Category Archives: Green Products & Services

Powering a Plant-based Future

With climate change becoming an increasingly pertinent issue that is facing our planet, it is no wonder that the global populace as a whole has been increasingly aware of the need for alternatives that are better for the earth. Combined with the advent of social media and the Internet, figures like Greta Thunberg have become household names and the causes they advocate for are now ones that pervade our everyday lives. I’m sure that we have all heard about or even partook in trendy green movements like the no plastic and BYO campaigns, carrying tote bags and metal straws around daily instead of using their plastic, non-environmentally-friendly counterparts. Sustainability has been a hot topic in the past decade, resulting in a market that is becoming saturated by eco-conscious shoppers whose preferences and consumption habits alike reflect these shifting priorities. More and more businesses, being aware of the importance that consumers place on the supply chain of products, have been hopping onto the trend and switching their branding and operations to be more sustainable. An increasing amount of new companies with the environment at their hearts have also been popping up in response, started by those that want to make a difference.

This is the environment to which PoweredByPlant (henceforth PBP) was created.

Sustainable. Plant-based. Ethically-sourced. These are the three concepts upon which PBP was built. Started by two university undergraduates in their final year, the two were a match made in heaven, brought together by their aligned visions for a greener future. Both entrepreneurs in their own right, Cherie and Krish are visionaries with varying prior business experience, which they have applied towards this business that is the embodiment of a cause that they are passionate about. Talking to them, only a year older than I am, really made me realise that a small seed of inspiration can be the impetus to something tangible; something amazing. Cherie’s journey began with her love for everything marine – beaches, surfing, the works.  Meanwhile, Krish was inspired by the scenes of pollution and cruelty she’s seen during her travels and at her hometown in India. Their vaguely coinciding environmental and ethical-based motivations collided and the idea for PBP was born.

es
The Founders – Left: Krish (@krishapoorva), Right: Cherie (@cherie.paw)

Krish, being vegan herself, first proposed the idea of a plant-based business. While there were already many other sustainability-based stores online, what they saw was missing was one that targeted plant-based items only. Another important aspect that Cherie, having seen the stigma that eco-shopping is only for the wealthy, wanted to emphasise is affordability, as they came to the realisation that many think that more eco-friendly options are priced remarkably higher than their common equivalents, making them less accessible to the general masses. This is a prejudice that Cherie wanted to prove is unfounded, with many indie Asian brands using incredibility plant-based materials that are reasonably-priced. Arrives PoweredByPlant. An e-commerce aggregator that aims to “make sustainable shopping convenient, inclusive and affordable for all”, partnering only with brands and products that are “plant-based, plastic-free, sustainable, and ethically-sourced”.

“If everyone plays a small part to work towards a healthier planet, it cumulatively adds up. We don’t need everyone to be perfectly sustainable, we just need everyone to take the first step and feel included in our safe and encouraging plant-based community.”

Launched in May this year, PBP is still new and constantly renewing and improving, with the energetic and passionate team continuously coming up with bigger and better ideas to do the best for the brand and the planet. Ecokits (a cute and clever name  they call their eco-friendly kits) are the newest direction the company is taking, where products from different vegan planet-friendly brands are collated and combined into carefully-curated kits. Customers are also given the option to create their own combinations, to make a kit that is uniquely theirs! This concept stemmed from the negative environmental impacts of the gifting tradition, contributed to the unsustainable gift packaging and the potential undesirability of gifted items that may themselves be made via unsustainable and unethical processes. PBP posits a solution that is not to stop gifting, but to gift better alternatives – these bundled organic and plant-based essentials with personality; a new way of sharing love. Every kit is made specially for every personality, examples being: “for the yoga mom”, “for my bff”, “for my girlfriend”, “for the student activist”, “for the starter vegan”, “for the ocean advocate”, and so on. Not only does this make gifting more personal, it’s always a surprise to see what’s in the kit.

te
PoweredByPlant’s website

PBP’s dedication to our universal planetary fight can also be seen through their collaborations with non-profit organisations and environmental-based eco-influencers. They are currently doing a fundraiser with One Tree Planted, an environmental non-profit charity that contribute immensely to reforesting efforts globally. Every eco-purchase on thepoweredbyplant.com equates to a tree planted! I was informed that every ecokit mentioned above plants 3 trees as each kit consists of 3 products, a win-win-win. There is also a separate fundraiser for shoppers who want to do just that little bit more, which can be found here. (I hear that there may also be more charity collaborations in the works, but that’s an exclusive that you didn’t hear from me.)

