Entries in sustainable (11)


Not Business As Usual

By Lira Low Roberts

Together with AkzoNobel Decorative Paints and the Asia Centre of Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy - NUS, Qi recently hosted a well-attended forum at the National University of Singapore Business School on 19 August 2011.

With Kristine as the moderator of the two and a half hour session, Qi brought together AkzoNobel's Tex Gunning (Member of the Board of Management and the Executive Committee Responsible for Decorative Paints), Jeremy Rowe (Managing Director, South East Asia & the Pacific), Antonio Meloto (Founder of Filipino NGO Gawad Kalinga) and Prof. Albert Teo (NUS Business School) for a discussion on Sustainable Practices For Our Future: Not Business As Usual.

The Hon Sui Sen Auditorium was packed out by noon when Tex Gunning opened the discussion with a short trailer on Dulux's "Let's Color" campaign around the world. Following this Tex shared what AkzoNobel is doing to colour our world - through service to others, derived from a sense of passion in one's work. Tex has been the inspirational driving force behind employee retreats and trips to places where AkzoNobel has offered their assistance in development. Bringing colour to communities in need has brightened up moods, given residents new hope, and changed perspectives of what the communities can become.

Tex Gunning speaking

Jeremy Rowe picked up where Tex left off by discussing the work that AkzoNobel has done for Singaporean communities, most notably having gathered their employees for a painting project at the Thye Hua Kwan Hospital in Ang Mo Kio, which specialises in rehabilitation. Patients undergoing physiotherapy in rehabilitation efforts now have a colourful reason to smile about, and staff at the hospital face a very different environment when they start work each day.

Jeremy Rowe speaking

Next up to the stage was the charismatic founder of Gawad Kalinga, a Filipino NGO that is both fiercely proud of its heritage, as well as its mission to lift Filipinos out of poverty through national development, starting with the slums of rural areas. Qi 2010 speaker Antonio Meloto has gone from transforming one massive slum, Bagong Silang, to dozens of others around the Philippines, into new fresh communities with improved housing, sanitation, education, employment and most importantly, dignity. Antonio spoke about these model communities, some of which received help from AkzoNobel through the painting of their walls with an innovative paint that actually cleans the air! Whole walls become giant air filters. A baffling idea whose innovation doesn't fail to impress and attract attention.

Antonio Meloto speaking

And for both parties, this represents Business Not As Usual. Business doesn't just have to be about the profit margins of endless ceilings and routine products. Business can and should be about filling the needs of our present and future, executed with a real heart for change where everybody benefits from the use of a product.

Not to be outdone, Prof. Albert Teo finally took to the stage and shared his more academic findings on the definitions and differences between Social Enterprises and Businesses. Social Enterprise, with no globally accepted definition as yet, has increasingly filled the space of need between private and public, coming in when perhaps neither traditional companies nor the government has the means for a solution.

Albert Teo speaking

So should social enterprises be the way to go for all businesses in the future? This question and many more were asked by the audience throughout the discussion via a most innovative conference Q&A tool, PigeonHole Live. Developed by a small team of local Singaporean social entrepreneurs at PigeonLabs, PigeonHole Live allows the audience to pose questions via the web or text message throughout the conference from the comfort of their chairs, eliminating the need for messy mics being passed around or mic monopoly from more outspoken individuals. Other members of the audience vote on the question they would most want answered, and what emerges is a clean, easy-to-read layout of which questions were the most popular. This was projected on two big walls at the venue for the audience to follow. When it was time for Q&A, Kristine used an iPad on hand to access PigeonHole Live and handpicked several questions for the speakers. It was perhaps, the most futuristic and inclusive conference experience yet.

WeAre9B logoAkzoNobel then unveiled their latest offering in the form of an online community for socially-conscious netizens. We are 9B is a reference to the fact that the world's population is projected to reach 9 billion in 2050. With such overcrowding becoming a reality in a number of decades, we need to find sustainable solutions now in order to ensure the survival of resources for the future. We are 9B also hosted a physical concept at the NUS Business School where blackboards were left with chalk for anyone to fill out what their ideas were for the planet to survive. Visit the We are 9B website to find out more about the latest community news. Finishing the session, a lucky draw ensued with prizes such as Ethletic Sneakers, Solar Mobile Chargers and the top prize of a ticket to the Qi 2011 conference, Designing Asia 2.0 worth SGD$2995. It was an afternoon's discussion that was certainly, not as usual.


