The Pace­set­ter

When it comes to sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, Es­ther An bucks the trend and sets prece­dents.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

While many of us now take our own shop­ping totes to the su­per­mar­ket, Es­ther An was one of the first to in­tro­duce re­cy­clable shop­ping bags to staff and key ten­ants of City De­vel­op­ments Lim­ited (CDL) over 20 years ago. “Peo­ple called me crazy. But, be­fore long, we be­came vi­sion­ar­ies,” re­calls CDL’s chief sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer.

She was only into her first year on the job when she spear­headed that move­ment. “Hu­man na­ture is against dras­tic change, so you have to find ways to en­gage peo­ple, and let them share your vi­sion and un­der­stand the rea­son be­hind it at a pace that is com­fort­able.”

Born and raised in Hong Kong, An was first hired by CDL to set up its pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment 23 years ago. But a con­ver­sa­tion with then boss and men­tor, the late Kwek Leng Joo, changed that. “Dur­ing the in­ter­view, he asked for my im­pres­sion of the build­ing sec­tor. I told him that there seemed to be quite a bit of neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact be­fore con­struc­tion. He liked what I said and we nat­u­rally came into this ethos of con­serv­ing as we con­structed.

“He was the moun­tain be­hind me. I can dream up a lot of ideas to go green and en­gage the com­mu­nity, but, if the top lead­ers aren’t sup­port­ive, I can’t drive change.”

In 2002, An ini­ti­ated Project: Eco-Of­fice, in part­ner­ship with Sin­ga­pore En­vi­ron­ment Coun­cil. It aimed to cre­ate aware­ness among of­fice work­ers to con­serve en­ergy and re­sources at work, and has since reached out to thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als be­yond CDL’s ten­ants, in pub­lic and pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions.

An’s pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment started with her en­joy­ment of na­ture when she was young. In fact, her first job was to pro­mote the Clean & Green cam­paign in Hong Kong. Fol­low­ing that, she was in­spired to cre­ate in­no­va­tive com­mu­nity and youth pro­grammes that aim to raise eco-con­scious­ness among the young. In 2013, for ex­am­ple, she over­saw the devel­op­ment of the world’s first green li­brary at Sin­ga­pore’s Cen­tral Pub­lic Li­brary. Named My Tree­house, its canopy is made from over 3,000 re­cy­cled plas­tic bot­tles.

“Ev­ery lit­tle bit counts,” she says. “No com­pany or or­gan­i­sa­tion can save the world alone.” Yet, her com­pany has played an im­por­tant role in this vast equa­tion, push­ing for sus­tain­able de­sign and prac­tices in its de­vel­op­ments. CDL holds the record, for ex­am­ple, for the largest use in Sin­ga­pore of pre­fab­ri­cated pre­fin­ished vol­u­met­ric con­struc­tion (PPVC), a Lego-like mod­u­lar sys­tem that is said to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and safety, while de­creas­ing noise and dust pol­lu­tion, on con­struc­tion sites. “Sin­ga­pore Land Au­thor­ity now re­quires quite a few sites to adopt PPVC,” says An, who is in her 50s.

This Septem­ber, she be­came the first Sin­ga­porean to re­ceive the UN SDG Pi­o­neer Award, which recog­nises in­di­vid­u­als who have tack­led sus­tain­able devel­op­ment is­sues, while con­tribut­ing to busi­ness suc­cess.

Still, be­ing one of the few women in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try has its chal­lenges. So she is us­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence to help other women via Women4Green, Sin­ga­pore’s first sus­tain­abil­ity net­work for women. “We have to em­power women and give them big­ger voices,” she says. “Women are the key de­ci­sion mak­ers for pro­cure­ment. We want to ed­u­cate and em­power them to drive the green agenda and sus­tain­able life­styles at work, home and for en­ter­tain­ment.”

She is also spread­ing her pas­sion on­line and has be­come quite the so­cial me­dia dar­ling. “I’m not chas­ing ‘Likes’, but those 18,000 views show me that I’m reach­ing out,” says An, who also sup­ports Feed­ing The 5000, a cam­paign that raises aware­ness of food wastage. “The sat­is­fac­tion comes when I can in­flu­ence the young. In fact, we need to step up be­cause it’s get­ting more ur­gent.”

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