ll
PBP x One Tree Planted’s Fundraiser

Another unique feature of PBP is its team – a group of Gen Z volunteers who have come together and are motivated purely by their love and care for the people and the world. They know their own generation and the strength of social media, and are working actively in those mediums to bring PBP to the forefront. The PBP Instagram’s growth has been exponential, starting from nothing in May, and now, a mere 3 months later, closing in rapidly on 800 followers. From their educational posts (some of my favourites being the Black Lives Matter series and this post on growing your own scallions), to IG Lives with eco-influencers, to online webinars, PBP is doing a tremendous job on not just spreading their brand, but also spreading awareness and educating the public on the importance of sustainability. PBP manages to feel less like a business, instead being distinctly down-to-earth, friendly and approachable (just like its founders); a brand that is real, a brand that cares.

a
A glimpse into PBP’s fun and quirky Instagram

With the growth that PBP has experienced and is experiencing, what I was dying to know was what else they have in store for us in the future. Based on the sheer drive and fervour that I sensed from this one interview alone, I know that this team is definitely not complacent and will not just settle here. When asked, the genuine passion and excitement for the places they want to bring PBP to in Cherie and Krish shone through. “America!” The West, where vegans are abundant and sustainability all the rage, is the ultimate goal. But not just that – Europe and other countries like India were also mentioned. In Cherie’s words, “Imagine living in a world where you can order an ecokit for your loved one halfway across the globe, full of sustainable and ethical essentials? With this, I hope to grow PoweredByPlant into Gen Zs favourite ecomart that anyone on the sustainable journey, young or old, can feel safe and happy to shop.” This is a business that they want to bring to the world, and only the future will tell just how far they will go.

Writer: Estella

Thoughts on the National Day Rally

“We should treat climate change defences like we treat the SAF – with utmost seriousness.”

On the 18th of August, 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech, addressing, among other issues, climate change and Singapore’s plan to meet the coming challenges. The title of my blog is a quote from his speech, which I took the liberty of making a minor edit that reflects my personal view. In this post, I’ll be picking out and summarising what I feel are the most important parts of the rally (that pertain to climate change), and giving some of my comments along the way. I understand that the measures listed out during the NDR are not comprehensive, and I must mention that my opinions are greatly summarised as well. While there are too many aspects of climate change to cover in this article, hopefully I’ll be able to give you an additional perspective!

What is climate change?

PM Lee began with a summary on the concept of climate change. He mentioned the greenhouse effect of rising CO2 levels – due to the effect of these greenhouse gases, we have already seen an increase in global average temperatures of 1°C and he even emphasised the gravity of this seemingly small increase. He later went on to list some of the issues Singapore will face: food shortages, diseases, extreme weather. Amongst the problems listed, he singled out the issue that he felt Singapore is the most vulnerable to: sea level rise. He then goes on to mention Singapore’s three-pronged approach to tackling climate change: Understanding, Mitigation and Adaptation.

Understanding Climate Change

Make no mistake, the effects of climate change are already being felt right now, but the scary part is what comes in the next few decades. These effects are difficult to predict, given the complexity and unpredictability of the world’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. PM Lee introduced us to the Centre for Climate Research Singapore which was set up in 2013 for research on climate science, to better understand the effects of climate change in the context of Singapore.

While having scientific basis behind policy-making is paramount, it is just as important for Singaporeans to be educated on climate change. An addition or integration of environmental studies into the formal education system would increase the literacy of Singaporeans towards key ideas like sustainability and stewardship. This would prepare the future generation for tackling problems like climate change and biodiversity loss while working towards a sustainable future.

Mitigating Climate Change

PM Lee mentioned Singapore’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and mentioned one of the steps the government has taken to limit our CO2 emissions is through a carbon tax. At $5 per tonne of CO2 emitted, however, could this tax be a bit too low? Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli explained that this tax is a nudge to businesses to begin improving efficiency, and that taxes will be increased with certainty, just over a longer time frame. Still, The World Bank estimates that to keep warming to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we would need a carbon price of US$40-80/tonne of CO2 by 2020 and US$50-100/tonne of CO2 by 2030. So is Singapore doing enough to persuade businesses to shift to greener technology?

Furthermore, PM Lee mentioned that the aim was to cap Singapore’s emissions by 2030. However, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C explicitly states that to keep temperatures within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world would have to peak our carbon emissions in 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Is Singapore setting too lenient a goal?

These are just a couple of signs that Singapore isn’t taking its mitigation measures seriously enough, and this sentiment was echoed by the thousands of Singaporeans that attended the Climate Rally a few weeks ago. PM Lee goes on to say: “Although Singapore may not be able to stop climate change by ourselves, we can contribute to solutions, and we must do our fair share. Then we can be credible asking others to reduce their emissions too, and work towards a global solution to climate change.” Are we doing our fair share?

