Author: Nicholas Eng

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30 Jul Eating our way out of climate change

As global affluence increases, food and food security are increasingly taken for granted. Farmers discard “ugly” food that they are unable to sell, supermarkets and food outlets bin the leftovers that consumers are unable to finish, and, of course, consumers order way too much. The situation has grown to such an extent that food waste now ranks amongst the most pressing global challenges – and contributes significantly to climate change.

What is Food Waste?

Food waste is the removal of food from the supply chain. It could have been fit for consumption or spoilt, and is mainly caused by economic behaviour, poor stock management, and neglect. Globally, 1/3 of food that is produced (about 1.3 billion tonnes of food) is discarded before it can be eaten. If even 1/4 of this loss could be saved, it could feed about 870 million hungry people in the world. This loss of food happens all through the food supply chain as summarised in the table below, covering the whole gamut of activities starting from production till consumption.

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Where is Food Wasted?

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Food loss and food waste differ from region to region globally. In developed regions, such as Europe and North America, food waste is often seen at the consumption stage. More than 50% of food is wasted near the fork, because food is just not valued as highly in such affluent regions. In North America and Oceania alone, 42% of food available is lost or wasted, and more than 60% of this is wasted by consumers.

This is in stark contrast to areas such as Sub-Saharan African and South and and Southeast Asia, where the bulk of the food loss is at the production, handling, and storage stages. To begin with, crops are “discarded post-harvest for not meeting cosmetic standards” – in other words food is just frivolously being thrown away for not being “pretty” enough to be eaten. Because food losses near the farm are predominant, it can affect the ability of farmers to make a good living, resulting in lesser young people wanting to go into farming. This, again affects the global food supply chain, and can only get worse with rates of food waste going up, and rates of food production going down an average of 2% every decade. The difference in perspective on the value of food can be seen from how per capita food wasted in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, but only 6-11 kg/year in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia.

Needless to say, the three main culprits are 1) Supermarkets, 2) Food Services, and 3) Consumers. Farmers are forced to reject “ugly” food because supermarkets will not accept them, food service operators like restaurants, hotels and food centres throw away food that they are unable to sell, and consumers will not even bat an eyelid chucking away their half-eaten meals.

Impact of Food Waste

Ignoring the fact that the food wastage could feed hundreds of millions of hungry mouths, food loss has a huge strain on the environment. Food that is harvested but ultimately lost or wasted consumes about one-quarter of all water used by agriculture each year . Worse still, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, generating about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. With COP22, where countries are all trying to reduce the effect of global warming, food still remains the low-hanging fruit that can very easily be leveraged to help meet our emissions goals.

The economic losses that come with food loss is also extremely significant. In just London alone, it is estimated that food waste costs the waste authorities over £50 million per year, and the city’s consumers £1.4 billion per year. Globally, the number is even more astonishing. In developed countries, the economic costs comes up to a whopping US$ 680 billion, and an additional US$ 310 billion in developing countries.

What is being done

With food waste being recognised by many countries and businesses as a pressing issue, there are some efforts being put into place to reduce food loss. The first step in doing so, would be for governments and business to be accountable for their food wastage.

The Food Loss & Waste Protocol (FLW Protocol) is one such example. The FLW protocol is a multi-stakeholder effort to develop the global accounting and reporting standard (known as the FLW Standard) for quantifying food removed from the food supply chain. A wide range of entities – countries, companies and other organisations – have joined to be accountable and report in a credible, practical, and internationally consistent manner on the quantity of food waste created and identify where it occurs, thus enabling the targeted efforts to reduce it.

Another such example is Champions 12.3, which is a “unique coalition of more than three dozen leaders from around the world dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilising action, and accelerating progress toward achieving SDG Target 12.3” such as Unilever (Paul Polman), Nestle, WRAP, Government, Consumer Goods Forum, WWF and Tristram Stuart. This ambitious target aims to reduce per capita global food waste by 50% by 2030!

Upon establishing accountability for their food wastage, governments are also adopting legislation that put their efforts into law. In February 2016, a legislation was passed whereby French supermarkets are required to donate unsold yet still edible food to charities. The law includes requirements that companies disclose food waste in their corporate social responsibility reporting and that food waste education is included in school curricula. France also passed a new law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials.

This is particularly useful for a charity like WeFood in Denmark, which operates a food waste supermarket that receive donations of food from various suppliers, and then sells them to the consumers at a price that is 30% to 50% cheaper than they would normally cost. This is a triple win situation, where the charity is able to make a profit to fund its operations, consumers get cheaper food, and food wastage is reduced.

