Living life better in 2019 — The Business Times

By Helmi Yusof, Tay Suan Chiang, Koh En Lin

1. Inclusivity in, exclusivity out

2018 has been a tumultuous year on many fronts. The markets have been volatile, with the possibility of 2019 bringing more gloom. The US-China trade war shows few signs of abating, and Brexit has gotten murkier. The global failure to act decisively on climate change infuriates many – including outspoken teenagers who demand the right to grow up in a better world.

On the social front, #MeToo and #TimesUp have helped us understand the extent of sexual harassment and assault, and altered the way we interact socially, professionally and romantically. Hundreds of once-powerful men, such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey, have been fired from jobs and publicly condemned.

Social media has made it possible for anyone to call out every injustice, hypocrisy, falsehood, discrimination and double standard. No self-respecting human being can stay ignorant on these issues.

Celebrities once held as beacons of progressiveness and self-empowerment, such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, have been knocked off their thrones for their “ignorant” tweets. Meanwhile, other celebrities like Ariana Grande and Colin Kaepernick are held up as examples of “wokeness” – a term to describe greater political and social consciousness.

“Woke”, incidentally, was the word Singapore Writers Festival outgoing director Yeow Kai Chai used to describe the incoming director Pooja Nansi. Ms Nansi is a writer and poet who has long spoken candidly about racism and sexism. Most recently, she organised the Other Tongues literary festival which champions the voices of minority communities.

“Woke” was also the word some used to describe Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh when he stood up for the LGBTQ community and the poor, by asking for the abolition of 377A and the introduction of minimum wage. In reflecting a similar concern for the poor, sociologist Teo You Yenn’s 2018 book This Is How Inequality Looks Like became the biggest non-fiction bestseller of the year and catapulted the issue of inequality into political discussions.

Greater social and political consciousness has also seeped into offices. Companies such as Maybank, IBM and Rakuten are training their staff to address their possible personal biases, be it towards a single mother, disabled person, transgender colleague or foreigner. No one should repeat the faux pas that Italian luxury house Dolce & Gabbana committed in China.

On the heels of these developments, we ask various people how all of us can be better, do better, help the world, and be more gracious towards diversity and differences.

Diversity and inclusion have become increasingly important over the years, with issues such as race, class, age, gender, sexuality and disability appearing at the forefront of our political discourse. Meanwhile, the #MeToo movement that started in Oct 2017 has made it more urgent than ever to talk about women’s rights.

It’s a mistake to think that #MeToo and #TimesUp have had little consequence in Singapore. Over several months, playwright Ken Kwek spoke to 100 women and men about sexual harassment. He says: “Sexism and sexual harassment is a pretty widespread problem in Singapore. But the culture here is generally conservative and passive, so people deal with the problem in a different way from more outspoken cultures. The survivor’s shame becomes the family’s shame, and women are oftentimes discouraged from seeking redress.”

These conversations became the basis of his new play provocatively-titled This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls, set to be staged by theatre company Pangdemonium in May 2019. Its co-artistic director Adrian Pang says: “From the play, it is evident to us that there are so many untold stories, so many murky areas, so many complexities that urgently need to be discussed.”

As women’s organisation AWARE pointed out, its Sexual Assault Care Centre of women’s organisation AWARE saw a 79 percent spike in calls from survivors since the #MeToo movement began. And call numbers remain high today.

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to create a more inclusive Singapore. For instance, the annual Migrant Worker Poetry Competition has encouraged voices at the fringes – from domestic helpers to construction workers of different countries – to speak up about their lives. The inaugural Other Tongues literary festival this month sought perspectives of minority communities. And efforts such as having sign language interpreters, audio descriptions and spaces for wheelchairs in theatres help the disabled enjoy live performances.

Writer and activist Ng Yi-Sheng says: “It’s important to include and listen to all the people who make up Singapore, and realise that we have a richer and broader culture than we’re advertised to.”

Social media has made everyone less invisible to each other. Through tweets and posts, anyone can make her or his experience and identity known to the rest of the world. This melange of information can lead to cognitive chaos for almost anyone attempting to make sense of it all. But one can’t go wrong by becoming better listeners and showing greater trust, respect and generosity towards others – especially those very different from one.