Adapting to Climate Change

PM Lee focuses solely on sea level rise. The grand plan is to build polders, inspired by the Netherlands. Polders are pockets of land reclaimed from the sea. Seawalls are first built around an area, and the area is pumped dry. PM Lee explained that these measures would likely be necessary for our eastern coastline, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

These polders increase our land area while at the same time, keeping the sea out. They could even potentially be used to harness tidal energy. The drawbacks would be the cost of building them, which is estimated to be more than 100 billion dollars. Additionally, there are the costs of maintaining these polders as water has to be constantly pumped out. Constructing these polders may also be destructive to the marine ecosystem around the eastern shoreline. There is also another problem.

Let me introduce you to a graph.

2
Transient sea-level rise versus committed sea-level rise. (Hardy & Nuse, 2016)

Hank Green explained this graph well in his Youtube Video: “This is the scariest graph I’ve ever seen”. In a nutshell, while sea level rise by 2100 may be about 1m as we have planned for in our adaptation measures, the sea level rise that we subscribe to due to the additional heat in our atmosphere is far greater. If we do nothing about our emissions, sea levels could rise as much as 6 meters in the future. So how high are we going to keep building our sea walls?

While sea level rise is an issue that will affect Singapore significantly, other issues posed by a warming climate are just as serious. We import over 90% of our food, and climate change may soon render agriculture more difficult in many places. We may face a huge problem with food security. Singapore is also a hot and humid tropical country, which means we are especially vulnerable to fatal heat waves. All these problems will have to be addressed in the coming decades, perhaps even sooner than our rising sea levels.

Conclusion

While the measures that PM Lee went over in his NDR speech are laudable, there are still some areas where Singapore can do better. Though I’m no expert, it does seem that our mitigation measures are severely lacking. I understand that with every tax/investment/solution that is proposed, there are certainly challenges and costs. But Singapore is a wealthy country and if we do not take responsibility for our emissions, how can we expect other countries to, especially when they might not have the luxury to do so?

PM Lee said this in context to sustained effort to building adaptation measures: “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.” The government has to realise that this applies to our mitigation measures too. More emphasis has to be placed on mitigating climate change, even if the upfront costs may be great. Because the longer we wait, the greater the costs will become. With each tonne of CO2 we continue to release into the atmosphere, we increase human suffering in the future. Climate change is a moral issue, and it’s time treat it with utmost seriousness.

References:

Hardy, R.D. & Nuse, B.L. Climatic Change (2016) 137: 333. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1007/s10584-016-1703-4

I WUF ANIMALS – World Animal Day

I think most of us have swooned over a cute picture of a fluffy white baby seal or a small kitten with innocent round eyes. If you are like me and love animals, well good news! World Animal day is happening October 4th this year.

World Animal Day aims to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe [1]. On this day, the animal welfare movement across the globe is united to celebrate their efforts and are given an opportunity to increase awareness and education about animal welfare. Through such actions, there are hopes to create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.

History

2
World Animal Day logo in the UK (Source)

October 4th is chosen for this cause in honour of St. Francis of Assisi – an animal lover and patron saint for animals, whose feast day falls on this day [2]. 1931 was the first year it was celebrated internationally and it has been going on for 88 years since [3]!

So… what are people doing?

World Animal Day is celebrated in a diverse manner around the world, with different focuses on conservation of biodiversity, protecting endangered animals, and supporting animal welfare.

A simple search on the World Animal Day website will lead you to a long list of events happening in each continent. There are art shows in Taiwan, releasing of native birds back into the wild in India, and a dog walk under the moonlight in South Africa [4].

What can I do in Singapore?

Don’t feel left out of all the amazing activities happening globally, you can do your own part in showing love to all animals here in Singapore too!

3
Elephants in Singapore Zoo (Source)

Start with a trip to Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, Night Safari or S.E.A. aquarium. There is a plethora of knowledge to learn from these places, not to mention you get to observe and fall in love with non-native animals.

4
A female Sunda Coluga carrying her young spotted in Singapore (Source)

Singapore’s biodiversity is much more vibrant than most would think, besides the boars at Pulau Ubin and Long-tailed Macaques at Bukit Timah, there are numerous species of animals that can be spotted across the island. Take a walk in any of our nature reserves or parks to spot some scaly, furry, hairy or slimy locals. Of course, you can sign up for our guided walk at Macritchie Reservoir Park where we are able to help identify various species of animals too.