Meaningful collaborations that reduce food waste

There are many solutions that currently exist in the market that can help businesses to reduce their food waste. For example, in 2016, Tesco rolled out “Community Food Connection,” which is in collaboration with FareShare, a charity aimed at reducing food waste. In this collaboration, they developed an online application ‘FoodCloud’ which allows charities to be informed of food surplus in various Tesco outlets. The charities will then be able to collect the excess food, to distribute to those in need.

Collaborating with various hotels, Winnow has made use of technology to reduce food waste. Food waste is thrown into bins that are placed on their smart weighing meter technology, and in real-time, staff are shown the value of the items that they have thrown away. They even have reports that are sent to the organisation, to track progress. Their clients include Sofitel in Bangkok as well as the Intercontinental Hotels Group, amongst others.

It is undeniable that the amount of food wasted globally is putting a strain on achieving the various Sustainable Development Goals. Food waste affects SDG 1 – No Poverty, SDG 2 – Zero Hunger, SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13 – Climate Change, to name a few. With new laws and regulations being put in place to ensure these goals are being met, businesses are beginning to feel the pressure to reduce their food waste. The ones that leverage the many cutting edge solutions to operate on the forefront of this wave stand to reap the biggest long-term benefits.

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15 May E-Waste, a First-World Problem

Incomes are rising in Asia, and this growing affluence leads to a proportional rise in consumerism. The electronics sector is a good example of this with Asia-pacific being the world’s lardgest consumer electronics market, with sales of more than US$303.6 billion in 2015. While this bodes well for the economy, it has a dark underbelly that cannot be ignored – e-waste.

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Singapore – a prime example of rapid income growth leading to increased consumption 

In 2014 alone, Asia generated 16 million tonnes of e-waste. For comparison, North and South America combined generated only 12 million tonnes. The amount of e-waste in ASEAN has increased by 63% in the last 5 years. China alone, has doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015, outpacing its population growth.

Value of E-Waste

Make no mistake, this waste is valuable – it is estimated that if we could recover all the gold that is in the world’s e-waste, we’d get as much as 11% of the total goal mined worldwide each year. The paradox though is that while it is one of the highest value waste streams, it is also one of the most polluting if not managed well.

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In many Asian countries, formal recycling of e-waste is a rarity, with the majority of it being ‘backyard recycled’ without any health and safety measures. The recyclers use solvents like sulphuric acid or aqua regia in a process known as caustic leaches, in order to concentrate the valuable metals and remove the impurities in the e-waste. Another method that recyclers use is open burning to segregate the valuable compounds to sell. Both these methods are highly dangerous because they release toxic fumes, that can adversely affect their healths.

Furthermore, once the valuable metals like gold are extracted, the rest of the toxic substances are often dumped into open dumps or the ocean.

To tackle the growing trend of developed countries shipping e-waste to Asia for ‘backyard recycling’, laws were passed forbidding transboundary movement of e-waste. But as the Basil Action Network reports, e-waste continues to be smuggled across borders by people looking to make a quick buck without regard to worker safety or the environment.

Current rates of responsible e-waste recycling is at an abysmal 15.5% worldwide. A fact that’s doubly ironic considering that some of the precious rare-earth metals that are used in manufacturing these gadgets are set to run out in the coming decades. Businesses are literally letting money go to waste – a research published in the Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews estimates that the market in Europe alone, is worth 2.15 billion Euros, and will grow to 3.67 billion Euros by 2020.

Businesses capitalising on E-Waste

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Some businesses have taken the first steps towards tackling this problem and moving to a circular economy through takeback programs. For example, Dell offers a takeback program, where consumers can either send any electronic product back, or trade them in for a gift card. They can do this for electronics of any brand, and are not limited to only Dell products. Apple also has a similar program. And here in Singapore, StarHub has launched it’s RENEW program to tackle e-waste, with 325 bins around the city. Consumers can drop of any device for responsible recycling.

While there are other similar initiatives that must be lauded for bringing the issue to light, much is still unclear on what happens to the e-waste from then on.

On paper, it does seem quite promising, but as a documentary on Channel News Asia – Trash Trail has found, some electronics are shipped to other countries under the guise of being recycled, but end up in ‘backyard recycling’ facilities anyway. There needs to be a lot more work by all stakeholders to address these gaps in the supply chain to make e-waste recycling truly circular.

What’s Next?

