mitsubishi Electric has earned the honour of having the widest range of air-conditioners in Singapore with the full 5 Ticks Excellent Energy Efficiency rating from the National Environment Agency.
Besides producing energy-efficient goods, Mitsubishi Electric also encourages its employees to participate in corporate social responsibility initiatives. Its global efforts range from an awardwinning children’s education programme in the UK on energy conservation, to wide-scale tree planting exercises around the world. In Singapore, community-focused activities such as beach cleaning and participation in the Government’s environmental initiatives take place regularly.
Through action and education, Mitsubishi Electric continues its efforts to change the global environment for the better.
Lean and Green
This entrepreneur has turned what others consider a sunset industry into a multi-million business that also minimises wastage.
Susan Chong Founder and chief executive, Greenpac –
WHAT IT DOES
Specialises in re-engineering, designing and distributing innovative environmentally friendly packaging products.
Green is the new black. From refusing to use, or offer, plastic straws to using one’s own reusable containers for takeaway food and beverages, it’s become cool to be eco-friendly in recent years. While every effort helps in raising awareness, Susan Chong wonders if some practices are truly effective.
“During Earth Hour, kids turn off the computer for one hour but, after that, what do they do? Is it effective? Nowadays, there are paper straws to replace plastic, but are they made from sustainable paper? Some paper straws are printed with so much ink,” says the founder and chief executive of Greenpac.
Instead, it is more meaningful to consider the entire life cycle of an item, from the source of the material to how it is disposed of, before considering one’s intervention, she offers. Her insight is rooted in years of experience. When she founded Greenpac in 2002, it was the ﬁrst company in Singapore to offer eco-friendly packaging that could be customised to clients’ needs. She saw a business opportunity while helping out at her in-laws’ traditional packaging business, where she noticed the excessiveness of industrial packaging.
“To me, it is not rocket science but about being practical,” says Chong, who’s in her 40s. “We use less material, thus lowering cost. There are fewer challenges in disposing of them too. We produce reusable, returnable packaging and use sustainable resources such as wood from Forest Stewardship certiﬁ ed forests, (which are responsibly managed according to set ecological standards).”
The company, which counts Fortune 500 companies among its clients, supplies to a range of industries including life sciences, semi-conductor, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and defence. Its suite of packaging, which includes that for cold chain shipping without the need to use dry ice, can offer savings of up to 70 per cent over traditional methods. “Customers use our solutions for the savings and being green is a bonus,” she says.
From a one-woman start-up with a microloan of $30,000 in 2002, Chong today employs over 50 staff . The company records a compound annual growth of 20 per cent year on year. It has racked up awards for its innovation and quality in packaging, including the Worldstar Packaging award, Asia Star award and Singapore Packaging Star award.
The Greenpac office building in Tuas is also a study in eco-friendly design. Built with solar panels and glass windows that ﬁlter out ultra-violet rays, with a rooftop garden where employees grow plants and herbs to cook, it is Singapore’s ﬁrst industrial complex to be Green Mark Gold-certiﬁed.
Chong’s success feels even sweeter because of the number of detractors she had at the start. She recalls: “When I told people about my vision, they would pour cold water and say (packaging) was a sunset industry. But to me, there is no sunset mindset. You have to constantly reinvent and reengineer.”
Her grit, she says, came from her mother. She had a privileged childhood with three siblings in Malaysia until her property developer father’s business went bust when she was 12. “My mother went from being a taitai who had helpers and drivers, to nothing,” Chong recalls. “She went back to work by selling kindergarten books out of her car. From her, I learnt how to pick myself up from failure.”
To help out, she left school and began working in the pharmaceutical industry as a teenager. By 19, she had saved up enough money to buy her mother a RM25,000 house in Alor Setar. An impressive feat, but one that’s par for the course for this comeback kid. She says: “I have always been very positive. When looking at a half-ﬁlled glass, people miss the point that it is reﬁllable.”
I cook soup for my staff. The younger ones eat a lot of junk food, so I try to offer them homecooked food and herbal soup.
I like to hunt for good food and unique dishes. I’ve eaten crickets and snakes, but will never eat dog meat.
When I travel, I can’t sleep on planes and get motion sickness easily, so I prefer to do longdistance driving.
TEXT GERMAINE CHEONG CLOTHES SUSAN CHONG’S OWN
No water goes to waste with this company’s cutting-edge technology.
Wong Ann Chai Co-founder and managing director, Nano Sun –
WHAT IT DOES
A water technology start-up that produces its own 3-D printed membranes to treat wastewater.