5
Volunteers for SOSD (Source)

Take some time or money out to any of the many animal welfare groups and conservation efforts in Singapore. Head down to any of the animal shelters relocated at Sungei Tengah Road and lend a helping hand for a day or more. Garden City Fund, WWF Singapore and Wildlife Reserves Singapore are a few of the many conservation efforts we have protecting our animals and their habitats.

6
Hamsters up for adoption at Hamster Society Singapore (Source)

If you have been thinking about getting a pet as a companion, ADOPT! There is a wide range of homeless pets waiting for your tender love – dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and even fishes! Do your research on which animals will suit you and your family’s lifestyle the best. After you are well informed of the costs and responsibilities being a pet owner entails, head on down to any of the animal shelters and choose your new family member, then shower them with love and care for the rest of their life. That being said, do not make rash decisions and only adopt if you are capable of and in an environment suitable for caring for an animal.

Spread your joy and love for animals this World Animal Day! Wish all the birds, lizards, insects, mammals or fishes you come by a happy World Animal Day, taking time to appreciate them a little more than usual.

References:

[1] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/

[2] https://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/world-animal-day/

[3] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/world-animal-day-2019/

[4] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/events/index/1/0/id/page:2

 Written by: Audrey

Where the skies are not blue

A field trip! To a farm! That seemed like the kind of things we would only get to experience back in primary school. But the BES freshmen recently had the opportunity to visit a local farm called Sky Greens. Here’s a little bit more about it!

BES students getting a guided tour around the farm

Sky Greens is a vertical farm located in Yio Chu Kang and it was founded in 2010 by Mr Jack Ng. It is the world’s first low carbon and hydraulic driven vertical farm. Woah woah… what does this mean?

Basically, the vegetables are grown on shelves fitted on 9m high structures. How this farm works is that the shelves will rotate throughout the day to ensure that the vegetables on different shelves will receive sufficient sunlight for growth. Rainwater collected on the farm is pumped into the system to allow the shelves to rotate and also irrigate the plants.

Vegetables being grown on shelves

Mr Jack Ng shared that he started this project because he was interested in doing farming after he retired. However, as current farming methods are very labour intensive, he decided to explore better farming methods.

While some farms may use hydroponics, Sky Greens grow their vegetables in nutrient rich compost. The contents of the compost include “Nespresso” recycled coffee grounds, recycled vegetable waste, beneficial microbes, seaweed extract, bean sprout waste, recycled woodchips and chicken manure. It was really amazing how he was able to reuse food waste and incorporated them into his compost, turning waste into something useful instead! Such efforts to reduce waste are truly admirable. In fact, the coffee grounds act as a form of natural insect repellent due to its acidity, thus benefiting the vegetables as well.

More photos pf the farm

The efficiency of this farm also was truly mind-blowing. It required 95% less water, 75% less labour, electricity and 10x more yield compared to an open field vegetable farm.  It honestly sounded too good to be true! Such green solutions are definitely needed, given that the global demand for food is increasing while resources are becoming more scarce. Moreover, the farm produces approximately 500kg of greens per day which are packaged and sold at FairPrice express outlets around the island. The greens sold are mostly what locals consume (Cai Xin, Xiao Bai Cai, Mai Bai etc). In fact, it only takes 4hours for the greens to hit the shelves after being harvested, in comparison to imported produce which can range from 3 days to 3 weeks. (Lim, 2015).

A packet of Nai Bai Cai from sky greens

Mr Jack Ng explained that he wanted to keep his produce organic and not use pesticides to keep the pests away. As such, he resolved this problem by producing “mini vegetables” instead. These mini vegetables are smaller in size than regular vegetables, but also required less time to grow (only 3-4 weeks are required!) By harvesting the vegetables earlier, he would be able to reach the food before the pests, so that no pesticides would be needed. I personally thought that was a pretty genius idea.

Test results proving that the mini-series contained higher levels of Polyphenol, which acts as an                                                                                            antioxidant

Moreover, this mini-series was also found to contain 35% more antioxidants than regular Cai Xin. What struck me as well was his heart behind producing the vegetables this way. Mr Jack Ng shared that he was adamant about not using pesticides as he would only be willing to grow what he would be willing to eat. As a farmer, he had the responsibility over what he was producing, because it was what people were going to consume. Truly, being a farmer is more than just planting crops, but also impacting the health of whoever would be consuming your food!

As a country that imports more than 90% of our food (AVA, 2019), we are heavily dependent on other countries to supply us the food we need. Honestly, that is quite scary, because we definitely cannot sustain ourselves if we were to stop importing food. With urban projects such as Sky Greens, we are certainly heading towards more efficient and sustainable methods of food production and increasing our food security in the long run. What an eye-opening trip!