Efforts to tackle the issue of e-waste is still in its infancy stages, and as more companies start to see e-waste as a valuable resource, it will spark a positive change in how e-waste is being dealt with. With the R2 certification, the leading standard for electronics repair and recycling, more companies can be sure that their e-waste recycling is environmentally responsible. This not only looks good on the company, but gives more individuals the impetus to recycle their e-waste.

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21 Feb Consumer Goods Companies are Sitting on an Additional 2.5 Trillion Dollars of Value

Business and individuals alike are used to the linear model of “take, make, dispose”. This is illustrated by the enormous landfills we have, open dump sites and waste leakage into the ocean. While this may have been sustainable with an agrarian economy, the industrial revolution has ballooned our demand for resources and over stretched the Earth’s capacity. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. And this amount is expected to double by 2050.

In addition, when primary materials run out, they… run out. This poses price risks globally that we are already seeing the effects of.  Price volatility for metals and agricultural output in the last decade was higher than any one decade in the 20th century. Waste generation rates in developing markets, particularly in Asia, are growing exponentially. Take Indonesia which currently generates a staggering 175,000 tonnes of material ‘waste’ every day (64 millions per year). The majority of these resources are just dumped into landfill. As incomes and consumption grows, the number can only get higher, fast.

Money down the drain

This outdated and inefficient linear model does not make economic sense for businesses – an estimated US$ 2.5 trillion (about 80% of the total value) of the global consumer goods sector is lost annually. A switch to a circular economy can save companies over US$1 trillion a year by 2025 if companies focus on supply chain, distribution and brand communications that increase recycling, reusing and remanufacturing.

For example, most plastic is used once and thrown away – the equivalent of US$80 to 120 billion is thrown away every year (about 95% of the value of of plastic packaging material) when it could be recycled.

Going Circular

Instead of “take, make, dispose”, the Circular Economy aims to keep materials in use for as long as possible. The image below illustrates the different ways in which organic materials (left side) and inorganic materials (right side) can be used sustainably. For example, in the case of a phone, we should prolong it’s use, reuse it, refurbish or repair it and finally, recycle it to extract raw materials for further manufacturing. The objective is to stop the material from entering the ecosystem (ie keep the materials out of landfill, dumps, or oceans) and instead keep it in circulation.

Ambitions of the New Plastics Economy. Source: New Plastics Economy

Outline of a new circular economy. Source: New Plastics Economy

This is not the reality we have right now with 86% of plastic and 85% of e-waste being lost after use, and nearly one third of all food produced being lost or wasted.

Plastic

Today, plastics use an enormous 6% of the world’s oil production today and pose one of the biggest threats to the environment. As seen from the image below only 2% of all plastic produced is recycled “closed-loop” where the material used to make, say a bottle, ends up recycled into another bottle. Another 8% of plastics are downcycled into items like carpets, shirts and furniture. The majority (86%) is not recycled.

Plastic Flow. Source: New Plastics Economy

Plastic Flow. Source: New Plastics Economy

This doesn’t have to be the case, and Gone Adventurin has seen first hand how implementing a circular approach to plastic can help reduce environmental impact, help people come out of poverty, and make good business sense – as summarised by Gone Adventurin’s CEO, Ashwin, below.

E-Waste

Every year 27 million tonnes of electronic products are put on the market in Asia (nearly half the global amount!), and this number is growing by 29% each year. And while OECD countries have increasingly legislated for the proper collection and treatment of e-waste, most Asian countries are only now waking up the scale of the challenge. Add to this illegal transboundary movements of e-waste and we get “dumping grounds” due to waste from developed countries being shipped to developing countries for illegal and unsafe “backyard recycling”. Globally only 15.5% of e-waste (electronics) are recycled responsibly. Given that Asia is almost half of all electronic sales, it’s not surprising that Asia now generates the highest proportion of e-waste in the world.

This is particularly baffling, since most of the materials required to manufacture electronic gadgets are rare-earth metals which are in short supply and will soon run out  (see image below).

Heavy Metals: How Long will they Last? Source: New Scientist

Heavy Metals: How Long will they Last? Source: New Scientist

Luckily, new legislations are being enacted to ensure collection and proper resource recovery, and companies that manufacture these goods are starting to create take-back programs where consumers can return the waste. And it won’t be a moment too soon.

The beginning of change

All this wasted money isn’t going unnoticed – businesses are starting to realise the value in a circular economy where products are designed with the end in mind. Where they can be sorted, processed, converted to raw materials and used again for manufacturing. Rethinking supply chain practices and making recycling more accessible to consumers are two prongs of this approach.

