These last 12 months have made everyone stop and take stock of how we live and the impact it’s having on the world around us. While we may have clung to the idea that staying at home has been good for the environment—cleaner air with reduced fuel emissions and nature coming out to play more—experts have warned us about the next recovery phase. Not only are we at risk of reverting to old ways, but in our rush to return to normal, things could worsen as industries and businesses play catch-up after two years of huge financial losses. What can we as individuals do to make a difference? And what does it really mean to live sustainably? To help us find the answers and inspire us to do better, this year’s Bazaar Power List puts the spotlight on sustainability champions, from industry heavyweights to empowered self-starters, who will set you thinking about your actions—in ways that go beyond ditching single-use plastic bags and carrying around reusable straws.
With the mission to grow food productively, safely and sustainably for people in Singapore, Danielle Chan, 27, co-founded agritech business Citiponics, which has a unique system that uses space-saving vertical growing towers. It is one of several urban farming businesses that are converting underutilised rooftops into urban farms that can grow local produce and contribute to food sustainability in Singapore.
“[We wanted] to be able to connect locals directly to their food source and help raise awareness about sustainable farming by bringing our urban farms to them,” she says.“Since launching our Citiponics Urban Vertical Farm at Ang Mo Kio in 2019, we have started an e-commerce online store to make it easy for locals and nearby communities to get our freshly harvested vegetables, hosted more than 100 farm tours, and worked with more than 20 schools to provide agritech workshops and set up urban farms at their premises. We hope to widen our sustainability footprint as well as help more people experience the freshness of our urban farm’s produce and understand the importance of sustainable farming.”
Chan sees food as a universal language that can cut across different interests, age groups, races and religions, adding that “it’s the perfect conversation starter to help encourage people to kick-start or get engaged in their sustainability journeys”.
Danielle wears her own dress. Heels, from Jimmy Choo.
To get to the root of climate change, Marie Cheong has been on a mission to find the newest solutions in climate tech— technology that directly addresses climate change. The 36-year-old, who leads ENGIE Factory’s Venture Build programme, has made it her business to find talented entrepreneurs who can drive businesses that will help decarbonise the world. In fact, ENGIE Factory is currently launching two new start-ups: One to help food manufacturers decarbonise and improve their factory efficiency, and the other to support large companies to adapt to the latest workplace trends by reducing the carbon footprint of offices while increasing the employee experience.
“About five years ago, I felt an incredible amount of purpose in being a ‘builder’. At the same time, like many people, I started to feel a growing urgency about climate change. Addressing climate change and decarbonising our economies is the challenge of my generation,” she says. Her push for sustainability is also personal.
“[Sustainability is about] creating opportunities for communities and more people to thrive. I have a four-year-old son, and I don’t want him to grow up in a world that’s destabilised by war, high unemployment and inequality, or one where he has to worry about food security for his family.”
In addition to this, Cheong is keenly involved in supporting female entrepreneurs in the climate tech space: “We consciously look at ways to promote women in entrepreneurship because we believe that women play a critical role in building an inclusive and fairer decarbonised energy sector that represents the customers and communities that it serves.”
Marie wears top, from LIE at SocietyA; trousers, from Xinnatex New York at SocietyA. Ring, Marie’s own.
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Interior designer Cherin Tan, 37, believes in “repurposing with purpose”. That’s how new upcycling furniture label LAAT came to be in 2020. LAAT is a collaboration between Tan and multi-disciplinary artist Alvin Tan, who is the co-founder of contemporary art and design collective PHUNK. The pair have since launched two collections. The first, Klaus, was a sold-out lighting series inspired by German countertenor and bold stage performer Klaus Nomi. The second, Monolith, is a homeware collection of geometric mirror pieces, which was created to find new ways to present broken and offcuts of marble slabs. This second series is now showing at Art Now gallery at Raffles Hotel Singapore. “We have customers who are art buyers, homeowners, business owners and young creatives who appreciate the different slant we have to our pieces,” Tan says. “Not everyone is open to the idea of upcycled materials. A lot of people still want things that are brand new or want to be the ‘first’ owners. With this in mind, we try to position our pricing to be as friendly as possible to allow our products to be more accessible, in hopes that this becomes a stepping stone for Singaporeans to see value in what we do.” Tan believes everyone can put more thought into what we purchase to live sustainably. “We’ve earned ourselves a comfortable life of convenience,” she concedes, “but it’s time to be responsible for our choices and open our eyes to what they are costing us.