The river was so ﬁlthy that it was opaque and left a sticky residue upon contact. But for a remote village in Indonesia, it had been the only drinking source since time immemorial.
So imagine their joy when home-grown water treatment start-up Nano Sun applied its water ﬁlter technologies which led to clean drinking water. It was the ﬁrst time the villagers had seen and tasted something that most of us take for granted. That was one of the earliest projects Nano Sun took on, and also one that holds sentimental value.
“Look at the ladies dancing,” co-founder and managing director Wong Ann Chai says, as he shows us a video of villagers rejoicing. “Life expectancy there is 50 to 60 years old, and the primary cause of death is cancer,” he says, hoping that clean water will help to bring down the this statistic.
Since its setup in 2013, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) spin-off has grown from strength to strength. Its customisable water treatment systems have been commissioned by governments and companies in Singapore, China, the Philippines and Indonesia. Revenue is set to hit $10 million by the ﬁrst half of next year, and it aims to launch its IPO in the next three years. Nano Sun’s cofounder, associate professor Darren Sun of NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, drives research, while Wong, an ex-investment banker, takes care of business development.
Investors are paying attention. “We’ve recently got a lot of offers from French and German companies,” says Wong, 51. “But there’s so much more that the company can do and grow before we want to consider them.”
Like the fully automated 3-D membrane printing plant it launched in July. The new self-cleaning membranes are said to treat wastewater ﬁve times faster, require less maintenance and are more resistant to biofouling (the accumulation of microorganisms on wet surfaces). “We have a 15,000 sq ft space to support our mass production, and we expect to need more space in the next 18 months,” says Wong.
Among the ﬁrst clients to test this improved technology are a new municipal wastewater treatment plant in China that can treat up to 20 million litres of water a day (about eight Olympic-sized swimming pools) and two of Singapore’s largest semiconductor multinational companies.
In a way, Nano Sun’s growth runs parallel to Wong’s own career evolution. He served 20 years in the civil service and administrative service before deciding to, as he puts it, “take the plunge” and leave his comfort zone. Thing is, he left without a job. He was 39 and had a family of ﬁve to support. “My wife thought I was crazy. But, if you don’t throw yourself into the unknown, you won’t grow.” He soon found his groove as an investment banker at DBS and Nomura.
He came to know of Sun’s work when he was adjunct professor at NTU. “I love to build businesses. Part of the gratiﬁcation comes from having clients who say, ‘let’s give you a chance’, and you make good. Having worked with tech and engineering companies as a banker, and having served as an adviser to a VC fund in the Silicon Valley, I could see the value of how we can reach a wider market locally and internationally. I want to build a local enterprise that is technology-intensive and creates high value jobs,” says Wong, who is a mechanical engineer by training.
“The earth has only 3 per cent of fresh water. We want to be part of the equation that increases that number to 6 per cent so more people can have safe and non-toxic water to use, even as industrial water continues to be discharged in growing volumes.”
Being an entrepreneur has made me more “human”. In the past, I was looking on from a distance. Now I’m in the thick of things. I was even delivering mooncakes to clients!
I wish I was younger so I’d have more years to give. But, when I was younger, I knew nothing.
It pains me when engineering graduates become property agents. It’s not a glamorous work environment but we have to find a way. The Swiss and Norwegians have done it.
TEXT GERMAINE CHEONG CLOTHES COTTON BLAZER, FROM DUNHILL. THE REST, WONG ANN CHAI’S OWN
The beauty of a Bole Curve wood floor lies not just in its uniqueness, but also in the fact that it minimises material wastage.
World of Wood (Wow) Floors brings the textural beauty and warmth of ﬁnely crafted hardwood ﬂoors into people’s homes, with premium materials sourced from the US, Italy, W Estonia, Canada, South Africa and South America.
Responding to its clients’ requests for innovative and distinctive solutions, Wow Floors recently introduced Bole Curve Collection in its product range. As the name suggests, Bole Curve is the world’s ﬁrst naturally curved hardwood ﬂooring, where the timber is cut following the natural curve of the wood.
This optimisation technology allows for parts of the wood that would normally be cut offduring straight timber production to be utilised, helping to save natural resources.
Starting from the raw lumber stage, unique software-guided advanced woodworking machinery is used to process and tag each individual piece of wood. A dry lay is done in the factory at least twice to ensure a perfect ﬁt and a high quality ﬁnish, before ﬁnal installation is completed. The result is a ﬂoor that has preserved the curves of the wood, resulting in a highly unique, natural appearance.
Bole Curve ﬂoors are customised exclusively for each individual project, and the technology can be applied to any kind of wood, including oak, walnut and cherry. It is a great solution for any wood lover who is looking to make a statement in his or her home, while also trying to respect and conserve the earth’s limited natural resources.
