Talking Points: The Future Of Sustainability

By Chong Seow Wei

Generation T hosted the inaugural Gen.T Table in Singapore. The first topic on the agenda? The most pressing issue of our age

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Sustainability is without doubt the most overused buzzword of the moment. In all the talk of environmental issues, which justifiably grab the attention, we tend to overlook the concept's other areas of impact: the sustainability of a business, social sustainability, and more. 

In a bid to go deeper, Generation T and CNA Luxury, a lifestyle brand from Channel News Asia, co-hosted the first-ever Gen.T Table, an intimate dinner featuring a panel discussion as part of the evening's programme, at Espa in Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa.

The dinner was attended by Generation T honourees and their guests, with the panel featuring two honourees and a member of the Tribe, and moderated by Channel News Asia's Glenda Chong.

The Panel

Pocket Sun
Gen.T honouree Pocket Sun is co-founder and managing partner of SoGal Ventures, Asia's first cross-border, female-led millennial venture capital firm.

Tan Szue Hann
Honouree Tan Szue Hann is the managing director of Miniwiz, an award-winning research, design and development firm that focuses on the circular economy. 

Pat Law
Tribe member Pat Law is the founder of social media agency Goodstuph.

Here are some of the evening's key takeaways.

1. Be future-ready

A priority of any business leader is to make sure that their company has a healthy profit margin year on year. But what about the long term? According to Pat Law, sustainable success is dependent on promoting a work culture that embraces curiosity, creativity, openness and failure.

“I had a client who was a leading force in the mobile phone market, before Apple was big," says Law. "I was in a meeting with them when Apple announced that it was coming up with a smartphone that didn't have a keypad—it was the iPhone. My clients laughed because they didn't think that Apple would make it big with this product." 

"When I think back, I realised that this was Apple thinking ahead of the crowd and daring to make a risky investment—and it paid off. For a business to be sustainable, leaders need to always want to find out what's next for their company and what they have to do to get there before anyone else.”

Above  The first Gen.T Table featured a vibrant panel discussion featuring honourees Pocket Sun and Tan Szue Hann, as well as Tribe member Pat Law. (Video: CNA Luxury)

2. The death of CSR

According to a Nielsen report, 73 percent of Millennials around the world are willing to pay more for sustainably produced goods and services. The conscious consumer choices of this generation are driving brands to rethink their own attitudes to environmental and social impact. 

According to Pocket Sun, this existing trend will soon go even further, as companies transition from seeing sustainability as a necessary marketing expense to become a fundamental part of their business. 

"The next generation of brands will see environmental and social sustainability almost as a default option," says Sun. "I feel the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will eventually cease to exist as this concept will no longer be something that's an extra part of what you do as a company, but part of who you are.”

3. Sustainability isn't antithetical to profit

According to Tan Szue Hann, sustainable policies don't have to be detrimental to the bottom line. In fact, they can help boost profit margins. 

“As Pocket said, sustainability goes beyond CSR. Everyone assumes that sustainability is about cultural values, like how many trees you want to hug or how much of the planet you want to save, and they also think that these values don't jive with the economic needs of a business."

"I believe it is possible for a company to reap monetary rewards when it invests in more sustainable or greener practices. For example, a company can consider obtaining materials directly from sustainable sources, or cut down the excesses in its supply chain. These changes will allow the company to economise, which translates into cost savings."

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Above  The panel. From left to right: Pocket Sun, Tan Szue Hann, Pat Law and moderator Glenda Chong

4. Don't be sustainable for the sake of it

"The longevity of a business is dependent on its ability to create new products that consumers [want and keep coming back for]," says Tan.

"The only way to do this is to maintain high levels of design and quality. It's got to be a [well-thought-out] product that makes people want to come back for more. For example, a farmer's fish could be sustainably farmed, but if it doesn't taste good then no one’s going to come back for it."

"In addition to this, a product has to answer a need or a want. Take architecture as an example. Questions potential customers might ask include, 'Is its design going to stand the test of time?" "Will it be a nice place to live?" All this needs to be addressed before a company can start talking about sustainability."

5. Nurture conscious thinkers from a young age

As environmental concerns become increasingly pressing, all the panellists agree we need to start teaching the next generation early.

“Children typically take everything as the truth and the absolute truth, so the way we talk about sustainability to them is really important," says Tan.

"I think it's a great idea to introduce them to issues such as climate change and global waste in a simplified form; to teach them what their role is on the planet. By doing this, you aren't necessarily nurturing tree huggers or environmentalists, but you're definitely going to develop children who will grow up thinking about everything that they consume and how they can be part of the whole process of creating a better world."

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