• Perspectives
  • 05 August 2020

Taking a bold stance on waste

In 2018, Green Nudge received financial support through the #OCBCCares Fund for the Environment. The fund, was set up by our parent company OCBC Bank the year before to financially support ground-up projects by individuals and interest groups with environmental sustainability initiatives that deliver benefits for the Singapore community.

 Green Nudge is a social enterprise founded in Singapore which supports businesses and communities to achieve a positive environmental impact through activities such as coastal cleanups, workshops, outreach including talks and sustainability consulting. By raising awareness and co-creating call-to-actions with various stakeholders on sustainability efforts, Green Nudge aims to create a normative shift in the way we create and deal with waste to achieve a low carbon, zero waste future for Singapore

 In a recent interview with Bank of Singapore, Green Nudge founder Heng Li Seng spoke about the challenges in being an eco-warrior and shared how his plans have changed in a COVID-19 environment.

If you have been to a mass public event like a marathon or music festival, you would have noticed large quantities of food and plastic waste generated.

One Singaporean was so flustered by how trash was poorly managed after such events, that he decided to do something about it for good.

Leaving his job in the public sector in 2017, Heng Li Seng first joined a social enterprise for people with disabilities to learn the ropes of how such organisations operated. Six months later, he started his own initiative. Calling it Green Nudge, Li Seng set out to be an enabler of societal transformation to achieve a greater public adoption of sustainable practices and green behaviour.

The following year, he applied for funding through the #OCBCCares Fund for the Environment and was one of six ground-up projects selected to receive financial support.

His aim was to reach out to event organisers and work closely with them to find ways to reduce, repurpose and recycle waste. In doing so, he also highlighted potential cost savings to these organisers, to make his proposal a mutually beneficial one.

Li Seng partnered OCBC Cycle in 2018 to trial his solution and collected discarded banana peels to be sent to community gardens as compost. His team also designed and set up signs and manned recycling booths to encourage the responsible disposal of litter at the event.

The results were promising, and he went on to work with 10 mass event organisers that year, to reduce their environmental footprint.

Since then, the 32-year-old has broadened his work to include conducting coastal cleanups, workshops for corporations, tertiary outreach programmes to educate the youth on waste management as well as an online job portal to accelerate the growth of sustainability-related jobs in Singapore.

1. What are some negative traits you’ve observed in people living in modern urban environments such as Singapore?

When I previously worked in the Central Business District, I noticed how office workers often displayed poor waste disposal habits from a personal lifestyle perspective.

Rubbish bins in office pantries were often overflowing and cleaners had to clear the trash bins more than once a day. What was also striking was the large amount of food wastage at eateries during mealtimes. This left a deep impression on me as despite being considered highly educated, many of the office workers appeared to have little awareness of the downstream effects when things go to waste.  

These effects may not always be something that we can visibly see in urban cities like Singapore and thus may not affect us, but they are happening around the world. For instance, when I visited New Zealand, I was told how much the glaciers I had gone to see had melted in a short span of time as a result of global warming. These observations thus motivated me to tackle these negative traits by shaping new and positive behaviour.

2. What is your X factor in affecting positive behaviour towards sustainability?

Contrary to the popular belief that one needs to be schooled in disciplines related to sustainability in order to make credible change, my background in a non-sustainability field actually allowed me to offer an objective take on issues in Singapore. I believe in being hands-on as well as on the ground to listen and understand the pain points of all stakeholders involved before developing a certain framework for a waste management project.

By leveraging my past working experience, I am able to distil talking points and messages from government policies on sustainability and help to convey them to members of the public through community or outreach events. I like to see myself as the middleman whom anyone can reach out to for advice, and play the role of a connecting node with various stakeholders to create lasting and meaningful conversations. In doing so, this help to shape long term positive practices and behaviour towards sustainability in Singapore.

3. What are some challenges you’ve faced with Green Nudge?

I realised very early that Green Nudge cannot rely on donations to operate. If it did, most of my time would be spent canvassing for donations and this would shift my focus away from what I had originally set out to do. Instead, by turning this into a for-profit and for-impact entity through a social enterprise model by providing events and services for a fee, this helps to ensure that we will be here for the long-term.

Another challenge was trying to convince event organisers that the lack of proper waste management at events could affect their branding in the long run. In ensuring waste and litter are properly managed, this minimises potential backlash from participants and consumers who are becoming more environmentally conscious. We were heartened to note that our efforts benefited one event organiser. Instead of receiving complaints, which was a frequent occurrence in past events, they received compliments for how the event had improved.

4. How has Covid-19 affected your sustainability activities and efforts?

Given that all physical activities, including mass outdoor events have been cancelled over the past few months, our revenue completely disappeared as we were unable to carry out any events or activities. However, we took this opportunity to expand our outreach efforts by organising virtual talks on social media. 

In addition, we also explore ways to give back to the community during this pandemic, including recycling minimally used soap bars from hotels to share with migrant workers in Singapore who may not have the opportunity to purchase them during this period. We have liaised with about 10 to 12 hotels to collect used bars for us to shred, melt and make into new ones which are then given to the workers. So far, at least 1,000 soap bars have been distributed and we would love to do more.

Lastly, with the increased focus on jobs, we recently started an online job portal called Green Collar, to match job seekers with specific roles in the sustainability area. In doing so, we hope to accelerate the growth of sustainability-related jobs in Singapore. We aim to get 100 jobs secured by September 2020 and will be expanding our scope to the Southeast Asian region by the end of the year.

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Version: July 2020