Unilever’s “I want to be Recycled” is a good example – by educating and creating awareness amongst their consumers, they are able to drive higher recycling rates and work towards their goal of using 25% recycled plastic content in their packaging.

In Taiwan, used coffee grounds collected from Starbucks cafes are made into T-shirts, socks and soaps. Levi Strauss has also done the same, through in-store collection of old clothes and shoes from any brand, they get a steady supply of raw material that can then be transformed for other uses like insulation for buildings and even cushioning material.

In a collaboration with OpenIDEO, Coca-Cola crowdsourced ideas in 2014 on how recycling rates can be increased at home. From this came “How do I recycle this?” in 2015: an application where consumers can scan a product’s barcode & input their postcode to get up to date information on how to recycle an item.

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And with the increasing trends of open innovation and collaboration, businesses are also tapping on startups to find solutions to drive the circular economy. “Looptworks” for example, repurposes leftover materials from premium goods manufacturers to make new products. In 2014, they partnered with Southwest Airlines to up-cycle its seat leather into soccer balls and bags. Another example is LanzaTech that “uses a patented microbe technology to convert carbon-rich wastes and residues into fuel and chemical products”. They have also partnered with Boeing to produce low carbon jet fuel from ethanol derived from this process.

The Case in Asia

In Asia, the challenge is two fold – on the one hand, consumers are not aware of the need to recycle and on the other, the infrastructure for waste (materials) collection and processing is nowhere close to achieving population coverage (for example in many developing markets only 60-70% of the population is served by formal waste collection services). Though the per capita waste is low, the sheer scale of our continent and the fact that 2/3rds of the world lives in Asia, makes this especially challenging and critical. In addition to redesigning products to be recyclable and awareness campaigns, infrastructure development and incentives are also needed.

The environmental and economic case for moving from a linear economy to a circular economy are not only practical, but are increasingly being demanded by consumers and governments around the world. While old habits die hard, global trends are driving businesses to rethink product design, supply chains, collection systems, consumer education, partnerships with governments and the waste management sector, etc.  The solutions exist today. What is needed is the management will and the desire to bring about change on a large scale.

Co-written by Nicholas Eng, Laura Allen, and Abishek Balasubramanian.

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07 Feb By 2100, there will be no rainforests left

You read that right. Current rates of deforestation will destroy all rainforests on earth in less than 100 years. In addition to the worldwide ecological disaster, this will also adversely affect the livelihoods of the 1.6 billion people who rely on forest resources. That’s 25% of the global population that will not be able to feed themselves, or have a roof over their heads. In the last five years alone, the Asia-Pacific region lost the equivalent of 10 million square metres of primary forest every year. Businesses across industries face an existential risk – apart from that depend directly on forest products like paper and timber, the FMCG sector is also vulnerable as they stand to have their supply chains disrupted.

Luckily, businesses are starting to lead by example in using our forests and land responsibly. In 2012, Kimberly-Clark became the first U.S. tissue maker that offered a range of products meeting the Forest Stewardship Council’s requirements of responsible sourcing. They’ve also set a goal to source 90% of all fibre from environmentally preferable sources like FSC-certified fibre and recycled fibre. We had a chance to speak with Randy Jusuf, Managing Director for ASEAN, where he shared with us the importance of balancing forest protection with profit.

“It is very important for us to be profitable.. but we want to do it responsibly”

Businesses stepping in for sustainable forest use

For those of us living in Singapore, the yearly haze crisis has made the subject of palm oil fairly commonplace. Illegal plantations and man-made fires in Indonesia and Malaysia has led to more CO2 being released into the atmosphere per day than the entire U.S. economy. The severity of the situation has led to some much needed change in business as usual.

To ensure responsible palm production, 100% of L’Oréal’s palm oil is certified through RSPO, a non profit organisation that developed a set of environmental and social criteria to minimise the negative impact of palm oil cultivation. L’Oréal has also started to map their entire supply chain since 2014 in order to ensure sustainable sourcing of all of their products.

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Being one of the largest users of wood in the retail sector, IKEA has also stepped up to improve their supply chains.

“We won’t be here as a business in 50 years if we don’t take care of the forests”

says, Malcolm Pruys, the Head of Sales at IKEA for Southeast Asia. Apart from working with WWF to combat illegal logging, their IWAY Forestry Standard sets clear requirements for all wood they use – including a ban on wood that has been illegally harvested from sources involved in forest-related social conflicts or High Conservation Value Forests. All suppliers must comply with the standard before they can start deliveries.