Las Gaviotas: Utopia Found

By Lira Low Roberts

Well, very nearly. As the title suggests, a little village in Columbia named Las Gaviotas is a two-hour drive away from its capital city Bogota, and is brimming with potential for a perfect sustainable human eco-system. Renowned alternative fuels expert Colombian Professor Carlos Bernal gave a special guest speaker presentation to the Qi team last Friday while on transit back to his home country. 

Mette Kristine Oustrup (extreme left) and Prof Carlos Bernal (extreme right) in Bhutan

Prof Bernal was in town for the weekend at Kristine's invitation when they flew back to Singapore together after attending the Blue Economy conference in Bhutan over the past two weeks. The conference, organised by Gunter Pauli, was attended by 75 global entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, financiers and scholars who were interested in coming together to explore new business models, innovations, and Gross National Happiness (GNH).

Prof Bernal is a former executive with Nestle and Philips. The cheeky, twinkle-eyed professor with round glasses is a true innovator whose thoughts and actions are reflective of those who remain eternally young at heart. He has worked with the reforestation program of Las Gaviotas -  a village of about 200 people - since 1992. For three decades, Gaviotans - peasants, scientists, artists and former street kids - have struggled to build an oasis of imagination and sustainability in the remote, barren savannas of eastern Colombia, an area ravaged by political terror. They have planted millions of Colombian pine trees which have grown to a size of 12000 hectares since being saplings 35 years ago, thus regenerating an indigenous rainforest. Resin is sustainably tapped from the outer bark of the pine tree, and a natural enzyme is used to extract the resin, which is transported to a factory. The factory then obtains the raw materials for paint from the resin. This process results in a waste product, turpentine, which is then processed to produce fuel for vehicles, which do not need to be modified for turpentine usage. In short, a sustainable business providing stable jobs, income, and renewable resources, all coming together with zero wastage. 


And this is why Gaviotas comes pretty close to Utopia on earth: they farm organically using wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals and schooling. There are no weapons, police or jail. There is no mayor. One ponders the great marvel and curiosity surrounding how a group of humans could humanly live under these conditions, given their well, human tendencies and characteristics. There it is, I've given into the more Machiavellian philosophy I've been trained to employ but alas, Gaviotas has provided a tangible, credible and living example that defies any wavering doubts.

Last November Prof Bernal and his team mooted the idea of implementing Gaviotas' central tenets to Bhutan, which pays increasing costs for fuel imported for India, and which already has a mature forest of pine (albeit a different species than Gaviotas'), saving decades of planting and growing. Prof Bernal has already shipped tools to Bhutan used to measure the feasibility of implementing Gaviotas' technology on the local eco-system, and hopes to demonstrate how a local economy powered by its own fuel, tapped from trees indefinitely, generates more purchasing power locally while simultaneously decreasing the dependency on imported fuels.

 Hopefully this scalable Utopia eventually go on to morph and take shape from country to country in a viral chain of positive, necessary change. We wish Prof Bernal all the best and hope to see him again at our conference later this year. 






The United Nations named the village a model of sustainable development. Colombian novelist, screenwriter and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called Gaviotas founder Paolo Lugari (pictured left) the "Inventor of the World".


Design Processes + Sustainable Local Materials = SOLIDCORE

By Lira Low Roberts

Here's an update we just received from one of our upcoming speakers, Owen William Fritts on the latest project his company SOLIDCORE has just embarked on in recovering Haiti. 



Owen William Fritts is the Founder and President of SOLIDCORE, based in Portland, Oregan in the US. SOLIDCORE is a design and fabrication firm focused on simplicity, modernity and earth responsible practices.


SOLIDCORE organises workshops globally to inspire kids and adults alike to innovate new design thinking using locally available, sustainable materials such as branches or stones. 


Owen, who will be speaking on co-creation in communities using simple design processes and sustainable local materials, just returned from a trip to Haiti where he led 1000 kids and youth in the co-creation of a public sculpture. The HaitiHANDS project that took place in Haiti's capital city Port au Prince promoted the healing power of co-creation, HIV/AIDS awareness, sport and art through active community involvement in designing and making structures for shelter, interaction, personal expression and play. This was derived from the existing trash and rubble strewn and readily available on the ground.