He wants you coveting someone’s closet, while reducing textile waste at the same time.
Aloysius Sng Founder, Refash
WHAT IT DOES
Helps women sell and buy pre-loved clothes.
Factories are churning out trendy clothing at breakneck speeds and even lower costs, encouraging reckless purchasing. Yet, only 6 per cent of the 151,000 tonnes of textile/ leather waste generated in Singapore last year was recycled. The rest was incinerated before being rubbished in Singapore’s only landﬁll, which is predicted to ﬁll out by 2035, a decade earlier than the original 2045 projection.
Which is why Aloysius Sng wants more women to purchase pre-loved apparel, the premise of his three-year-old secondhand clothing business, Refash. “Twenty per cent of our top sellers don’t wear the same piece more than three times. We even receive clothes with price tags still intact! It’s impulsive spending,” he says.
The 20,000 active buyers have so far racked up over $1 million in transactions, where the average cost of each piece is $15. Its 15,000 sellers are paid in Refash points, which can be used to buy clothes from Refash, or to redeem for cash donations to charity organisations such as The Salvation Army and Minds. Sng, 30, says: “The points system ensures that Refash is responsible; we’re not selling secondhand clothes to encourage the purchasing of more brand new clothes.”
By his own admission, he did not start out “wanting to change the world”. As an apparel wholesaler, he wanted shoppers to buy more. “When the manufacturers started producing better quality products, I asked them to revert to cheaper alternatives.”
But as a ﬂea market organiser, he saw how women were lugging home bags of clothes after a day of dismal sales. His then girlfriend, now wife, often complained about her lack of clothing, despite a bursting wardrobe. He says: “It’s no longer about selling them. It’s a hassle to get rid of unwanted clothes, so accumulation happens. So I thought to offer women instant gratiﬁcation by helping them get the clothes out of the house and freeing up closet space.”
With a small retail space in City Plaza, he started Refash and saw $500,000 in sales in the ﬁrst year. Although the concept scored with consumers, investors were not moved. Recalling the difficulty in raising capital for expansion, Sng says: “A venture capitalist told me that I was a high-class karung guni. I took it very personally. But it made me rethink how I presented secondhand clothes to consumers. The last thing I wanted was for people to think of us as a rag-and-bone business.”
“My ﬁrst store had dangling light bulbs and cheap racks. Since that incident, we have strived to offer a boutique-like experience. Clothes are in excellent condition, steamironed before being neatly hung on racks and well-priced.” Refash currently has ﬁve stores in Singapore, two in Malaysia and also exports clothes to the Philippines.”
This month, Refash is rolling out a subscription plan, where customers pay a monthly fee and receive a weekly selection from Refash’s wardrobe. These are to be returned the next week and the cycle continues. “After three years, we still haven’t built that ecosystem of having more owners for that one piece. This way, we predict that each will have at least six ‘owners’.”
Two of Sng’s biggest challenges remain getting better quality clothes and looping more buyers into the ecosystem. He’s slowly changing mindsets, and the acceptance among older shoppers is testimony. “Once they realise that we sell secondhand clothes, through their expressions, you can tell that they are already rejecting the items. But since the condition is so good and prices are so low, they get them anyway.
“If thrift store ﬁnds make up just 30 per cent of every woman’s closet, I think we’ve done something good.”
I wanted to be a comedian, like my childhood idol and local funny man Mark Lee. As a kid, I would come up with skits and make my sister laugh.
I used to be a long distance runner and could clock 21km under one and a half hours. Now, I’d be delighted if I could finish it under three hours.
I play soccer every week and am a regular at F45 gym classes.
TEXT GERMAINE CHEONG CLOTHES WOOL SUIT & COTTON SHIRT, FROM BOSS. SHOES, ALOYSIUS SNG’S OWN
The Right Build
Sustainable design is both an ar and a science, according to this seasoned architect.
Wu Tzu Chiang Director, DP Architects
WHAT HE DOES
Champions the firm’s sustainable design programme.
As a child growing up on a farm, Wu Tzu Chiang came into the tools of his future trade while helping his father build sheds for pigs. But it wasn’t his adeptness with the hammer and saw that propelled him into architecture. Rather, it was an appreciation for things that were well-designed, says the 60-year-old director at DP Architects. That sensibility would come to encompass green architecture but Wu – whose career has spanned more than 30 years, the last 28 of which were at DP Architects – has more complex criteria than most to evaluate sustainability.