Startups reversing the deforestation trend

And it’s not just MNC’s, there are several innovative startups that have sprung up around the world to address the challenges faced by their local forest ecosystems.

To prevent illegal logging, Topher White transforms recycled cell-phones to become solar-powered listening devices that can detect chainsaw activity. His startup Rainforest Connection provides real-time data of illegal logging, and the information is shared to anyone around the world who can alert local communities or the authorities. Their work in Sumatra has helped reduce illegal logging activity.

Afforestt is a startup in India that found a way to turn urban areas to natural forests. By using the ‘Miyawaki technique’, they create natural forests that can grow in backyards and office spaces 10 times faster than traditional forests.

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Image Credit: Afforestt

Like Afforestt, Groasis also allows for reforestation in unconventional areas by drastically reducing water use. Employing a biomimicry technology that uses 90% less water than drip irrigation, it saw the reforestation of over 2 billion hectares of wasteland.

Business are working to solve the source of the problem – unsustainable consumption, and startups are stepping in to reverse the trend and bring positive change to forest ecosystems around the world. And not a moment too soon, for it will take this combined effort from all stakeholders to match the scale of the challenge before us.

This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.

Download our latest 13-page report on FORESTS AND LAND in Asia.

View our 2-min visual on FORESTS AND LAND in Asia.

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13 Dec What does COP22 mean for business in Singapore and Asia?

How COP 21 affected the world

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Source: http://www.cop21paris.org/media-centre/press-pack

In November last year, over 195 countries came together at COP 21 and created an agreement to commit to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees. And in October this year we saw the ‘ratification’ of that agreement – after countries accounting for over 55% of global greenhouse-gas emissions submitted legal instruments to ratify their performance. Which brings us to now – COP22.

The world came together in Marrakech in Morocco to start concrete actions to achieve the global targets for greenhouse-gas limits. Singapore, for example, has ratified this agreement and has formally pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36% from 2005 levels by 2030.

And it’s not just governments that are running the scene, business has showed up to the party. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, very aptly puts into words why businesses have a huge part to play. “Business has a historic opportunity and responsibility to lead the world down to a more just, rich and sustainable path. We cannot choose between economic growth and sustainability – we must have both,” he said.

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This is a huge opportunity for businesses in Singapore, as the world gears towards combatting climate change. Companies that integrate sustainability into the core of their business will be pioneers in this new era, attracting the best brains and talent.

On the flip side, late adopters risk facing increasing regulation and government pressure to reduce their carbon footprint to maintain licence to operate, or avoid high taxes. The opportunity though, lies in the fact that more sustainable businesses not only frequently have lower operating costs, but also increase profits by appealing to an increasing conscious millennial market.

Corporations need to work both with the government and civil society to achieve our global climate goals. And if the COP 22 targets are any indication, the time for action is now.

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02 Dec National University of Singapore takes the lead in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

On the 9th to the 11th of November this year, the National University of Singapore organised the Conference on Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals – Environmental Law, Policy & Management, bringing together corporates, students, NGOs and lawyers to put the best minds together to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Established September 25th 2015, this initiative by the United Nations set 17 goals to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”, with specific targets to be achieved by 2030.

This conference was focused on the law, policy, science and management of SDG Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; Goal 13: Climate Action; Goal 14: Life below Water; and Goal 15: Life on Land.

Our main takeaways:

Goal 13: Climate Action

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Professor Nicholas Robinson talked about the role of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in climate action. Started in 1969 in the US, the EIA is a “process by which the anticipated effects on the environment of a proposed development or project are measured”. In Asia, it was the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that called for the assessment because with the EIA, potential environmental impacts that are deemed unacceptable, can be identified at an early stage and mitigated.

Why this is important was very well-illustrated by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development, about how by 2030, Singapore needs to cut CO2 emissions by 36%. As a nation, our objective is with new buildings, 86% of them would be green, which is to say uses low energy or is energy neutral. One way to achieve this would be through the EIA.

However, it is not without its challenges. Speakers and guests talked about how anyone can conduct the EIA, and there is no form of certification needed to carry it out. This is to say that, the results of the assessment could be prone to human errors and biases. And even if the results are accurate, the report generated is extremely long and boring, and it is difficult for the general public to understand its content.

Goal 14: Life below Water

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Who better to talk about life below water than “Her Deepness” herself, Dr Sylvia A. Earle, best known as an oceanographer and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Having spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, she had first-hand experience of the 50% of corals that have died in the Great Barrier Reef and the melting of the polar ice caps.

