HEAL THE WORLD
Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF Singapore, tells Joanna Lee more about IntotheWild:AnImmersiveVirtualAdventure, the interactive conservation exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, and how art and science can come together to help conserve the environment.
How did you first get started in WWF Singapore?
After a 25-year career in strategic communications and leadership management, I joined WWF in 2011 after being in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) space for seven years. I was previously with World Vision, an international humanitarian organisation, where I led the fundraising, corporate marketing and communications. Against a backdrop of complex environmental challenges and increased pressure on natural resources, my current work with WWF Singapore has been a great opportunity to work with stakeholders such as governments, corporates and communities, and build a more sustainable future for Singapore and this region.
What are the motivations that made you decide to pursue environmental conservation professionally?
WWF is about harnessing the power of the people to enable change to happen across policies and legislation. I particularly liked the ability of NGOs like WWF being enablers to catalyst change for the better of mankind by empowering every individual to do their part. Conservation or environmental consciousness in Asia is probably furthest from the minds of people living in this part of the world. Unless you are constantly exposed to the science that underpins the impact that humans have on our planet’s resources, most of us have no idea that we are living on credit of the Earth’s natural resource. So, it is the urgency, the catastrophic consequences that mankind will face if we do not step up to reverse the impact of climate change and our footprint on the planet, that is the driving force that motivates me to the cause.
How do you think the Into the Wild: An Immersive
Virtual Adventure exhibition in the ArtScience Museum will impact the audience and the environment?
Most people have lived in an urban environment almost all our lives, a world where convenience is often prioritised over environmental considerations. In the pursuit of development, we have moved further and further away from nature. This also means that we are less aware of the environmental consequences of the choices we make,
from the things we buy to our daily habits. It is hard to make conscious choices for the environment if you are not aware of how it would impact us. Into the Wild harnesses technology to provide us with an opportunity to close the divide between our urbanised world and the natural environment. By allowing people to walk in the shoes of a ranger, it will build an appreciation of our rainforests and create a better understanding of how our daily actions impact the natural world.
What do you hope visitors will take away after visiting the exhibition?
This immersive experience not only recreates what really goes on in a typical rainforest – it also mirrors the threats that an actual Sumatran rainforest, Rimbang Baling, is facing today. Rimbang Baling is one of Sumatra’s last standing pristine rainforests and six times the size of Singapore. It is rich in biodiversity and an important habitat for the survival of the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger. However, encroachment is already happening in the outer areas of Rimbang Baling and 20 per cent of its forest area has already been lost to land clearing for plantations and logging. Into the Wild allows us to change this. By turning every individual into an active participant that cares for the protection of our forests, we want to harness the power of collective action to not just restore, but expand the rainforests and biodiversity of Rimbang Baling. Ultimately, the message at the heart of Into the Wild is about every individual and the change we can make if we come together to turn the wave of deforestation.
How did the idea of using virtual reality for Into the Wild come by?
WWF Singapore and Marina Bay Sands have built a strong working relationship across a range of sustainability initiatives. When the idea of an augmented realityenabled experience was first brought up, we saw it as an opportunity to elevate environmental awareness in an urban city like Singapore.
Do you think visual art is an effective medium to raise environmental awareness?
The augmental reality technology, as used in Into the Wild, for example, allows people to connect people to environments that they would otherwise not have access to, whether underwater in a coral reef or deep in the tropical rainforest. In doing so, it helps people to build an appreciation of the natural environment and develop empathy for it. The rapid spread of urbanisation across the world today is driving an even greater urgency to share such stories and experiences. Developments in visual media and technology have the potential to open up new dimensions of environmental appreciation and awareness like never before.
Do you think environmental conservation will stand in the way of modern technological advancement?
There is a huge opportunity to harness technological advancements to address some of the most complex environmental challenges we are grappling with today. Rimbang Baling is a good example. In recent years, improvements in technology have led to even more human encroachment into forest area that was previously inaccessible. Today, we are witnessing land being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations and by illegal loggers, putting critical wildlife habitat at risk. The Into the Wild experience taps into technology and provides us with an opportunity to reverse this. By helping people understand the situation that our rainforests are facing, we are also enabling them to do something by protecting and restoring our rainforests like Rimbang Baling. All they have to do is to log on to intothewild.sg and pledge their support for rainforests, and we will plant a tree in Rimbang Baling as a thank you gesture.
Are there any other current projects WWF is working on?
In Singapore, WWF works on a range of initiatives to address the conservation needs of forests, oceans, wildlife and climate change. Across these areas, our campaigns focus on how individuals can be the solution to environmental change through their daily lifestyle choices, from the brands they choose to buy, to the food products they consume. Currently, we are calling for people in Malaysia, Singapore and across Asia to go to the newly launched digital platform ‘Earth Hour Buddies’ and pick an environmental cause to stand for. Through this platform, we will match each individual with a buddy from another country with a shared cause, who will then take a similar action as well. This will bring together tens of thousands across Asia to drive positive change through environmental action.
What are some of the highlights and challenges that you have had?
Juggling certain conservation priorities of the work we do. Whether it is the last pristine forest, the last remaining coral reef or the last iconic species, we deal with pressing environmental issues on a daily basis with a small but highly passionate team at WWF Singapore.
WWF- Singapore has grown its supporter and donor base to more than 90,000, and established ourselves as the go-to international NGO on environmental and conservation issues key topics such as haze and deforestation, seafood, climate change, and illegal wildlife trade.
WWF Singapore’s Tan says the immersive exhibition Into the Wild (facing page) aims to build better appreciation of the rainforest.