50 Eco Warriors You Should Know (Part 1)
We’ve all read about the perils of climate change, but who’s actually doing anything about it? The editors of Asia Tatler, having assessed eco-activism across the continent, present leading figures who have made saving the environment their priority—from protecting Malaysia’s endangered tigers, establishing eco-focused political parties, to investing billions of dollars in clean-energy initiatives.
1. Chit Juan
WHY HER? Chit is a pillar of the slow-food movement in Asia, building connections between producers and consumers, and championing organic farming and the preservation of heritage foods. She’s also president and cochair of the Philippine Coffee Board and the brains behind EchoStore, a sustainable lifestyle retailer.
THE NEXT FRONTIER Chit showcased Philippine foods at Italy’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto last September, the biggest international slow-food event in the country.
2. Gina Lopez
WHY HER? During a stint as secretary of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Gina fought against open-pit mining and its devastating environmental impact. Despite being voted out of office for her efforts, in October 2017 she became the firrst Filipino to win the Seacology Prize, which honours individuals working to preserve the environment. Her achievements include the rehabilitation of Manila’s polluted Pasig River and the transformation of the once-threatened La Mesa Watershed into an eco-park.
THE NEXT FRONTIER Gina’s Investments in Loving Organisations for Village Economies (iLOVE) Foundation recently launched the Quest for Love initiative to support and mentor other NGOs in achieving their goals.
3. Illac Diaz
WHY HIM? With just a disposable plastic bottle and a few basic household items, Illac discovered he could bring lightinto the homes of the Philippines’ poorest. Illac’s Liter of Light initiative now provides low-cost sustainable lighting solutions to more than 353,000 homes in 15 countries. In January, he made it into Guinness World Records for teaching the world’s largest class on sustainability (there were 280 students in the room).
THAT’S NOT ALL Illac’s overarching social enterprise, the My Shelter Foundation, which won the Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2015, is always looking for ways to lift Filipinos out of poverty through sustainable grassroots businesses.
4. Anna Oposa
WHY HER? Don’t let her quirky job title fool you, the chief mermaid (and co-founder) of Save Philippine Seas is set on protecting her country’s precious marine resources. Anna’s conservation initiatives include the Shark Shelter Project on Malapascua Island, the annual Sea and Earth Advocates Camp for young people, and Earthducation, a programme that trains teachers in educating their students about environmental issues.
THAT’S NOT ALL The eco-warrior has acted as a consultant on environmental matters for the Asian Development Bank and the Climate Change Commission.
5. Vincent Perez
WHY HIM? In 2001, Vincent became the youngest person to serve as secretary of the Philippine Department of Energy (he was 42), where he pushed for reforms that boosted energy self-sufficiency and promoted clean energy. He went on to found renewable energy company Alternergy Partners, and co-founded Solar Pacific, which provides clean energy through solar power to off-grid communities in the region, and is behind energy advisory fi rm Merritt Partners.
THAT’S NOT ALL He has been involved with WWF-Philippines for more than 20 years and is currently a member of the board of WWF International.
6. Markus Shaw
WHY HIM? Markus has dedicated his life to making Hong Kong an eco-friendly city, first as the chairman of WWF’s Hong Kong board, then as a co-founder of the NGOs Designing Hong Kong and the Clean Air Network, and more recently as chairman of the Walk DVRC project, which aims to turn traffic choked Des Voeux Road Central into a pedestrian oasis.
7. Craig Leeson
WHY HIM? Craig’s documentary A Plastic Ocean, hailed by David Attenborough as “the most important film of our time,” has raised awareness of the global plastic pollution crisis.
8. Laurel Chor
WHY HER? With the support of the National Geographic Society, Laurel founded the Hong Kong Explorers, which aims to encourage people to explore and appreciate the city’s wilderness by compiling a database of its flora and fauna. A National Geographic Young Explorer, she is also an ambassador for the Jane Goodall Institute.