As Ng puts it: “It’s important to remind ourselves that our personal experiences will always be limited, and that there’s something to learn from everyone.”

2. Travel with a conscience

How to see the world and keep it in the pristine condition that it should be? Increasingly, conscientious travellers are making sure that their actions at home and abroad are helping to protect the world.

Tony Adams, field and sustainability director of andBeyond, a luxury experiential travel company, offers some tips to think about when planning your next holiday.

His first tip is to “choose a travel operator that doesn’t see sustainability and conservation as a passing fad. Responsible travel should not only positively impact the land and its wildlife, but also the people who live in and around wildlife areas.

“When considering a travel operator, ask about the lasting impact on local communities, as well as the flow of economic benefit to local communities.”

andBeyond has been a catalyst for positive change for 26 years in 66 communities adjacent to its land and marine operations in six African countries. In Botswana, for instance, andBeyond supports local vegetable and banana farms, as well as a producer of honey, cheese and preserves.

He advises one to “be aware of daily consumption not just when you’re travelling, but even more so after you’re back to your daily routine. We ask our guests for an increased awareness of daily consumption – especially plastics – once they are back at home.”

Speaking of plastics, an increasing number of hotels are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to the war against it.

At Awei Pila resort, in Mergui Archipelago off the far south coast of Myanmar, there is nothing plastic in the villas. Its resident marine biologist Marcelo Guimaraes says his goal is to reduce single-use plastic as much as possible at the resort. The shower caps are made of starch, and the shampoo and body lotions are contained in glass bottles.The only plastic item in the villas is the cap on the toothpaste tubes. But the resort is finding a way to replace that soon and be 100 percent plastic-free.

According to Earth Day Network, the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, Vietnam is the fourth-highest country to generate plastic waste. Paradise Cruises, one of Halong Bay’s leading luxury cruise providers, has introduced a program to tackle the scourge of plastic, banning plastic straws from all seven of its luxury cruise ships and saving an estimated 36,000 straws annually. The group aims to eliminate all disposable plastics on its cruises by the end of this year.

“As plastic takes about 200 years to decompose, it poses a great threat to our oceans and right here in Halong Bay,” says Edgar Cayanan, general manager of Paradise Cruises. “A staggering amount is thrown into the water every single day and without action, nothing changes.

“And things have absolutely got to change.”

3. Ethical eating

Not everyone is prepared to go vegan and eat ethically. But there are a few simple ways to kickstart a dining habit that minimises harm to animals and environment:

Support responsible F&B establishments

Manda Foo, co-author of Food Matters, a book on food sources, calls on consumers to “support places that have vegetarian-friendly menus, and use local and seasonal produce”.

Bollywood Veggies organic farm and restaurant in Kranji, for one, uses kangkong and spinach obtained from neighbouring farms as well as its own. Grocery store Little Farms has four outlets in central locations offering high-quality produce sourced responsibly, such as ethically-farmed fresh salmon, and hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken. Ryan’s Grocery at Binjai Park offers a curated selection of organic produce.

Dashel Leong, who runs operations at juice cleansing shop HICJUICE, says consumers should also appreciate the “realistic” efforts made by small businesses. At HICJUICE, reusable cooler bags are used instead of carton boxes. Glass bottles can be recycled by customers or returned for a small rebate – even though the logistical cost of reusing the bottles for HICJUICE are higher than the rebates.

Reduce waste

Ivy Singh, owner of Bollywood Veggies, says food waste is strictly a no-no. Cooked too much? Put leftovers in the fridge to be eaten another time. Ordered too much at a restaurant? Prep containers to take food home. “I don’t even throw away a peanut. If I drop it, I blow on it and eat it,” she says.

Alternatively, get a compost bin and give homemade compost to community gardens. The produce at Bollywood Veggies is sustainably farmed. Compost bins dot the area, so parts of the plants around the farm that are cut but not used are left to decompose before they are used as natural fertilisers, replacing the use of chemical alternatives.

“We grow what grows, as God intended,” says Mrs Singh. Leftover chicken wings and bones from the customers’ plates at Bollywood Veggies are given to the dogs at Mrs Singh’s farm, while rice is fed to fish and chickens.