Cherin wears dress, from Sean Sheila at SocietyA. Necklace, Cherin’s own.
You might already be familiar with Jasmine Tuan’s sustainability journey. Once an ambitious and highly stressed out businesswoman, the 42-year-old went through a period of self-discovery and hung up her entrepreneurial boots to seek a life more minimal. Today, she’s a zero waste advocate who has managed to downsize her former shopaholic-sized wardrobe to one clothing rack.
She has conducted workshops expounding the benefits of a zero waste lifestyle, and runs fashion swap events with Cloop. So fervent is she in her mission that she recently joined Zero Waste SG as its marketing associate director.
For the experienced branding consultant, the transition is a natural one and she wants to debunk the misconceptions of the term “zero waste”. “It’s not about aiming for no waste, but to make sure nothing goes to waste,” she says. In the words of the great will.i.am, “Waste isn’t waste until we waste it.”
That’s why the fashion enthusiast continues to feed her passion with fashion swaps. “I love fashion and I also struggle with buying [unnecessarily]. But then because of swap, I learned to enjoy fashion in a sustainable way,” she says. “You can still enjoy fashion and you can consume, but consume mindfully.”
Jasmine wears top and skirt, both from SOE Jakarta at SocietyA. Bracelets, Jasmine’s own.
After years living in Shanghai, where air quality checks, reusable grocery bags and general environmental consciousness are the norm, Yeeli Lee was surprised to find that single‐use plastic bags were still commonplace in Singapore. That was back in 2013. Having worked in fast‐moving consumer goods and luxury personal care, Lee, who is in her 40s, is all too familiar with the ugly truth of the beauty industry, which produces more than 120 billion single‐use plastic units every year globally. “Armed with beauty industry connections and a clear case of #plastikophobia, an apt term created by Laura François, a social impact strategist and my mentor at the Textile and Fashion Federation’s The Bridge Fashion Incubator, I decided to apply what I learned about systems thinking and circular economy, and created BHUMAN,” says Lee. BHUMAN is a two‐year‐old natural beauty brand that got its big break via Kickstarter. Her unisex face wash, BCLEAN, is 97 percent natural. The other 3 percent? Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3—“a superstar ingredient with proven benefits for the skin,” she shares, adding that “the version used in [BHUMAN] skincare is produced synthetically”. The brand offers water‐activated powdered skincare, which is more concentrated, allows for more washes per refillable bottle, presents no leakage risk and wastage, and has a lower carbon footprint because you naturally order less. Its latest product? Bättre (it means better in Swedish), a water‐activated powder‐to‐lather hair wash that provides up to 50 washes—the equivalent of about roughly three 8oz plastic shampoo bottles.
Yeeli wears dress, from LIE at SocietyA. Necklace, watch, and bangle, all Yeeli’s own.
