Beyond sustainability, with Jiehui from Forum for the Future.

“We always say that the planet is not at risk. It’s actually human life that is at risk,” says Jiehui from Forum for the Future, speaking with speed and ending with a smile. “Ultimately we’re trying to save the environment for mankind.”

She speaks without a pause in her voice, and begins schooling me about the basics of a career in sustainability. In doing so, she tells me about the time she spent working at the Economic Development Board, where she asked her boss for a role in sustainable development, before it even existed.

“Back then, no one knew what the national commitment to sustainability was. It wasn’t clear how we would implement it as a country.” She barely pauses to think, before continuing. “But that was also the time I was exposed to how all the agencies had to work together and interface with various ministries. That’s when I started to see a much larger picture. I knew there was a limit to what the government could do.”

It was during her time working in government agencies that she started realising how important private sector involvement was. Businesses needed to be accountable, and because the nation was growing at pace, private companies were left behind, and the topic of sustainability reached few of them. In response, she took a brave turn and joined her family business.

“My Dad’s a very boots-on-the-ground sort of guy. He’s also a great boss, and cares deeply about the staff,” she says, with grin across her face. “And somehow, I found myself working in Shanghai for three months.”

From a rebranding exercise, to an overhaul of the company’s sales processes, her goal was to change the company from one that sold equipment, to one that sold solutions. And over the years that she spent there, she worked in marketing, business development, and somehow ended up doing sales in Shanghai. It was then that she uncovered the job post from Forum for the Future.

“While on assignment, I went to a community waste bank where people were exchanging waste for cash or credits. That’s when it hit me,” she says, staring straight at me. “It’s not about waste reduction and collection. It’s about having a waste value chain that helps people.”

She goes on to explain at length, what working with these huge companies is like, and how incredible it is that they’re embracing the need to be environmentally responsible. In her opinion, transparency is their main driver. In today’s world, companies need to be able to answer questions about their commitment to being sustainable.

“Ask yourself — is what you choose to buy or not buy, going to make a difference? No. Because a lot of things on that shelf is not sustainable,” says Jiehui. “Ultimately, everything must be sustainable, and it starts with the companies.”

We go on to chat about stuff we’re both working on, and forget about how the work she’s doing at Forum for the Future will go unnoticed by the average person on the street.