SEforum speaks to Olivia Choong, who is on a mission to convert Singapore and beyond to join her in her cause for conservation. The tall and lean vegetarian is the founder of the local chapter of international environmental movement, Green Drinks. Green Drinks Singapore, a non-profit organisation, which took root in 2007, aims to network businesses, government and like-minded individuals for knowledge sharing and collaboration.
1. Tell me about Green Drinks Singapore.
Green Drinks Singapore is a non-profit group, which tries to involve everybody, and every environmental interest through our documentary screenings, free talks by industry experts, discussions, workshops and networking sessions. Since we started out, we have evolved from just networking sessions to having a diverse range of programmes. In addition, we have grown a following of more than 700 members on Facebook, and have been featured several times in the media, such as Channel NewsAsia, The Straits Times, Time Out, Her World and Female, among others.
2. What led you to take a stand on the environment?
I never thought I’d be the one saying this but doing absolutely nothing or being indifferent would certainly keep me awake at night. I suppose it’s because I have always hated injustice as a child, and it’s like watching a movie where the bad guy gets away with a heinous crime and is never prosecuted in the end. Except it’s in real life: The bad guy comes in the form of corporations that operate not illegally but immorally, and sell us a product that has either abused animals or people, or are loaded with pesticides or chemicals. We live in a world where every product is unethical unless otherwise implied when it should be the other way around!
The short answer to this question is that I’d only realised my passion for the environment a few years ago when I felt irked by the lack of accessible recycling facilities. Also, I started reading up more about the environment and becoming more aware of how everything and everybody around us is interconnected. I knew then that I had to do something. Something and not nothing.
3. Why Green Drinks?
We are called Green Drinks because we have adopted the Singapore franchise of the global movement, which started in London. It is termed as such because it has everything to do with the environment, and in an informal setting, preferably over drinks. I first got to know about it when I read a 2007 issue of the American edition of Women’s Health, and thought to myself, “I got to start that in Singapore!”
4. What are you doing on a daily basis to get others involved in green issues?
First of all I make sure that I walk the talk, because one has to set an example in order to convince and encourage others to adopt a change in mindset. As often as I can, I submit articles to environmental-centric portals like eco-business.com and Green Kampong to get the message out. Also, I’m always thinking of ways to engage people through Green Drinks, to keep things current and fun, while being educational at the same time.
Recently, I also started a public relations practice called Sustainable PR, targetting only SMEs in the environmental sector. I hope to use this as a vehicle to push the green economy along by increasing awareness and driving demand for green products and services.
5. Do you think green products can be visually desirable as well?
Certainly! Let’s start with ethical shoe company Terra Plana, which uses discarded leather sourced from NGOs and minimises the use of heavy metals and toxic adhesives in their range of gorgeous shoes. They also use recycled materials to make their shoes, such as recycled rubber, PET bottles, and rice husks.
Another company that successfully marries form and function would be Bloomerang that manufactures bloomerHang hangers made out of recycled cardboard. Using the surface area as advertising space, the product is as eco-friendly and ethical as can be using only soy-based ink in the printing process, and of course, being recyclable.
Others include CHOOSE the eco store and Qi Global’s stocks which includes Nahui Ollin’s candy wrapper bags, Escama Studio’s ringpull bags and several other ethical products, such as Ethletic shoes and soccer balls. CHOOSE also carries the Wattson electricity monitor, which looks very stylish. Also worth checking out are Echo’s beautiful range of Gulguvenc products made using PET bottles.
6. How would green utopia look to you?
It would be a world devoid of all forms of chemicals such as cigarettes, disposable ware and advertisements. Every product would have as minimal packaging as possible, and people would reduce consumption and not just think of recycling. Homes and building would feature sustainable design and have little use for air conditioning. Careful town planning will also be done to ensure easy use of bicycles and there will be plenty of green spaces to act as the lungs of the city-state. It would be nice to see only electric cars on the road!
Also, I would like to see the government invest more in alternative energy like solar energy and vertical-axis wind turbines so as to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, the government could encourage composting in town councils, as well as communal vegetable plots to encourage community bonding.
7. What advice do you have for a layman to begin going green?
I would encourage people to start by being more mindful about where everything comes from and where everything goes. If it is not immediately obvious, I would suggest doing some research on the Internet, which holds a wealth of information. For example, one could go to www.cosmeticdatabase.com to find out exactly what toxins lurk in their trusted skincare product. Reading labels is another kind of behaviour I would encourage. It is always good to know what you are really buying, especially if you are buying this for a loved one. This applies to food as well.
Does your chocolate bar or ice cream contain palm oil? Was it sustainably sourced, or are you one of the demand drivers for the orangutans losing their habitat, or worse, their lives? When you shop for furniture, are you buying wood? If so, is it sustainably sourced, or are you contributing to deforestation? When cleaning your clothes, would you take them to the dry cleaners, which uses the toxic chemical perchloroethylene, that poses not only an eco risk, but a health risk to staff, and is only effective on oil-based stains, which exempts sweat and wine? Why not try the wet cleaners instead?
Lastly, it is worth remembering that we are all interconnected and part of an ecosystem. Whenever we disrupt the process of nature, whether it is to do with the oceans, animals, or environment, we will inevitably be affected.