Perspectives on sustainability in Singapore vary far and wide depending on which field you come from. During one of The Hive’s major events – Sustainability Matters, we had the opportunity to hear from local voices in media, activism, health, ethical production, and more who came together at The Hive Carpenter last month.
Here’s what they had to say about how we’ve been doing, why progress has been slow, and what can be done about it.
Here in Singapore, we talk quite a bit about sustainability. We talk about greening buildings, operations, workspaces, homes, etc. You’ve probably also seen a growing number of public discussions on policy, especially with regards to recycling and food waste. However, consumption is something we’ve yet to tackle. And by “consumption”, we don’t just mean reducing electricity usage, turning off the tap when you don’t need it, or sorting your trash into bins, we mean really confronting our problem of buying too much, having too much, and wasting too much.
At The Hive Carpenter last month, we had a taste of what it’s like to come to terms with where we’re at on these topics in Singapore. Here are the power ladies who sat on the panel, hosted by Susannah Jaffer, Founder of ZERRIN:
> Rebecca Capelli, Director and Producer of “Let Us Be Heroes”
> Winona Tan, Founder of WANT Skincare
> Charlotte Mei, TV Presenter/Nutritionist
> Stephanie Dickson, Founder of Green Is The New Black
Panelists at The Hive Carpenter’s Cafe Lounge discussing sustainability
What progress has been made in Singapore?
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge the good. Stephanie highlighted (during the panel discussion bracketing Sustainability Matters), that there’s a lot of that and increasingly we’re seeing youths step up to do more, citing the example of Kate Yeo, an 18-year-old student environmentalist who convinced big brands like Gongcha to be more sustainable simply by requesting to speak with its management team. 2019 was also designated to be the Year of Zero Waste. Because of that, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of environmental events in Singapore (such as this key event organised annually by The Hive Singapore). Things are indeed moving and shifting but there’s a lot more that can be done.
Winona mentioned that Singaporean consumers lack a key understanding of why consuming ethical is important (and more expensive). Hint: it’s because we’re not aware of how things are made. For example, as Rebecca pointed out, we now know that one of the most significant individual actions is to be vegan. But many Singaporeans don’t acknowledge the truth of where our food comes from or the harm they inflict upon our ecosystems as a result. Thus, we don’t have enough citizens committing to plant-based diets.
On confronting our waste problem, Charlotte mentioned that we also don’t see where our waste is going. We live, breathe, and eat in the city center, while Semakau, Singapore’s main dumping ground, is incredibly far away. Consequently, we grow up learning to just dispose of and detach. We need more conversion, as she said, from thought to action.
Why aren’t people doing something about it?
…perhaps it’s our culture of comfort. Referencing our consumption choices, Charlotte mentioned that Singaporeans are so used to having single-use plastics – to “dabao” (takeaway) our foods and carry items from the mall to the car – that we don’t think about a world without that sort of convenience. Singaporeans, like all other humans, are creatures of habit. We do things without thinking, as part of our routines. The consumption of meat, for example, is one of those things. Rebecca said that we all need a reality check: to ask ourselves why we’re doing these things and dig a little deeper.
And let’s be honest, our choices do have a ripple effect. Individual actions add up and they influence your circles, who then go onto influence whole communities. Of course, they’re not going to be able to dismantle the systems that bind us from larger change, like phasing out fossil fuels, reworking our entire economy towards a more conscious, planet-friendly and people-friendly one. But it’s a good start, and individual action is always going to be part of the greater solution.
So what can we do?
Before the specially curated panel discussion organised by The Hive and ZERRIN, we had a mini-marketplace at The Hive Carpenter’s space, which perhaps offers some of the easier answers.
The Hive Carpenter’s office space converted into a Marketplace for Sustainability Matters
Going zero waste sounds daunting, we know. But with an ever-increasing number of lifestyle stores (such as The Zero Ways, The Sustainability Project, and Unpackt) popping up across the city and the region, it’s only going to get easier. If you want to support socially-conscious brands and cast dollar votes for brands who are doing good, try exploring our local options. Wellness Within and The Handmade Romantics, for example, stock a curated selection of ethically and sustainably produced fashion and beauty products.
It’s also important to adopt alternative consumption habits. Learn to grow your own edible plants and consume more plants (it’s so much easier to be vegan now). And as we learned from Treatsure (an app that allows consumers to help reduce industry-wide food waste through redistributing what would otherwise be thrown out), you don’t always have to order from mainstream delivery services to get delicious food.
When it comes to fashion, skip the online shopping for once and try swapping (with The Fashion Pulpit) or buying secondhand (with The Kint Story, for example). Both of these options have a far lower environmental footprint than firsthand consumption from fast fashion brands.
Learning about organic veggies with ShiokFarm and how to cook smart with YoRipe
#LittleGreenSteps: words of wisdom from our panelists (in case you forget everything else)
Stephanie: Celebrate positivity – show people how easy and fun it is to live more sustainably. Encourage people to start, because usually when they just do it, they won’t go backwards.
Winona: Look good doing what you’re doing. When people see happiness and honesty, they’ll follow.
Charlotte: Lead by action, in your home, at your workplace, etc. Take initiative, and don’t forget to keep the conversation alive.
Rebecca: Get real and speak from your heart. Don’t force people to change; share your passion and people will listen.
Sustainability Matters was held at The Hive Carpenter. The Hive Carpenter is a co-working and event space with three locations in Singapore. (And spaces across the region in Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, and an upcoming location in Australia.) The Hive is working towards being more sustainable. Beyond implementing the usage of metal straws, they also recycle, especially after events. They are constantly on the lookout to educate their members on the topic and support sustainable causes and brands. Sustainability Matters was the first of many upcoming sustainability-related events; check out their website for more details.