Renard Siew has an impressive track record when it comes to promoting sustainability.
Despite his background in civil engineering, he is now focusing on implementing sustainability across Southeast Asia. Indonesia Tatler recently got the chance to talk with Renard when he attended a youth forum in Jakarta, and we have to say that his passion left us in no doubt about how well-earned his title as Asia’s Green Warrior is. His holistic role with the World Economic Forum means that he will be involved in everything from public policies to persuading corporations to pursue responsible practices in their activities.
With Renard focusing on Southeast Asia as a whole, he hasn’t really been able to focus on Indonesia specifically, so he was happy to get the chance to talk to Indonesia Tatler with the hope of increasing awareness of the concept of sustainability. In Renard’s previous roles, he focused on building green structures and buildings that have low carbon emissions. From doing that, Renard realised that sustainability is not just about physical infrastructure—it’s about people, too.
Renard’s latest project is called Better Living, and it is something that is he passionate about as the project is trying to tackle the issue of cities being unfriendly for ageing populations. He noticed that a lot of big cities are designed for people aged 30 and under and place little attention on the elderly.
"I am trying to advocate for building designs that will be catered for ageless community and through Better Living, hopefully it can be a platform for elderly citizens to share their challenges in the 21st century."says Renard.
Through the platform, the elderly will be able to gather together with younger people to discuss these challenges. The results will be collected and could be given to urban planners so they are more aware of the problems faced by the elderly, which will hopefully lead to better policies when it comes to city design.
Concept of Sustainability
When it comes to the concept of sustainability, Renard admitted that few people understand what it actually entails, so the UN has come up with a framework on sustainability that divides the concept into 17 goals which include climate change and even gender. So in a nutshell, sustainability covers a very broad spectrum.
Renard also talks a lot about grassroots understanding. He said that in the World Economic Forum, leaders usually gather to talk about pressing issues. However, there is a problem as laypeople who are not involved in the talks don’t really get to hear about the issues being talked about. Renard further said:
"I am trying to bridge the knowledge gap between them so that even layperson will understand the issues being talked about in WEF, which will hopefully led into a collective effort to tackle the issues."
Climate Reality Project
When asked about his projects right now aside from Better Living, Renard said that he is also collaborating with the Climate Reality Project. Here, a group of “climate-reality leaders” advocates against climate change and conducts training and development among many other initiatives, all with the goal of improving awareness and promoting action that will help tackle the issue. The Climate Reality Project is spearheaded by Al Gore.
Renard is actively helping the project by running campaigns on climate change around Southeast Asia. One of the campaigns is called 24 Hours of Reality, where for 24 hours there will be a series of posts on social media talking about climate change.
Sustainability in Indonesia
Renard realises that change should start early on in life, which is why he is trying to push the Ministry of Education to initiate a programme that will encourage sustainability learning from a young age. If the idea of sustainability is ingrained from childhood, kids will grow up adapted to the ideas and will be more capable of making impactful changes.
When asked about what he thinks about the green movement in Indonesia, Renard said that Bank Indonesia was the first among ASEAN countries to introduce climate bonds, with people able to invest in these bonds and get returns over a few years. The climate bond is going to be used for climate advocacy and environment protection activities.
Despite the urgency of sustainability, there is plenty of information that discusses the subject, and we need to know which is factual and which is not. Renard said that the most important information is that which is rooted in science. As someone who has much experience in research, he said that every statement should be backed up by good, solid data, with the most accurate sources being reputable academic institutions.
Renard said that one of the main challenges he faces is the fact that people work in silos. When asked to explain further, he said that this means that people work individually instead of working in a cohesive manner to achieve a certain goal. Renard also stated that in an ideal world, NGOs should work together with governments, corporations, and international bodies to create sustainable changes. But sadly, Renard noted that the majority of people still work independently.
Another challenge is that a lot of people are still cynical when faced with the question of sustainability. The first question that a lot of corporate owners will ask is whether their bottom line will be impacted, and if it is, they are unlikely to take on sustainable initiatives.
The third challenge is to distinguish between the different sources of noise. As the definition of sustainability differs, people can translate it into different kinds of ideas. Some people think that to be sustainable you just need to adopt a vegan lifestyle, which is not entirely true. This is one of the reasons people don’t stay in a green mindset for long—because they don’t see the direct impact of their actions.
When asked why there are many people who still don’t believe in climate problems, Renard said that a main reason could be the fact that people are threatened with the changes brought on by the issues. For example, people who are used to dealing with dirty energy such as coal will have to upskill themselves in order to handle clean energy like solar power and hydro-electricity.
Renard said that citizens like us have power that we can use to promote sustainability. Whatever it is that we are buying, he encourages us to start asking ourselves questions like: “Who is making this?”, “Where is it sourced from?”, and “Is it manufactured with ethical practices?”. If we notice something wrong in the supply-chain process, we can pressure brands to do something about it. For investors, this means putting money in clean, renewable energy. Because if we don’t start doing it, who will?