We had the chance to speak to Sylvia Earle herself and she shared her insights about what she has seen over the years.

She talked about how mankind have been dependent on nature for far too long without recognising that we too, are dependent on nature. She gave a great analogy of how if a piece of our computer was removed, however small, the computer will still not function properly.

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Because of our interdependence, Earle believes that we need to start shaping a future in which both nature and mankind can prosper. One way in which she feels this can be achieved would be through better regulations. She was an advisor for the treaty that was signed by George Washington Bush in 2006 to create the world’s largest marine reserve. This reserve was then doubled under Obama’s administration.

While all these changes in regulations are in the right direction, Earle feels that more can be done. Right now, 64% of the world’s oceans lie beyond national jurisdiction, which makes it difficult to protect the world’s vulnerable oceans.

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“We can’t claim ignorance anymore.” – Sylvia Earle

Goal 15: Life on Land

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A lesser known threat to life on land is the issue of peat. Dr Mas Achmad Santosa, coordinator of the Special Staffs; Presidential Task Force to Combat Illegal Fishing, shed some light on how 30% of the earth is covered by PEAT and it contains 30% of the CO2 available on earth.

It is a huge issue in Southeast Asia because 83% of peat is found in the region. Peatlands are a form of soil that have been accumulating for millennia and have become a major store of soil carbon, sink for carbon dioxide, and a source of atmospheric methane. The problem is not peat itself, but rather that when peatland is disturbed for agricultural or forestry needs, then there is loss of habitats. This is because many ecosystems, plants and animals alike, thrive in peatland and harvesting peat is equivalent to clearing out the entire eco-system there.

Not only does the clearing of peatlands have an impact on life on land, it also has an environmental dimension to it. That is why PMHaze, the People’s Movement to Stop Haze, was present at the event to shed light on the peat issue and how in the clearing of peatlands, it releases greenhouse gas into the atmosphere contributing to haze.

Conclusion

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Gone Adventurin’ team with Sylvia Earle

The conference was a platform for like-minded individuals with expertise in their own field to come together to work towards attaining the SDGs. It is now clear that whether you are a student, an NGO, a corporate, or from the government, the important thing is to work together. Afterall, the 17th SDG is “Partnerships for the Goals”.

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“There’s no limit to what we can achieve if we don’t care who gets the credit.” – Tony Opusa

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02 Dec Food – the low hanging fruit in tackling Climate Change

Current global food systems are one of the key causes of climate change. Apart from the obvious resources – water and land use for growing, carbon emissions from transportation, energy and plastic for packaging – there is another insidious problem – food waste. We recently had a chance to speak with Gwyneth Fries, Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future to get some insights into the nature of these challenges.

Food Waste contributes to 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions (with 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide). To put things in perspective, the world’s largest contributors of greenhouse gases are China and USA respectively, but if food waste were to be a country, it would be third. In Singapore alone in 2015, there were 785,500 tonnes of food waste generated. This could fill up 670 Olympic-size swimming pools! Luckily, food waste is also the easiest one to tackle.

Who is responsible?

Farmers and Supermarkets

In America, supermarkets are throwing away 10% of the food that they sell at their stores because they overstocked, or are past their expiration date. But wait, that’s not all! Before food is even sold by supermarkets, an estimated 30% of food that is grown by farmers is rejected because they are ‘ugly’. That is to say that ⅓ of food that is grown for human consumption, doesn’t even leave the farm because they are not the right shape or size, or have some kind of physical imperfections.

Food Services (Restaurants, hotels, food centres)

Unsurprisingly, food service operators have a huge part to play in contributing to food waste. Food waste generated by food services have been estimated at 10%. That is just purely food that has been purchased, but are thrown out before that make it to the diner’s table. And additional 17% of food is thrown out once they reach the diners, people like you and I – everyday consumers.

Consumers

It’s not jarringly obvious to us, but when we leave that half-eaten plate of rice because we ordered too much, or throw away that can of expired sardines that we left at the back of our cabinets – we are contributing significantly to food waste.

Like most things, we are unable to fathom the scale of our individual actions in comparison to the larger scheme of things. But did you know that of the total amount of food waste, 33% is contributed by consumers themselves? That means that approximately 259,050 tonnes of food wasted in Singapore is because of consumers throwing away their food!

What can we do?

Now that we have identified the main culprits, there are some simple steps that we can all take to reverse the trend of food waste.