Share food with neighbours

Daniel Tay is one of two people heading a local food rescue mission, SG Food Rescue. In 2017, he tried an experiment: He asked his neighbours for food they were going to throw away. The food was often anything but rotten: It could be food cooked in excess, food past its expiry date, or food they just weren’t eating.

“I told them that I could use that food, and they started to give me so much food that I didn’t need to buy anymore,” he says. “By sharing food, you will find yourself building closer ties with your neighbours.” It becomes less socially awkward if you also share what you have in return.

Mr Tan invites people to participate in various SG Food Rescue activities. For instance, edible but unsellable food from supermarkets on the verge of being thrown away are often “rescued” and redistributed to charity organisations.

4. Sensible shopping

Here are three smart purchases that cut back on waste and help the environment:

Eco-friendly furniture

Buy furniture made with processes that maximise the material used. This doesn’t mean “maximising” opportunities without regard for the environment, like chopping down an entire forest just because it’s there. Rather, this means capitalising on every part of a tree that has already been cut down, so that other parts of the tree won’t go to waste.

A good example is furniture store Journey East’s d-Bodhi collection of furniture made of teak wood reclaimed from old buildings in Indonesia. “Each part of the building is systematically dismantled,” says Terence Teh, marketing manager at Journey East. No wood gets left behind: the larger planks can be made into dining tables and cabinets, while the smaller beams are used for “accessories” such as ladders.

Andrew Tan, owner of Japanese furniture and lifestyle store atomi suggests buying furniture using Hiba wood, which comes from the Aomori Hiba, a tree native to Japan known for its antibacterial and insect-repellent qualities. Indeed, even the branches that are not building material are compressed into powder and used as dehumidifying agents.

Another tip is to find furniture that has been obtained sustainably. atomi works with Oak Village, a Japanese woodcrafts company that creates products that last the same number of years the tree itself lived.

Mr Tan recommends researching where the furniture retailer obtains their raw materials, understanding their production methods, and looking for FSC certification which shows that the wood is sourced from responsibly managed forests.

Paint without the pain

New Year, new wall colours for the home? Anyone who has painted their home knows that the fumes can be an assault on the nose.

Now there is a wall finishing that touts itself as Singapore’s first natural paint, and it has properties that include being odour-free, anti-bacterial, mould-proof, fire-retardant and air-purifying. The main ingredient in the newly launched Purion Wall brand of wall finishing is an organic material called diatomite, the naturally occurring fossilized remains of diatoms, which are a type of algae.

Diatomite is harvested from the seabed and the fossils are ground into a fine powder, before it is processed into paint. The properties which make diatomite valuable include low density, high porosity, insulating properties, absorptive capacity, brightness, and high silica content.

All that may sound Greek, but all consumers need to know is that the properties of the diatom minerals contain oxidisers that attract, trap, and then oxidise the negatively charged viruses, bacteria, mould and spores – making the paint finish anti-bacterial and mould-proof.

Unlike other traditional indoor architecture and painted walls that release harmful gases such as formaldehyde and benzene, Purion Wall does not release any form of harmful emissions due to the diatom minerals it is composed of.

BYOC (or bring your own container)

Florence Tay, the co-founder of UnPackt, Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store at Jalan Kuras in Upper Thomson, says minimising waste does not have to be a huge commitment; it can be as easy as buying products without packaging, which often ends up in the bin anyway.

At her no-frills store, customers bring their own reusable containers to store their groceries, and pay by weight for the number of staples such as grains, pastas and legumes they buy.

Over at lifestyle store, The Social Space in Chinatown, shoppers can refill household items such as laundry detergent, multipurpose cleaners, soaps and shampoo by bringing their own reusable bottles.

To help make that switch to reusable bottles, straws and other products, check out online show Your Sustainable Store. Founder Dawn Chen, who never leaves home without her trusty reusable glass bottle, started the shop when she couldn’t find products to meet her green living needs. Besides glass bottles, and bamboo takeaway cups, the store also retails beeswax wraps and bamboo cutlery that are more environmentally than plastic ones.

“Focus more on reducing and less on recycling,” says Ms Chen. “Many people tell me they are not harming the environment because they recycle single-use items after use. But the fact is we are producing too much waste to be able to recycle our way out of it.”