How businesses are responding to sustainability-conscious millennials
Climate change is among the biggest issues faced by the millennial generation. With more millennials speaking out and making lifestyle changes around environmental considerations, Money Mind looks at how businesses are responding.
SINGAPORE: Social enterprise Ugly Food is on a mission to change Singaporeans’ perception of blemished fruits.
On Instagram, its comic strips on talking fruits explain how fresh produce gets scarred in the supply chain journey and how people can help save them.
UglyFood hopes the caricatures will build public awareness and help reduce Singapore’s growing food waste.
UglyFood started out as a school project. It takes in blemished and excess fruits from importers, supermarkets and wholesalers.
The idea is that beauty is not just skin deep, and that produce deemed “ugly”, can also be delicious – and less wasteful.
According to a 2019 study by the Singapore Environment Council and Deloitte, Singapore imports about 2 million tonnes of food. About 393,000 tonnes, or almost 20 percent, is lost in the supply chain yearly.
Fruits and vegetables account for about 167,000 tonnes in food loss that occur during the post-harvest stage, processing and transportation.
Since it was founded in 2016, UglyFood said it has saved 200 tonnes of food – a big leap from just less than 100kg of fruits initially.
"We want it to be the global brand or global face in terms of food wastage of fresh produce," said Mr Augustine Tan, co-founder of UglyFood.
"It’s definitely making a difference. Big or not is relative ... We do hope that can we can shave off at least one-seventh or one-eighth of the total wastage that Singapore has," he added.
This desire to make a difference is one shared by many in the millennial demographic.
According to a global survey by Deloitte, millennials see climate change and protecting the environment as a top concern – overtaking anxieties over health, jobs and personal safety.
In its primary poll, 83 per cent of millennials agreed that climate change is occuring and is caused primarily by humans. And only 40 per cent believe current and future efforts to protect the planet will be successful.
Though optimism remains low, millennials are making changes in their daily routine to improve the planet.
Prior to the pandemic, 58 per cent said they had increased use of public transport, while half had cut their purchases of fast fashion and 64 per cent were cutting down on single use plastic and recycling more.
According to Ms Yvonne Zhang, lead sustainability director at Deloitte Singapore, millennials are making important life decisions based on sustainability concerns. These include questions such as how many children to have, or whether they should have children at all. Other key decisions include those about daily diet.
Deloitte said millennials are in a position to create wider awareness and effect changes on sustainability, as they become consumers, policymakers, investors and workers.
“The millennials are concerned with more than just profits, with more than just self-interest," said Ms Zhang.
"Millennials want to contribute actively to reducing consumption, removing some of the biases and impediments facing society, as well as rehabilitating society for environmental concerns, social concerns, and also improving governance and transparency. They have a lot of preferences and a lot of asks for entities to do better and show that they are doing more,” she added.
For small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), this presents an opportunity to transform their operations and benefit from the growing clamour for sustainable practices.
“For a lot of SMEs, the whole pandemic has been a chance for them to rethink their positioning, their marketing," said Mr Ang Yuit, vice president of the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME).
"So I think many may actually go down the path of repositioning themselves with the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) goals. In some cases, maybe pivoting to one that has more alignment with environmentally sustainable goals, that would allow them to reach out to a different market.”
For retailers and food industry players, going green could mean using less plastic for packaging or adopting practices to avoid wastage.
For others, this could entail changing equipment, materials and processes or even revamping the entire business model.
According to Mr Ang, this may pose a challenge for some businesses.
“The barriers are that a lot of firms have a fixed way of doing their business. And that inertia would then continue - I use whatever that's there, established suppliers that don't have to change. Because even if it is cheaper, establishing new suppliers and supply routes will cost me time. So that's still imputed costs,” he said.
Deloitte said there remains a lack of clear sustainability benchmarks that can result in actual benefits for companies. In addition, the pathway to profitability to justify investment in environmental and social goals may not always be clear.
Challenges aside, many still see sustainability as a way forward due to its potential impact to bottom lines.
“What we are noticing is because of the change in demand and a slight change in the way the overall government has been pushing for this, people are starting to move towards that direction,” said Mr Ang.