Farmers and Supermarkets

Take the lead in educating the public that ‘ugly’ food is the same as other food and start selling it in store. The mindset that “ugly” fruits and vegetables are not fit for consumption needs to be changed. Currently 65% of Singaporeans are willing to purchase such produce at a lower price, which is a good start. What this means for farmers and supermarkets is to not throw out these ‘ugly’ food – it makes no financial sense – and if they educate consumers to purchase such food from the bottom up, then from the top down, they need to make it available for consumers to purchase too!

Food Services

There are many ways in which food services can reduce their food waste, such as donating their leftover food to organisations like the Food Bank so that they can be distributed to the needy. Or, take the lead from Marina Bay Sands, which measures and analyses food wastage information to be able to prepare appropriate quantities subsequently. Or go a step further and make use of machines to convert food waste into non-potable water that can be disposed of into the sewers. We spoke to Kevin Teng, Head of Sustainability at MBS, on other ways in which they are tackling food waste.

Consumers

Do not over-order. It’s just that simple! Order what you can consume, and if you need to, tell the uncle at the economical rice stall that you want less rice, they are more than willing to oblige. Or if you fall into the trap of buying too much food from your local supermarkets when they are having a promotion, and then forgetting to consume them before their expiration date, then download an app called Foodfully where you can be reminded of when your food is close to expiration. Alternatively, if you want to save some extra cash, then download a app called pareup where you can stay updated on where to buy fruits and vegetables that are close to their ‘expiration’ date, at a discounted price!

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FoodFully, an app that seamlessly integrates food purchases and provides spoilage notifications so you remember to eat food before it happens!

Waste no time in reducing food waste

It’s clear that everyone has a part to play, right from the beginning of the supply chain – with the farmers – to the end – with the consumers. There are so many simple steps that can be taken to reduce food waste almost instantaneously. And not only does it save you money, it impacts food security and the environment as well. With the myriad of technological innovations that can simplify the process, there’s no better time than now to begin!

This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help business leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.

Download our latest 15-page report on FOOD in Asia.

View our 2-min visual on FOOD in Asia.

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HEALTH Cover

31 Aug One woman’s mission to disrupt the health industry

Health, as a global problem, is growing. Asia is no exception – 80% of deaths are from lifestyle diseases. Diabetes in India has doubled in the last 15 years and 4.5 million Filipinos suffer from depression.

It is no wonder then that in the Southeast Asia region, the health insurance industry is expected to grow at an annual rate of 15% to $24 billion by the end of the decade, quadrupling from $6 billion in 2010. But the concept of health insurance remains a reactive measure rather than a preventive one.

One passionate self-starter is changing that, and is making a profitable business out of it. Founder and CEO Rosaline Chow Koo put her entire life savings coupled with a huge loan from the bank to build her passion project – ConneXionsAsia (CXA). We had an opportunity to chat with her in person to get her thoughts on health in the workplace, particularly in Asia.

A flexible insurance plan tailored to your needs

The concept is simple – each employee’s health is assessed and a benefits wallet comprised of the money spent on company insurance and other allowances will give them flexibility to decide if they need protection, treatment, prevention or chronic disease management.

“We’re trying to actually shift the money, especially when there’s excess insurance, into prevention and disease management,” says Rosaline. For example, a young person doesn’t need as much insurance and can instead use the money for yoga, mindfulness, vision-care and personal development. Married employees who are already covered by their spouses insurance, could rather spend it on maternity, pediatrics, dental care and health screenings.

Combating Asia’s “Silent Killer” – Diabetes

Chronic diseases like diabetes are rising in Asia at an unprecedented rate, and they’re hitting Asia roughly 10 years before the west. It is estimated that type 2 diabetes in South Asia will rise more than 150% between 2000 and 2035. What this means for companies is that the premiums they pay for insurance are doubling every three to five years.
goals

She hopes to reverse this trend, which is in line with the UN’s sustainable development goal that hopes to reduce national and global health risks. One way she has done this is by coordinating onsite health screenings, diabetes management, corporate wellness competitions, yoga at work, and of course, education.

“Work is where most people spend their time, so every employer has every incentive to make their employees healthier, so this is this is the way to do it,” she says.

Putting depression and anxiety in the spotlight

But it is not only physical well being that she is concerned with. Mental wellbeing is sometimes overlooked, and conditions like depression and anxiety can go undiagnosed and are more often than not, underreported.

“In the workplace, we’ve actually been bringing a lot of mindfulness into the workplace so that people learn how to react to stressful events and how to put perspective on it, and how to handle things that happen so it doesn’t drag you down,” she said with optimism.