THAT’S NOT ALL She’s working with Vice News, where she produces articles and documentaries about a range of global issues.
9. Douglas Woodring
WHY HIM? A leading expert on plastic pollution, Douglas is the founder and managing director of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, which was awarded the 2018 Prince’s Prize for Innovative Philanthropy by Prince Albert II of Monaco.
10. Sean Lee-Davies
WHY HIM? Sean is the founder and CEO of a non-profit organisation called ProjectC:Change—with “C” standing for climate, conservation, and consciousness—an environmental initiative that raises funds and awareness in Asia.
THAT’S NOT ALL A passionate conservationist and photographer, Sean launched Awethentic Gallery, the first art and virtual-reality concept space and studio in Hong Kong. Recent exhibitions include the multimedia show Love Is Wild, which raised funds to combat the illegal trade in wildlife.
11. Paul Zimmerman
WHY HIM? An activist since his teens in the Netherlands, the Southern District councilor and co-founder of the Civic Party has long championed sustainable planning and urban renewal.
THAT’S NOT ALL More recently, as chairman of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, he has argued that Hong Kong doesn’t need large-scale reclamation or to infringe on country parks to meet its future housing needs.
12. Christine Loh
WHY HER? With roles ranging from chairperson of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour and under-secretary for the environment in former chief executive CY Leung’s administration to her current position as chief development strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Division of Environment and Sustainability, Christine’s commitment to a sustainable Hong Kong has remained constant for decades.
THE NEXT FRONTIER Using Hong Kong’s expertise in areas such as slope management, water management, and air-quality control to benefit Mainland China.
13. Shawn Kaihekulani Yamauchi Lum
WHY HIM? As president of the Lion City’s oldest, largest, and most vocal environmental non-profit organisation, the Nature Society (Singapore), Shawn has furthered conservation and outreach initiatives, and forged collaborations both locally and internationally to preserve Earth’s biodiversity. He received the President’s Award for the Environment in 2017.
THAT’S NOT ALL A tropical rainforest ecologist, Shawn oversees a long-term study of the dynamics of the Bukit Timah forest.
14. Vijay Mudaliar
WHY HIM? A pioneering mixologist, Vijay is the founder of Native, a Singapore cocktail bar that practises sustainable bartending. Nothing in the bar goes to waste: banana peels, old coconuts, and pineapple skins are all repurposed into inventive cocktails.
THAT’S NOT ALL Founded just last year, Native clinched the 47th spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018 and the eighth spot on Asia’s 50 Best Bars—bringing the concept of zero waste bartending to a wider audience.
15. Kathy Xu
WHY HER? With the demand for shark fin still very high in Asia, Kathy has tackled the difficult task of shark conservation by going straight to the source. The founder and director of the Dorsal Effect provides shark fishermen in Lombok, Indonesia, with an alternative livelihood—as ecotourism guides for tourists on snorkelling or diving trips.
THE NEXT FRONTIER Kathy is currently expanding work opportunities for fishermen to include shark tagging and tracing.
16. Susan Chong
WHY HER? CEO Susan has grown her onewoman startup, Greenpac, into a multimilliondollar company since she founded it in 2002. It provides eco-friendly packaging solutions to multinational corporations and Fortune 500 firms, and it won the WorldStar Packaging Award 2018 for the design of its collapsible and reusable pallet crate.
THAT’S NOT ALL Greenpac was the first factory in Singapore to receive the Building and Construction,Authority’s Green Mark Gold certifi cation, and it runs a zero-energy office powered by renewable solar energy and a rainwater harvesting system.
17. Allan Lim
WHY HIM? As cofounder and CEO of Alpha Biofuels, a Singaporean company that pioneered the manufacture and supply of sustainable biodiesel in the country, Allan constantly challenges the conventional wisdom of sustainable development. In 2017, Alpha Biofuels launched a pilot project at a local shopping mall that gives used cooking oil a second lease of life by turning it into biofuel.