His team led hundreds of Haitians in a sequence of steps involving storytelling, encouraging creative thinking, generating awareness of the environment and building community through group making of useful structures.

Some of the great results that have emerged from his team's time in Port au Prince are several built structures incorporating the co-designed solutions and over 4000 donated red Nike shoe laces, made by the people for the people. The team have also left skill sets of materials and methods to promote ongoing workshops and awareness across Haiti.

SOLIDCORE has now returned to the US with Haitian-made artifacts from the workshops to use as a travelling exhibition to promote the project. They have also created an inspirational video of the process, the people and the solutions for global presentation to draw attention to the ongoing challenges in Haiti. 

What truly meaningful work in a region that most of the world has largely forgotten about; where lives, houses and hearts are still being recovered.  


Project Inspire

By Lira Low Roberts

A project aimed at changing the world jointly initiated by UN Women Singapore and MasterCard. 

UN Women (The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) has teamed up with MasterCard who are celebrating 25 years of being in Asia to organise Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World. Teams of up to three (aged between 18-25 years) are invited to submit a 5 minute pitch or a 2 page word document outlining how they would use the winning grant of USD 25000 to empower disadvantaged women and girls in the Asia Pacific, Africa or the Middle East through education, skills training, financial inclusion and social entrepreneurship. 

It's a stab in the dark but we've decided to go for it! We think our upcycled aluminium pull-tab bag project really has something going for it, and can't wait for UN Women and MasterCard to get behind it. It's a great fit for Project Inspire's specifications, and we've got the most perfect global network to make it happen from implementation right up educating the Timorese women holistically in the long-term. If this project is going to go off and skyrocket, we really need some funding to make it fly. Alternatively if don't win the main grant, we've got our eyes set on the USD 10000 award for Best Financial Literacy/Livelihood proposal. 

Hoping for the ultimate when I submit our proposal later today, on behalf of the trio consisting of Zhang Xiaoqing, an award-winning fashion designer who owns and designs her own label XQZ, Felly Njoo, a crochet expert trained in fashion design, and yours truly.


The Blue Economy in Bhutan

By Lira Low Roberts

Today is Kristine's first day at the The Blue Economy's Bhutan training course.

The Blue Economy, developed by Professor Gunter Pauli is the redesign of production and consumption into clusters of industries inspired by natural systems. In 1994 Professor Gunter Pauli also founded the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) at the United Nations University in Tokyo to prepare Japan for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.


The week-long training course will take place at the Terma Linca Resort in Thimpu, Bhutan. Since the leadership of the Fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the government of Bhutan has signalled its commitment to turn the country into a benchmark for sustainable social and economic development. HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck also first coined the term "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) back in in 1972 when he opened the country up to democracy and modernisation. 

Kristine will be meeting with international consultants, business execs, and socially-minded entrepreneurs who are all interested in the Blue Economy. She will also be meeting with the government of Bhutan, and attend the GNH International Meeting. During the duration of the course, she will be learning about new business models and principles, GNH, conflict resolution and systems design, and 'the art of blue': that is, looking back at our own habits when investigating how we want society to evolve towards sustainability.



Spotlight on Reese Fernandez of Rags2Riches Inc.

By Lira Low Roberts  

As yesterday's call for volunteers to help with our upcycled bag project fired up the passion to investigate more women's empowerment initiatives, I'd like to turn the spotlight on one of our upcoming speakers for Qi 2011, Reese Fernandez, one of Rags2Riches' founder-partners and CEO.



Rags2Riches Inc. describes themselves as a for-profit social enterprise based in Manila, Philippines, creating eco-ethical fashion and home accessories out of upcycled scrap cloth, organic materials and indigenous fabrics by working with women living in the poor communities around Metro Manila. Some of these scrap materials have been upcycled into lush, fun and quality-made bags in all kinds of styles, from tote bags to beach carry-alls.


Rags2Riches, or R2R has collaborated with top Filipino designers Rajo Laurel, Amina Aranaz-Alunan and Oliver Tolentino to design these unique bags. Each bag also contains some information about the mothers who created it through love and dedication, so its buyer is connected to the hands behind it. This also gives the mothers a sense of pride in their work, as they are elevated to more than just another human weaving machine in the consumers' eyes. 


