Community Profiles

Snippets of Environmental Conversations on the Island by students in the Environmental Studies programme


 

Green Future Solutions: An Interview with CEO, Eugene Tay

By budding environmentalists (from left) Rachel Lim, Marcus Koe, Andrew Lai, Mariel Chee and Dominic Choa, with Mr Eugene Tay (far right), CEO of Green Future Solutions.

December 2015

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Park Royal Hotel, Pickering … modelled after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

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We sat in the lobby of Park Royal Hotel, awaiting Mr Eugene Tay, CEO of Green Future Solutions. The hotel’s lush, green facade reminded us of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. A fitting office space for Green Future Solutions, we thought.

He must be quite a big shot. Luckily, Rachel was wearing heels.

When he arrived, Eugene appeared nothing like the big shot we imagined. Giving each of us a warm handshake, he explained that he was here to attend the NEA EcoFriend Awards ceremony, an award which he had the honour of receiving the previous year. Instead, he and his seven staff at Green Future Solutions occupy a modest office at Kaki Bukit. Despite the small size of his organisation, we soon realised that Eugene’s company plays a major role in transforming the corporate landscape through the introduction of more sustainable, efficient and responsible business practices.

Since 2007, Green Future Solutions has served to aid companies in the execution and management of environmentally sustainable operations. Eugene founded Green Future Solutions, an environmental consultancy firm, after completing his masters in Civil and Environmental Engineering. At that time, he realised that companies interested in adopting environmentally friendly operations had to consult and deal with multiple agencies (eg. NEA, PUB and etc) before they could come up with new initiatives towards ‘going green’. Green Future Solutions was thus conceived as the single consultancy firm that would streamline the process for companies to undertake environmentally sustainable operations.

 

On motivations behind ‘going green’

As Eugene shared more about these companies, we realised that most were motivated towards adopting more environmentally sustainable practices because of economic imperatives. The downside of not ‘going green’ includes environmental risks or costs that could potentially create liabilities in their operations (mismanagement of toxic waste could degrade certain natural resources that are essential in their products). Other companies ‘go green’ for baser reasons: green branding. Like what we read about in Sustainababble[1], a new demographic of ‘green’ consumers means that ‘green branding’ could potentially attract a larger and more eco-conscious consumer base. Despite the economic focus behind these initiatives, Eugene did not seem dampened by this seeming lack of genuine care for the environment. “Eventually, they are reducing their environmental effect,” he reasoned, and that for him remains one of Green Future Solution’s principal goals.

 

On Waste Management- “Far and Away”

While Eugene acknowledged the gradually changing narrative of greater public awareness concerning environmental issues, he remained concerned about the evident gap that exists between awareness and action amongst Singaporeans. He felt that the general public on still being heavily reliant on the government in leading and organising green initiatives. The problem, he felt, is that government agencies like the NEA “aren’t being paid to innovate”, which is why it remains crucial for the private sector to step in and provide better solutions to existing environmental problems.

Here, Eugene clearly walks the talk. Apart from his commitment to Green Future Solutions, Eugene is also the founder of ZeroWasteSG, a non-profit organisation dedicated towards eliminating the concept of waste. “When Singaporeans throw away stuff, they think the stuff goes to this magical place called ‘Away’”, he mused. He pointed at Andrew’s iPhone lying on the table. “See these phones,” he said, “every year they come up with a new one. So people buy and throw and fill up this magical place ‘Away’. But now there’s this thing called the Fairphone, where you can remove modular parts and upgrade without throwing the whole thing Away.” A firm advocate for the circular economy, Eugene envisions these measures as the most viable technological means towards completely eliminating waste in the future.

 

On Changing the Narrative

“Technology is never the solution, it is the enabler of the solution”, Eugene went on to say. He wanted technology to be able to change what he termed as “our narrative”. Eugene lamented about how we often forget that our current consumer-centric narrative coming out of WWII is fairly new. “The story we tell ourselves [is] to study, work, earn money, buy stuff that we want, get married, have kids. The kids grow up, they work, earn money, and buy stuff that they want”, he jibed. We laugh at how ridiculous it sounds, yet we all recognise that this narrative has to change. Our lives need to revolve around something other than consumption.  “Economy is a subset of society. Society is a subset of the environment. People don’t realise that”, he added. On a brighter note, Eugene does see the possibility of potentially changing the dominant pattern of excessive consumption through the concept of a sharing economy[2].  Eugene currently spearheads Singapore’s Sharing Economy Association, which espouses an economic model of sharing physical and non-physical resources through technology and social networks. As opposed to the constant purchase of new items, a sharing economy allows room for borrowing or renting out items and even repairing old items through avenues like Repair Kopitiam. While it isn’t the perfect means to change the consumer-centric narrative, it remains a significant step forward in changing our ingrained patterns of consumption.

 

On being the Chosen Generation

“Unfortunately”, Eugene said, “change will not happen in my lifetime. You are the generation we’ve been waiting for.” Eugene is vehemently supportive of the role that education plays in enabling change. He and a few other partners built up the Sustainability Mentorship Programme for the very purpose of training up this ‘chosen’ generation. He commended us for already starting on that journey, being students of an introduction to Environmental Studies class and coming here to speak with him. However, Eugene warned us sternly about the cost of being an environmentalist, “I always post environmental stuff on Facebook, then my friends ‘unfriend’ me.” Wanting some actual useful advice, we quizzed him about what young people like us should be doing. Quoting from the matrix, he quipped, “I can only show you the door, but you have to enter into it yourself.”

[1] Sustainababble: A cacophonous profusion of uses of ‘sustainable’ to mean environmentally-friendly to cool (Engelman, 2013).

[2] In his speech, Minister Iswaran noted that businesses must take into account the growing popularity of the sharing economy