Written by: Ann Shin

References

LIM, J. (2019). Vertical farming invention wins global award. Retrieved 9 September 2019, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vertical-farming-invention-wins-global-award

AVA Vision | AVA Unveils Updated Food Security Roadmap. (2013). Retrieved 7 September 2019, from https://www.sfa.gov.sg/files/avavision/issues3-4_2013/food-security-roadmap.html\

Banking on Sustainability

You might have noticed these sleek white boxes popping up around your town recently:

1
Photo: Qiu Jiahui

If you’ve ever been curious enough to peruse their charming infographics, you’ll know that they’re collecting non-perishable food items from the general public, so that they can be delivered to the food insecure population in Singapore, rather than collect dust on mistake-prone shoppers (it happens to the best of us ;)).

I, too, was curious… Curious enough to travel all the way down to their warehouse on Keppel Road, which serves as the headquarters for this simple, spirit-lifting operation!

23

4
Photos: Qiu Jiahui

That’s it! This is where the food you drop off in their boxes is stored, sorted, and carted off to over 300 beneficiaries ranging from family service centres, nursing homes and childcare centres. An office the size of a regular school classroom and a storage space the size of a regular school hallway are where a tiny organization brings their big ambition to life – and the issue at hand is certainly huge. FoodBank Ltd was born when sibling entrepreneurs Nichol and Nicholas Ng discovered the magnitude of Singapore’s food waste problem.

As a land-scarce nation, Singapore has only one landfill for waste disposal – Semakau Landfill, which does not accept organic waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). Thus, food waste is largely incinerated, generating huge quantities of carbon emissions. In 2002, for example, Singapore produced almost 500,000 tons of food waste, 94% of which was incinerated (Lang, 2008). In 2004, slightly over 300,000 kg of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions were generated per ton of food waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). The implications of this overwhelming excess on Singapore’s overall carbon footprint are obvious.

Meanwhile, 12-14% of Singaporeans are living under the unofficial poverty line of $1500 in income per month (Loh, 2011), and by extension experience food insecurity.

FoodBank aims to close the gap between these two issues, eradicating their ironic coexistence in a fast-paced, extravagant Singapore. Though we’ve seen the quaint little warehouse where excess goodies from the wealthier spectrum of our society are stored, the real genius in this operation is that it largely takes place on the go. FoodBank knows that powdered Milo, biscuits and candy are far from enough, so in addition to facilitating the donation of non-perishables, its programmes include:

  1. A fresh food truck that collects fruits and vegetables rejected from supermarkets and wholesalers for solely cosmetic reasons,
  2. The Food Rescue Project, which whisks away excess cooked meals from the kitchens of reputable hotels and restaurants, and
  3. Joy in Every Bundle – bundle pledges for members of the public to fund balanced food packages for beneficiaries.

When you think about it, our food is needlessly thrown away through countless pathways, often even before they get the chance to reach our plates. For example, at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, inspectors who need to work quickly will examine fruits and vegetables by the carton, and if they spy even one blemished item, the entire carton is discarded. That adds up. Three times a month, FoodBank’s van dutifully pulls up to the centre, fills to the brim with these fruits and vegetables, and distributes it to rental flats around Singapore. It’s hard not to think of what the situation looked like before FoodBank came along: all these riches, turned to rubbish, and on the same island where thousands of poor are living.

With that in mind, I asked an employee what she thought the organization could really use right now, and the answer is: long-term volunteers. Sorting and organizing the food items requires some training, and having nothing but ad-hoc volunteers means that the staff spends a lot of time teaching new volunteers, only to have them leave in a week. Consistent volunteers would save some of that time, and be able to train up newer ones as well.

If you are interested, do drop by their website and check out how you can get involved:

One more thing: this is going to seem trivial, but if you have a lot of used cardboard boxes around, well, the ones that they have at the warehouse are getting a little worn out. And of course, check out their website to participate in their various programmes, learn more about the food waste issue, and make a donation to help out with transport costs (you may have noticed that there is a great deal of transport involved). Wastage in general is awful, but food waste is downright painful. There’s a hole in our system, and it’s time to plug it.

Written by: Qiu Jiahui

References:

Lang, J. C. (2008) Zero Landfill, Zero Waste: The Greening of Industry in Singapore In Leapfrogging Development In Emerging Asia: Caught Between Greening and Pollution. pp 151-172. New York, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Loh, J. (2011) Bottom Fifth in Singapore. Social Space. 88-90. Retrieved from https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=lien_research

Tan, R. B.H. & Khoo, H. H. (2006) Impact Assessment of Waste Management Options in Singapore. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 56:3, 244-254, DOI: 10.1080/10473289.2006.10464463