Lean and Green

This en­tre­pre­neur has turned what oth­ers con­sider a sun­set in­dus­try into a multi- mil­lion busi­ness that also min­imises wastage.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

Green is the new black. From re­fus­ing to use, or of­fer, plas­tic straws to us­ing one’s own re­us­able con­tain­ers for take­away food and bev­er­ages, it’s be­come cool to be eco-friendly in re­cent years. While ev­ery ef­fort helps in rais­ing aware­ness, Su­san Chong won­ders if some prac­tices are truly ef­fec­tive.

“Dur­ing Earth Hour, kids turn off the com­puter for one hour but, af­ter that, what do they do? Is it ef­fec­tive? Nowa­days, there are pa­per straws to re­place plas­tic, but are they made from sus­tain­able pa­per? Some pa­per straws are printed with so much ink,” says the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Green­pac.

In­stead, it is more mean­ing­ful to con­sider the en­tire life cy­cle of an item, from the source of the ma­te­rial to how it is dis­posed of, be­fore con­sid­er­ing one’s in­ter­ven­tion, she of­fers. Her in­sight is rooted in years of ex­pe­ri­ence. When she founded Green­pac in 2002, it was the first com­pany in Sin­ga­pore to of­fer eco-friendly pack­ag­ing that could be cus­tomised to clients’ needs. She saw a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity while help­ing out at her in-laws’ tra­di­tional pack­ag­ing busi­ness, where she no­ticed the ex­ces­sive­ness of in­dus­trial pack­ag­ing.

“To me, it is not rocket sci­ence but about be­ing prac­ti­cal,” says Chong, who’s in her 40s. “We use less ma­te­rial, thus low­er­ing cost. There are fewer chal­lenges in dis­pos­ing of them too. We pro­duce re­us­able, re­turn­able pack­ag­ing and use sus­tain­able re­sources such as wood from For­est Stew­ard­ship cer­ti­fied forests, (which are re­spon­si­bly man­aged ac­cord­ing to set eco­log­i­cal stan­dards).”

The com­pany, which counts For­tune 500 com­pa­nies among its clients, sup­plies to a range of in­dus­tries in­clud­ing life sciences, semi-con­duc­tor, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, aero­space and de­fence. Its suite of pack­ag­ing, which in­cludes that for cold chain ship­ping with­out the need to use dry ice, can of­fer sav­ings of up to 70 per cent over tra­di­tional meth­ods. “Cus­tomers use our so­lu­tions for the sav­ings and be­ing green is a bonus,” she says.

From a one-woman start-up with a mi­croloan of $30,000 in 2002, Chong to­day em­ploys over 50 staff. The com­pany records a com­pound an­nual growth of 20 per cent year on year. It has racked up awards for its in­no­va­tion and qual­ity in pack­ag­ing, in­clud­ing the World­star Pack­ag­ing award, Asia Star award and Sin­ga­pore Pack­ag­ing Star award.

The Green­pac of­fice build­ing in Tuas is also a study in eco-friendly de­sign. Built with so­lar pan­els and glass win­dows that fil­ter out ul­tra-vi­o­let rays, with a rooftop gar­den where em­ploy­ees grow plants and herbs to cook, it is Sin­ga­pore’s first in­dus­trial com­plex to be Green Mark Gold-cer­ti­fied.

Chong’s suc­cess feels even sweeter be­cause of the num­ber of de­trac­tors she had at the start. She re­calls: “When I told peo­ple about my vi­sion, they would pour cold wa­ter and say ( pack­ag­ing) was a sun­set in­dus­try. But to me, there is no sun­set mind­set. You have to con­stantly rein­vent and reengi­neer.”

Her grit, she says, came from her mother. She had a priv­i­leged child­hood with three sib­lings in Malaysia un­til her prop­erty de­vel­oper fa­ther’s busi­ness went bust when she was 12. “My mother went from be­ing a taitai who had helpers and drivers, to noth­ing,” Chong re­calls. “She went back to work by sell­ing kinder­garten books out of her car. From her, I learnt how to pick my­self up from fail­ure.”

To help out, she left school and be­gan work­ing in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try as a teenager. By 19, she had saved up enough money to buy her mother a RM25,000 house in Alor Se­tar. An im­pres­sive feat, but one that’s par for the course for this come­back kid. She says: “I have al­ways been very pos­i­tive. When look­ing at a half-filled glass, peo­ple miss the point that it is re­fill­able.”

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