Time is ripe for innovation as Covid-19 turns spotlight on sustainability: Business leaders

Huge amounts of plastic were used in the process as people opted to have food delivered.
Huge amounts of plastic were used in the process as people opted to have food delivered.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic saw an extraordinary shift in our lifestyles and travel patterns, as people opted to have food delivered - using huge amounts of plastic in the process - and moved towards using private transport over public. Environmental consequences arising from this shift have brought the issue of sustainability to the fore, and innovators could play a crucial role in providing solutions that will help move the world towards a greener future.

This was a point made by panellists at the launch of The Liveability Challenge 2021 on Friday (Jan 15).

Ms Jessica Cheam, who moderated the panel discussion, told The Straits Times: "I think Covid-19 has shown that we need to think long term about building resilience and sustainability in our communities. This crisis is a wake-up call and dress rehearsal for the much bigger climate crisis."

Ms Cheam is the managing director of media organisation Eco-Business, which is organising The Liveability Challenge presented by Temasek Foundation.

Panellist Marie Cheong, vice-president of the venture capital firm Engie Factory Asia-Pacific that invests in zero-carbon solutions, said it is an opportune time for innovation, given how the past year has seen many companies pledge to significantly reduce carbon emissions. This included major stakeholders such as Apple, Ford and Procter & Gamble (P&G), she noted.

Mr Hendrik Tiesinga, chief strategy officer of clean technology non-profit New Energy Nexus, added that global players such as the European Union and China, and the newly-elected Biden administration, also committing to reduce emissions will make a huge difference.

"There is basically a lot of stimulus money coming in, so I think we're going to see a massive wave of entrepreneurship, renewal and change," said Mr Tiesinga.

Mr John Kim, co-founder and managing partner of venture capital firm Amasia, which focuses on sustainability and climate, said that entrepreneurs could also innovate by re-inventing existing technology for sustainability.

He gave the example of Joro, a consumer app that can tell users their carbon footprint, and provide suggestions on how to lower it over time.

Innovation is precisely what The Liveability Challenge 2021 will require from its participants, as they compete to devise the best sustainability solutions for a grand prize of $1 million in funding from Temasek Foundation Ecosperity, a non-profit organisation that champions sustainable development.

Last year, Singapore-based startup Turtletree Labs clinched the million-dollar prize with its cow-free milk made using cell-based methods.

The challenge, now in its fourth edition, will accept entries from around the world in two categories - decarbonisation and re-imagining resources - now till April 15. Finalists will then present their projects to a panel of judges at the grand finale in June.

More details about the challenge can be found at this website.