“Green design has gained a lot of publicity in the past decade but, as architects, we learn the basic need to be green,” Wu says, adding that HDB buildings in the early days were always lined up to be north-south facing. “It’s green in the sense that if you orientate a building west, you will face the sun and will need to cool the building down. Air-conditioning or sun-shading devices will be used more, resulting in more construction materials used, which is not very green. These are basic things that we learn from the beginning.”
Thus, in the late 1990s, even before the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) handed out awards for sustainable design, the National University of Singapore alum worked on a system at Suntec City to harvest rainwater to irrigate the complex’s vast landscaped areas.
Recognition for his achievements came in 2015, when he won the BCA-SGBC Green Building Individual Commendation Award. The honour is given to outstanding local and international professionals who have championed sustainability through design, construction or building management. Wu’s A projects have received several BCA Green Mark Platinum awards, the highest rating after criteria such as water and energy efficiency, environmental protection and indoor environmental quality have been assessed. His developments include Nanyang Polytechnic, 368 Thomson, H2O Residences at Sengkang and the ﬁrst zero-energy gallery in Singapore, CDL Green Gallery @ SBG Heritage Museum.
It helps that the ﬁrm created a division ﬁve years ago to analyse and apply the science of sustainability. “We felt that it was necessary for us, as architects, to be responsible for the environment,” says Wu. “DP Sustainable Design (DPSD) supports the entire group so we can have the tools and knowledge to design sustainably.”
The department, of which Wu is advisory director, has co-created a programme called Nimblesim that can automatically generate simulations of how a building will react to its environment, allowing designers to address issues such as solar radiation and daylighting. Currently, DPSD is working with ST Engineering on the potential applications of an innovation, developed by the latter, that can cool the environment to as low as 24 deg C with just water, without air-conditioning.
Still he is cautious about using the word “green” to describe a building. A big house may have green features, he says, but if only two people live there, even the most energyefficient air-conditioning system will not be optimally used. Conversely, a complex without many green features can still make for effective land use because there is high density. “So the measure of how it affects people, the population at large, is something we have to look at,” says Wu.
He drops the concept of biophilic design, which is the idea that people are healthier and happier when surrounded by nature. “My current design attitude is to make nature part of the architecture,” he says. “Vegetation also helps to cool down a building. All the planting that Singapore has done has made it slightly cooler. Without it, we’d be a big heat sink.”
When people think of me, I want them to think I’m not pretentious.
If I were a building, I’d be an HDB flat.
An antidote to a bad day: I take out my guitar. I’m learning to play.
TEXT KI’ERN TAN CLOTHES SILK BLAZER & WOOL SWEATER, FROM BOSS. THE REST, WU TZU CHIANG’S OWN
Making a Case for Sustainability
The Peak Power List 2018 panellists.
A veteran awardwinning environmental journalist, Cheam founded Eco-Business in 2009 to provide a platform for the region to discuss and advance sustainability issues.
Cheam serves as strategic adviser to Blue Planet Environmental Solutions, and is currently chairing the Climate Action SG Alliance – a new initiative supported by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources to advocate climate action and raise public awareness of climate issues.
She is also the published author of Forging a Greener Tomorrow: Singapore’s Environmental Journey from Slum to Eco-city.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SUNSEAP GROUP
The second generation of a 35-year-old solar energy business, Phuan has led numerous projects involving solar systems technologies, sustainability strategy, green buildings and infrastructure, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
He has helmed Solar Power Purchase Agreement projects across the Asia-Pacific and played a key role in the engineering, reduction, and levelling of the cost of solar energy in Singapore.
Phuan was recognised for his contribution to the clean energy industry at last year’s The Peak Power List celebrating disruptors and innovators.
CHAIRMAN, SINGAPORE INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
In addition to helming Singapore’s premier geopolitical think-tank, Tay is a law professor at the National University of Singapore, an awardwinning author and a senior consultant at Wong Partnership.
He served as chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency from 2002 to 2008, an as an independent Nominated Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2001.
He leads the SIIA in conducting research and spearheading dialogue on a range of environmental issues related to climate change, energy and the resource sector. The institute also engages industry players and thought leaders in its efforts to advocate sustainable practices.
KOH SOO BOON
FOUNDING MANAGING PARTNER, IGLOBE PARTNERS
With a wealth of experience in Silicon Valley dealings and as executive management in some of Singapore’s earliest venture capital forays, Koh has a keen sense for business potential.
She has achieved consistent topquartile returns for her investments and established herself as a prominent leader in the investing community, working alongside prominent VCs such as Sequoia Capital, IVP, RRE Ventures, Tencent and Qualcomm Ventures.
Koh chairs the Career Women’s Group of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, where she champions career women in Singapore.