Reduce costs, Improve health

CXA uses data from employees’ health screening results and health risks to predict the trajectory of insurance claims. Based on this, their predictive cost model can actually help firms focus on the relevant interventions to reduce the overall healthcare costs.

CXA is working with reinsurers to bring down the future premium of insurance policies as an incentive for employers to empower their employees to become healthier. Having only launched two years ago, companies have shown very high participation and the results are telling – over 500 companies use CXA in Singapore alone.

And the benefit is not for the companies alone, employees have changed their lives in the process. “Some employees have actually improved their diabetes results or have lost weight from the last health screening”, notes Rosaline.

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Untapped business opportunity in the health industry

Not surprisingly, Rosaline might not be the only one disrupting the health industry. The LeapForGood programme under The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise is a programme aimed at raising awareness for under-met emerging social needs in Singapore.

The theme for 2016 is Elder-care and Mental Health and participants will be challenged to come up with innovative ideas on tackling these problems. They will go through the entire startup incubation process from the ideation to the final implementation.

Globally, there are already startups like bluedot and Noora Health that have successfully made a business out of trying to improve the health industry. And why not? The health industry is worth over a whopping 1 trillion dollars.

So who said that profits and social responsibility are in constant conflict?

This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help business leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.

Download our latest 16-page report on HEALTH in Asia

View our 2-min visual on HEALTH in Asia

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09 Jun My Journey Discovering Purpose

Hi, I’m Nicholas Eng!

I’m 23, and a second-year undergraduate at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in Nanyang Technological University.

Yup, that’s me on the right, being the child I am, and my fellow intern Ruth Smalley

I belong to Gen Y. Stereotypically, we are self-entitled and narcissistic because we’ve never gone through much hardship in life. I can’t say I’m different. I mean I sailed through life, relying on my parents for my wants and needs. Isn’t that my entitlement as their child?

Halfway through my second year in university, I started to have an existential crisis. I was thinking day and night about what my purpose on this planet was. I couldn’t just live off my parents forever.

I felt that I was supposed to do something, something for myself, something for the rest of the world. I felt that I needed to make a difference in some way. But because I couldn’t put my finger on how I could do that, I got really upset and frustrated with myself.

So when I had to choose my modules in the second year of university, I decided to apply for Regional Strategic Communication Management (RSCM). RSCM is a module in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information where 12 students are chosen every year, to work on building awareness and raising funds for a cause. For us, we were heading to West Java, Indonesia, to help The Learning Farm (TLF) — a residential organic farm for vulnerable youth.

I was really excited for the trip organised by Gone Adventurin’ because I am a sucker for nature. So throw me somewhere I could see a volcano every time I looked out the window, or see horses trotting alongside cars on a steep hill, and I will be sold!

At TLF, we learned the basics of organic farming, and what the students did on a day-to-day basis. From their morning parades where they shared their reflections for the day before, to their English lessons conducted by Cara, a volunteer at TLF.

Every morning, students at TLF will take some time to reflect on the previous day, and what they learned

But what really stole my heart during the trip, were the interactions with the students at TLF. They are positive, enthusiastic, and most importantly, tenacious. I remember fondly the night where students from my university and TLF had a craft-making session. In case you didn’t know, I am the kind of guy who would get his hands glued together before even embarking on any craftwork. So as usual, I wasn’t doing any good. Noticing my frustration, a student from TLF tapped me on the shoulder. Revealing a warm smile, he said, “Don’t be angry, you angry, it come out bad, you happy, it come out good”.

A Teaser video done by NTU, featuring students of TLF

But speaking to the staff at TLF, I learnt that they weren’t always like that. In fact, when they first enrolled in TLF, they were unmotivated and resigned to the fact that they were never going to escape from the state of vulnerability they were in.

Erocasrono and Albertina, recent graduates of TLF

It was then that I realised the impact of TLF on its students. TLF taught them things that completely changed their perspective on life. TLF helped them to find purpose and meaning. TLF taught them to find themselves.

What do you learn in school? 

It was also then that I realised I could be a part of that. I could make a difference in people’s lives.

I set out with the intention to help TLF, but returned with more help from them than I ever could give. I wanted to pass on what I had learned to others, so what better way than to apply for an internship with the good people at Gone Adventurin’?

I am only just beginning my journey of discovery, so I wouldn’t say that I have now found my purpose in life. I do however, finally feel that I’m on the right track. I no longer find myself questioning what I am doing, but rather, I find myself beaming with excitement every single morning.


~ Written by Nicholas Eng, Gone Adventurin’ Trainee

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