R2R is an amazing organization that empowers women by giving them access to the formal economy and providing a stable income on top of financial and health training. It has linked these women to the market directly through by- passing the lines of middle men who had previously taken advantage of their weaving skills, leaving the women with between one to two pesos for each piece of work -- which originally started off as small floor mats. Yup, we think that's ridiculous too. 

So it's a good thing that Reese Fernandez, who will be speaking at Qi 2011 this year, also captured the attention of the Rolex Foundation in Switzerland. She was named one of its five inaugural Rolex Young Laureates. R2R has also received various prestigious grants and most recently linked up with its current investor-partner Leichtenstein Global Trust Venture Philantrophy in 2010.  

R2R is a positive example of Filipinos doing something for fellow Filipinos, a concept that could be duly replicated in other countries. We just can't wait to hear more from Reese in October.  



High Seas Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - by Tierney Thys

Many governments want the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)* to provide expert technical guidance and endorse areas needing protection beyond national jurisdiction and believe that the actual designation needs to take place through the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) or regional agreements, rather
than the CBD.  Therefore the Conference of the Parties adopted a series of measures to help the process move forward as quickly as possible including a process for the CBD Conference of the Parties to officially endorse areas that meet the criteria for ecological or biological significance and to convey the endorsement and associated information to other competent intergovernmental organizations, including the UNGA, for further action.

North Atlantic: First network of high seas MPAs. In September the intergovernmental Commission under the Oslo and Paris Conventions for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) designated a network of six MPAs to protect unique and ecologically sensitive areas in the North-East Atlantic, beyond the jurisdiction of coastal states.  Totaling 285,000 km2, the new MPAs comprise waters around seamounts and sections of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and host a range of vulnerable deep-sea habitats
and species.  OSPAR delegates said the six MPAs, which will take effect by April 2011, represent the first network of MPAs on the high seas.  Regulations for the new MPAs have not been set yet and may possibly include a fishing ban.  An OSPAR press release on the new MPAs is at http://bit.ly/OSPAR_MPAs.  The OSPAR Commission represents 15 governments and is responsible for protecting the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.

Four of the new sites were designated in cooperation with Portugal, and consist of the waters directly above seabed MPAs that Portugal designated last March (MPA News 11:6).  The four MPAs are on Portugal's extended continental shelf, more than 200 nm off the coast of the Azores.  Portugal has jurisdiction over the seafloor at these sites, whereas OSPAR manages the resources of the corresponding water column, which is still considered the high seas.

For a terrific source of more in depth information on MPAs I encourage you to subscribe to MPA news by Marine Affairs Research and Education (MARE), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, in association with
the University of Washington School of Marine Affairs

*The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. Known informally as the Biodiversity Convention,  the CBD is an international legally binding treaty. It has 3 main objectives: (1) The conservation of biological diversity;(2) The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity and; (3) The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.  In other words, its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.The Convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. For more details see: http://www.cbd.int/


IKEA stops selling incandescent light bulbs in US

"Eliminating incandescents is just one simple way for IKEA customers to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases," Mike Ward, U.S. IKEA president, said in a statement Tuesday.

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The Future of Print? Nike Makes Shoes From Shredded Magazines

If print is dead, it's getting a hell of a reincarnation in these killer kicks from Nike.

What do you do with all those stacked-up, unread New Yorkers on your nightstand? Recycle 'em, of course. Maybe if they're lucky, they'll end up with an afterlife as cool as the Nike Women's Premium Print Pack, a limited edition set of sneakers designed out of shredded magazines. Snag a pair of these, and you won't need to feign interest in that 10,000-word article on Balinese maskwork when you crash a publishing soiree -- you can just wear your media-elite street cred.

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Blue fin tuna ban overturned

France, Spain and other Mediterranean nations forced the European Union to retreat Thursday from an ambitious plan to save the threatened and prized bluefin tuna.

After drawn-out negotiations, the 27-nation EU abandoned a plan to seek cutbacks in fishing quotas based only on scientific advice and said Thursday it will now also consider the interests of tuna fishermen. Read full article