Jolene Lum may be only 24, but she’s already running a farm‐to‐table agriculture start‐up that helps people buy super‐fresh local produce from small‐ to medium‐sized local farmers who don’t really benefit from the supermarket system— which thrives on large‐volume overseas produce. “In our imagination, we think about getting our produce from wet markets and supermarkets. Supermarkets have a complex procurement process that often requires a huge volume and consistency, and they might work on a consignment model where farmers do not get paid for all the produce that goes to the supermarket,” she says. “For example, [a farmer] might need to send 10kg of produce, but only gets paid for 2kg if that’s how much gets sold. In the department of fresh produce, these kinds of wastage mean that the unsold produce is no longer as fresh or sellable. This is especially bad when considering the fact that 90 percent of our produce is imported, and 40 to 70 percent of food actually spoils on the supply chain.” If you were to browse the product list on urbantiller.sg, you might scoff at the prices. But Lum asks that you consider other costs. “When we have a robust international supply chain, the prices we see at the supermarkets conceal a lot of the true costs of farming,” she says. “The new‐age farms that I work with, specifically controlled‐environment and vertical farms using hydroponic systems, can save up to 90 percent of water, and there’s a cleaner process involved due to how we don’t need chemical pesticides. But the cost is higher. Whether or not the consumers are able to accept and afford the cost of more sustainable food is always a key concern because food is so personal and emotional.” For us as buyers to start making a difference, Lum says that we need to “ask difficult questions for real sustainability to happen. Ask your retailers and merchants how they do things, and if they could do things differently. How much more would that cost? If that’s too much, is there any other way?”
Jolene wears top, from YCH at SocietyA; trousers, from Maryalle at SocietyA. Sneakers, Jolene’s own.
Food waste is a problem in Singapore. According to the National Environment Agency, it accounts for about 11 percent of the total waste generated in our country. Last year, that amounted to 665,000 tonnes of discarded food. The upside is that food waste is starting to fall, and we have food rescue organisations and businesses the likes of UnPackt to thank for it. For co-founder Florence Tay, the spark that started UnPackt, a packaging-free bulk food store, is a problem all of us face: We often don’t finish the pre-packaged and portioned foods we buy, from fruits and vegetables to spices and cereals, before they start going stale and we have to throw them out, resulting in food waste. For Tay, it has not been easy trying to convince people that the BYO jar-and-bottle concept is affordable. The 39-year-old says that “there’s always a misconception that zero-waste store shopping is expensive. However, it’s very practical to purchase just the food amount you need, as you will never again need to pay for the [excess] food that will expire and need to be thrown away.” Three years after its founding, UnPackt has made some headway with Singaporeans.
“After learning about consumers’ demands, we have increased our product variety to about five times more than our initial start,” Tay shares. “It’s important we procure based on local demand so as to avoid generating food waste as a business, [in terms of] unsold or excess inventory. We have also tied up with other food suppliers to provide fresh produce—food surplus or ugly foods in Singapore—to make things more convenient for our customers.”
Florence wears top and trousers, both from Maryalle at SocietyA. Shoes, from CHARLES & KEITH.
While many marine ecologists gravitate towards “sexier” subjects such as whales and dolphins, Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub specialises in a very different marine species: Seagrass. If you’ve been following environmental news, you would’ve heard that seagrass is the next big thing in reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Just like forests, seagrass meadows absorb carbon, except the nondescript underwater plants actually do twice as good a job at storing carbon from CO2 as forests do. The carbon dioxide that’s captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, and therefore removed from the atmosphere, is referred to as blue carbon. “Seagrass meadows have a charisma issue, so convincing people of their worth can be challenging. In Singapore, there is the added problem of water quality, so seagrass meadows here are unseen except during low tide,” says the 40-year-old, who is also the co-founder of citizen science group TeamSeaGrass, which monitors the health of seagrasses along Singapore’s shores. “Seagrass ecosystems are largely understudied and overlooked. [They] are very important ecosystems that support fisheries and contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change by absorbing and storing carbon,” she explains. “I would like for people, businesses and governments to invest in nature and in nature-based solutions. Habitats and ecosystems are the original sustainability solutions because they are self-sustaining. Investing in nature-based solutions, like seagrass, must be part of our approach towards achieving true sustainability, by undoing environmental degradation and mitigating the effects of climate change.”
Siti wears coat, from JUNAROSE. Shirt, Siti’s own. Watch, stylist’s own.
Photographed by Wee Khim
Styled by Lauren Alexa
Makeup and hair: Grego Oh & Manisa Tan
Makeup artists and hairstylists’ assistant: Ziwei Yan
Photographer’s assistant: Ivan Teo
Stylist’s assistant: Nadia Lim