Cover Steven Ko, CEO and founder, of O'right, champions carbon neutrality in his global hair and skin care company. (Photo by O'right)

To help restore the planet, global beauty brand O’right enshrines carbon neutrality in everything

Steven Ko, CEO and founder of O’right, gets up from his chair and disappears from view. He picks up his laptop and then points its camera to the wall, where a map with a large island is revealed, the words “Melting Greenland” emblazoned across it.

This year, for O’right's 20th anniversary, the CEO says there will be no cake or party. Instead, Ko, an Asia’s Most Influential honouree, shares exclusively with Tatler his alternative plan to mark the milestone: The Taiwanese hair and skin care company is focusing its energies on filming a documentary about the urgency of climate change. 

 

In August 2021, rain fell on Greenland’s summit for the first time on record, an alarming phenomenon that was preceded by significant ice melt events. Ko, with the help of an interpreter, paints the consequences if people don’t act now: If the ice in Greenland melts, sea levels will rise sharply, submerging major cities around the world.

The CEO travels to the island country this month, joining influential people from the climate change community to complete the project and, if all goes well, the documentary will be released in November.

Achieving Carbon Neutrality

The impetus to restore the planet can be traced to personal tragedy. In 2002, Ko's parents succumbed to kidney disease and cancer, illnesses that he attributes to “something in the environment.” With this in mind, he set a focus for the company—that it be “good for the environment and good for the society.” He was determined to make O’right truly and fully green with products and processes that are not only devoid of harmful chemicals but also ecologically sustainable.

 

“Only reducing and managing carbon dioxide can bring a change to what we are facing in the environment.”
Steven Ko

In 2020, O’right achieved carbon neutrality across its operations and in 77 of its products. Its status as one of the leading sustainable companies in the world has been certified by the British Standards Institution (BSI) and Standard Global Services (SGS), among a number of other certifying bodies.

“Only reducing and managing carbon dioxide can bring a change to what we are facing in the environment nowadays. That is, we have to move towards zero carbon,” Ko says, citing the guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which identified carbon neutrality as the core principle of sustainability. O’right therefore enshrines carbon neutrality in everything, from its clean beauty products and Earth-friendly packaging to its sustainable operations and Green Headquarters in Taoyuan City.

Creating the Greenest Headquarters

In O'Right's sustainable HQ everything—power, water, light, and more—have been taken into account. The complex generates green energy from wind turbines and solar panels, which have altogether produced 454,029 kWh since their installation. “In the green building, we have zero waste—all our water is reclaimed…,” adds Ko. To conserve water, rainwater is collected while pre-production wastewater is purified, and then these are recycled for various uses, including cleaning and supplying water to the building's fish ponds. 

Green practices are weaved into the daily rhythm of work, too, from using recycled paper for informal documents to switching off electricity via dedicated power switches at each desk. There are even more green details—eco towels, an organic vanilla garden that is home to a rare orchid—but the most impressive practice is how the low-carbon office manages temperature. 

“We don't have to switch on the air conditioner for almost a year,” says the CEO, adding that it is only needed for 28 to 30 days. Some of the features that keep spaces cool are overhanging eaves that guard against the sun and a three-storey water feature that uses rainwater collected from the roof. 

Read more: Steven Ko's full profile on Asia's Most Influential list

Says Ko, “During the design of the green building, we put in mind the wind direction, the light direction. We put all these in mind so that we receive the best from what nature gave us.” According to its sustainability report in 2020, the company has saved up to 45,4029 kWh and reduced 238,283 kg of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to planting 21,794 20-year-old trees.

Making Sustainability Viable

Sustainability comes at a price. Championing green practices and products requires more time and labour, not to mention specialised materials, all of which translate to increased costs. How does the CEO reconcile his mission to heal the planet with the bottom line? “We are focusing on what we do… We revolutionise ourselves. We revolutionise our product.” O’right stays the course, creating zero-carbon products for consumers and “making something of high acceptance in the community.”

The CEO now shows the slim brown bottle of his favourite product, O'Right Caffeine Shampoo. The best seller (if it’s out of stock, the company gets complaints, he says), follows the zero-waste philosophy. The product is made from materials normally discarded in coffee production: The shampoo's formula is derived from coffee husks, while the biodegradable bottle made from coffee grounds.  “After you use the shampoo, you bury this bottle in the ground,” Ko says. And after a year, a seed packet embedded at the bottom of the bottle may grow into a coffee tree, completing the cycle.

O’right also popularised a catchphrase that made people think: “What does the river expect from you?” This led consumers to realise how their shampoo ends up in bodies of water like rivers and oceans—the same water which hosts the fish that end up on the dinner table. “So this slogan impacted a lot of people,” says Ko.

Heading in the Right Direction

This ties neatly to another point from Ko: Running a green business is viable because people want green products. “People are more concerned—they're more green-conscious nowadays,” he says. 

Staying true to their principles is paying off. Ko acknowledges how the pandemic has impacted everyone, including businesses, which are still feeling the pinch today. But O’right, he reports, is doing well thanks to the support of fans who “have a really strong determination to use these products.” For him, the global upheaval has only made people more mindful about how they treat the planet.

Ko considers being green or living in harmony with the Earth as in fashion. This is what consumers tell him, and he is more than happy to fulfil their demand for a mindful lifestyle. “It’s what we have to do nowadays,” he says. “We have to support the environment, the sustainable issue. This is the right direction we have to move towards.”


Steven Ko is an Asia’s Most Influential 2021 honouree from Taiwan. Discover the changemakers, industry titans, and powerful individuals who are making a positive impact on the region in the Asia’s Most Influential list from Tatler.

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