Plas­tic can be Fan­tas­tic His ur­ban land­scap­ing com­pany takes the oft- vil­i­fied ma­te­rial and turns it into a cred­i­ble ecofriendly so­lu­tion.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

For Alan Lee, mak­ing the tran­si­tion from salaried em­ployee to en­tre­pre­neur 33 years ago was a mat­ter of life and death. As the gen­eral man­ager of a marine and fish­ery com­pany in the ’80s, he put his life on the line dur­ing work trips to places like So­ma­lia, South Ye­men, Rus­sia and post­war Viet­nam.

“Once, we were stopped by So­mali guards with AK- 47s as we drove past a road­block in the desert. Later, we were told that we were lucky I was mis­taken for a main­land Chi­nese or they would have shot us on the spot,” says Lee, now 67. At the time, the Chi­nese were viewed favourably as they pro­vided aid to the coun­try, he ex­plains.

Four years into the job, Lee, who has a bach­e­lor’s in en­gi­neer­ing in naval ar­chi­tec­ture from the Univer­sity of New South Wales in Aus­tralia, de­cided he had had enough close shaves. Through his work in the fish­ery busi­ness, he be­came fa­mil­iar with the pe­tro­leum in­dus­try and saw the op­por­tu­nity to start his own busi­ness in sup­ply­ing wa­ter­proof coat­ing de­rived from pe­tro­leum to con­struc­tion projects.

He founded Elmich in 1985 and went on to de­sign re­cy­cled plas­tic prod­ucts such as storm-wa­ter tanks and pedestals for board­walks, as well as for green walls and roofs of build­ings. “Re­cy­cled plas­tics are cheaper than vir­gin plas­tics,” he says of his choice of ma­te­rial. “More im­por­tantly, us­ing re­cy­cled plas­tics saves a huge amount of en­ergy and wa­ter, and re­duces green­house gas emis­sions, which are con­se­quences of man­u­fac­tur­ing vir­gin plas­tics.”

To­day, Elmich is a lead­ing global provider of eco-friendly ur­ban land­scap­ing, wa­ter­proofi ng, drainage, green roofs and storm wa­ter man­age­ment so­lu­tions. The en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits in­clude ur­ban green­ing, the re­use of rain­wa­ter, and min­imis­ing storm wa­ter runoff that con­trib­utes to ero­sion and the de­posit­ing of harm­ful sed­i­ments into wa­ter bod­ies. Last year, it saved 25,500 cu­bic me­tres of landfi ll space by re­cy­cling plas­tics that were des­ig­nated as waste.

Elmich’s projects in­clude South- east Asia’s largest green roof at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios in Sen­tosa and the world’s largest green wall project at ITE Cen­tral Cam­pus. Glob­ally, Elmich has sup­plied over 7 mil­lion sq m of drainage cells for green roofs, in­clud­ing those at Stan­ford Univer­sity School of Medicine’s carpark in Cal­i­for­nia.

His suc­cess is hard-earned. When he started out, he did not draw a salary for three years. “I was for­tu­nate my wife was work­ing as a mer­chant banker so she could sup­port me. I was a house hus­band but didn’t take care of the house,” he quips.

Even though the Sin­ga­pore-based com­pany has gained in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and has of­fices in Malaysia, Aus­tralia, Switzer­land, Ger­many, Aus­tria and the United States, Lee laments that some peo­ple in Sin­ga­pore still view prod­ucts by a home-grown brand as be­ing in­fe­rior to those by a for­eign brand. To prove crit­ics wrong, he fo­cuses on in­no­vat­ing ex­ist­ing of­fer­ings to stay ahead of the curve. The com­pany spends 5 per cent of its turnover – rev­enue in 2016 was $18 mil­lion – on R&D and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty ex­penses. To date, it holds over 130 patents. Re­cently, the com­pany de­vel­oped a type of plas­tic he be­lieves of­fers the high­est level of fi re-re­sis­tance among plas­tics.

“I’m a very com­pet­i­tive per­son. Maybe that’s why I don’t play golf, as it’s a game where you com­pete against your­self. I pre­fer Scrab­ble or mahjong,” he says. “I al­ways have ideas for im­prove­ment and I will can­ni­balise my own mar­ket to come up with some­thing new; I don’t want to wait for my com­peti­tors to come up with it.”

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