Rubén Cortés

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Cover Story -

Di­rec­tor and Co-founder of Build for Tomorrow www.face­ build4tmr

‘Na­ture’ al­ways meant ‘fun’ for Rubén, who grew up around an­i­mals in Mex­ico City and looked for­ward to Satur­day for­est ex­cur­sions with his fam­ily. How­ever, things turned se­ri­ous when he en­tered univer­sity and stud­ied the ef­fects of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues on eco­nomic anal­y­sis and in­sur­ance poli­cies. Later, his move to Cam­bo­dia saw him con­fronting the re­al­ity of eco­nomic greed at the ex­pense of the en­vi­ron­ment and ques­tion­ing every­thing he had learned.

Af­ter a hop over to Malaysia, he stum­bled upon Wild Asia, one of the old­est so­cial enterprises in Malaysia ad­dress­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­ci­etal is­sues. In­stantly in­trigued, he made con­tact with founder Dr Reza Azmi and joined a team on a pub­lic sec­tor sus­tain­abil­ity con­sult­ing job.

“I learned a lot on the project and fi­nally got the chance to use my mar­ket­ing skills for some­thing I truly be­lieved in. Then I pro­posed to Dr Azmi that we should pro­mote what all these beau­ti­ful des­ti­na­tions in Malaysia were miss­ing: build­ings with low en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­prints,” he says.

Thus, Wild Asia’s Sus­tain­able Build­ing Ini­tia­tive be­came Build for Tomorrow, and Rubén threw him­self into his new­found vo­ca­tion. He and his in­ter­na­tional team help to ad­vise busi­ness own­ers on what they can do to make their build­ings more ef­fi­cient as well as launch­ing build­ing projects of their own.

As a so­cial en­ter­prise, Build for Tomorrow also cross-sub­sidises their ser­vices to de­liver affordable en­ergy, wa­ter and waste so­lu­tions for com­mu­nity projects. One of their most sig­nif­i­cant projects came to fruition in late 2016, when they com­pleted the first Earthship in Malaysia in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the lo­cal Te­muan com­mu­nity in Negeri Sem­bi­lan. To­gether, they trans­formed over 600 tires and thou­sands of cans and bot­tles into a com­pletely self­sus­tain­able build­ing.

It all sounds like a grand op­er­a­tion, but Rubén notes that the big­gest agents of change are ac­tu­ally us – the peo­ple. “Peo­ple com­plain about traf­fic, but imag­ine if the whole of Kuala Lumpur de­cided to start cy­cling tomorrow. Can you imag­ine all the emis­sions that we would cut down on and how much their health would im­prove? We can de­sign great build­ings and cities, but we also need to work with the peo­ple if you want to talk about sus­tain­abil­ity,” he says.

Be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, ac­cord­ing to Rubén, doesn’t have to mean big lifestyle changes. Fix­ing a leak­ing toi­let, us­ing shop­ping bags in­stead of plas­tic, boil­ing only the wa­ter you need for a cup of cof­fee in­stead of a whole jug, clean­ing out the dust from the back of your fridge – these ac­tions save en­ergy and wa­ter us­age, re­duc­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal toll and your bills at the same time.

To those who still think sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment is in­con­ve­nient or un­prof­itable, this is Rubén’s mes­sage: “You want to talk about in­con­ve­nience? Let’s con­tinue do­ing busi­ness as usual and when there are wars for wa­ter, eco­log­i­cal refugees, and oceans with no fish, then we will un­der­stand ‘in­con­ve­nient’. Sure, it takes change to get there, but there are only gains to be had. We have to stop blam­ing each other and get some big changes hap­pen­ing. We need to do it for the next gen­er­a­tions.” EL

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