18. Wang Yongchen
WHY HER? Self-proclaimed environmental poet Yongchen rose to fame in 2004 after leading a campaign against the construction of a large dam on the Nu River, one of the country’s last remaining wild water sources. To the surprise of many, she won. Now, the land surrounding a large portion of the river has been preserved as a national park. Yongchen works as a radio broadcaster, freelance journalist, and leader of the Green Earth Volunteers, an NGO she founded in 1996. Yongchen is embarking this year on her eighth annual trip up the Yellow River to document the effects of pollution on “China’s Mother River.
19. Bai Yunfeng
WHY HIM? The Tokyo stock exchange says Yunfeng, president and CEO of China Boqi Environmental Solutions Technology, is the youngest person to ever lead one of its listed companies. China Boqi helps power plants become more eco-friendly by treating flue gas before it’s released into the atmosphere. The corporation is currently also working on treating water pollution and is investing in clean energy.
20. Zhang Xinsheng
WHY HIM? Xinsheng has held senior positions in government and business, but he’s now devoting most of his time to saving the environment. Xinsheng is currently president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is working on a wide range of projects, including protecting at-risk beetles in Europe, fighting deep-sea mining, and establishing programmes to help lions and people coexist in Africa.
THAT’S NOT ALL He’s also chairman of the Lao Niu Foundation, which works to improve education and protect the environment of Mainland China.
21. Zhang Na
WHY HER? Na is probably best known for her fashion line Fake Natoo, but her second label, Reclothing Bank, is paving the way for eco-friendly designers across the globe. Reclothing Bank accepts donated clothing and repurposes it into new creations for the runway, with a stress on bold, unique patterns and sustainability, with a percentage of profits going to local charities.
THAT’S NOT ALL Many of the designers and seamstresses hired by Na had been made redundant by previous employers, and she castmigrant workers rather than models in one of her runway shows.
22. Liu Haiying
WHY HIM? Haiying is the eco-warrior leading the Saihanba Afforestation Community, which is working to reforest 92,000 hectares of a region of Inner Mongolia left almost entirely barren by logging. Since activists began replanting in 1962, tree cover has increased from 11.4 per cent of the area to 80 per cent. Last year, the UN recognised this achievement by presenting the group with a Champions of the Earth Award.
23. May Mei
WHY HER? After leading WildAid in Mainland China for 11 years, May left the organisation in 2016 to found her own organisation, GoalBlue. The NGO has three goals: to encourage people to adopt an eco-friendly diet, to inspire people to commute in ways that minimise CO2 emissions, and to protect the oceans. GoalBlue launched a series of events in Beijing in January promoting vegetarianism under the banner Meatless Happiness.
24. Yao Tandong
WHY HIM? More than one billion people might unknowingly depend on the work of Tandong, the director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research and chair of the Third Pole Environment programme, which is researching the effects of global warming on the Tibetan plateau. One of the most isolated and hostile environments in the world, the Tibetan plateau is the source of 10 rivers that collectively provide drinking water, hydropower, and irrigation to more than a fifth of the world’s population.
THAT’S NOT ALL In 2017 he became the first Asian winner of the prestigious Vega Medal for outstanding research, which was presented to him by the king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.
25. Hu Weiwei
WHY HER? Three years ago, Weiwei launched a deceptively simple startup: a bicycle-pooling app that would allow users to borrowbikes and return them to any stand in the city, all for a one-off fee of 299 yuan. Now Mobike is in more than 200 cities and was recently acquired by Meituan-Dianping for US$2.7 billion, with Weiwei remaining as CEO.
THE NEXT FRONTIER Indian cities such as Bangalore and Delhi are Mobike’s next target, which may present a challenge as the cities aren’t known for their bike use. However, Mobike is confident it can win residents over.
(Continue reading: 50 Eco Warriors You Should Know (Part 2))