Striking Harmony

Wong Hooe Wai, Chairman of CapitaLand's Green Committee, believes in change the natural way

Issue: Sep 2009

President and CEO of CapitaLand Group, Mr Liew Mun Leong, launches the Green Army with mascot CapitaFrog, while Wong (left) explains the idea.
President and CEO of CapitaLand Group, Mr Liew Mun Leong, launches the Green Army with mascot CapitaFrog, while Wong (left) explains the idea.

"Let the world change you and you can change the world." This quote became the tagline for a 2004 film called the Motorcycle Diaries, which chronicled the life of revolutionary Che Guevara as a medical student before he began his political strife.

The saying also applies to Wong Hooe Wai, Senior Vice President of Design and Development, CapitaLand Commercial, albeit in a different context and on a humbler scale.

An environmentalist at heart, he credits his time at Cambridge University as the most influential factor that shaped his ideas on environmentalism and conservation.

"When I studied in the UK, I used to take long walks in the countryside, just taking in the sights - I think that's where it all started," he shares.

Designing with nature in mind

Wong receives a token of appreciation after a speech at Hwa Chong Junior College's Project ECO Conference

"As an architect, it is very important to understand the surrounding natural conditions we have to work with. But I think sometimes, people, even designers want to have a certain expression and they disregard the environment in the process," Wong says as he tries to comprehend the irony.

He is glad, however, that this mindset is slowly but surely changing. "The global campaign on climate change has certainly helped with people's understanding of the issue," he explains.

Wong's principle towards going green is to do it naturally. He admits that he doesn't drive a CNG car, but "a Nissan Latio, which is very fuel economic."

"Simple things from turning off the lights to not wasting water to how I design - doing things in an environmentally friendly manner comes naturally. I feel that people are more likely to do things when it comes naturally."

Leading the Green Way

Wong has proved to be a consummate green thumb at leading CapitaLand's Green Committee

The nature lover has been the Chairman of CapitaLand's Green Committee since 2006, the year he joined the Group. Together with colleagues from various business units, he has helped to promote sustainable development and community projects in the Group's operations worldwide.

They have established an internationally recognised Environment Management System for properties in Singapore, China and Vietnam. It advocates green "best practices" for the entire life cycle of buildings - from feasibility studies to construction, as well as operational stages.

The committee also set up an online Environmental Tracking System to monitor electricity and water usage of more than 150 properties worldwide, with the aim of reducing consumption in the long run.

His favourite project? CapitaFrog - the mascot for the Group's "Building a Greener Future" programme. It was developed by staff during an ICE* camp, a brainstorming session to encourage innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Singapore Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (fourth from left), Mr Wong Hooe Wai (fifth from left) holding the EcoFriend Award and the CapitaLand Green Committee at the award ceremony in July 2009

"CapitaFrog is our hero in fighting global warming and he's immensely popular with children when we go on road shows to teach them the 3Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It's heartening to see our younger generations learning to be green in an enjoyable way," says Wong.

Apart from CapitaLand, Wong is also actively involved in other green committees. He is the chairman of the Building Sub-Committee of Singapore's National Climate Change Committee, and a member of the Building and Construction Authority Green Mark Advisory Committee.

Wong's ceaseless efforts have been recognised by the National Environment Agency, which recently awarded him its EcoFriend Award.

Gearing up for battle

CapitaFrog handing out the first green ration to staff at the Green Army launch

Award or not, Wong's commitment to protect the Earth is unswerving. He is now a part of the CapitaLand Green Army, which was launched by the Group's President, Mr Liew Mun Leong, in August to combat climate change.

"The Green Army concept stemmed from a Green ICE* Camp, which looked at 'Green in turbulent times'. It mobilises every staff member to play their part in the protection of the environment," he explains.

One of the Green Army's missions is to spread the word on saving Gaia to shoppers, tenants and serviced residences' guests. Staff will be armed with Green Rations (fun bite-sized green tips and sometimes actual food!) and go through training courses for the battle to fight climate change.

In the works is a "Wear-less Day" that would extend to CapitaLand staff and tenants of CapitaLand Commercial Trust properties. This energy-saving initiative aims to raise office temperatures by one degree and encourage employees to dress down.

Wong fell in love with nature during his days at Cambridge

A Green Treasure Hunt will also be piloted in a CapitaLand Retail mall to raise shoppers' awareness of the property's green features and green tenants. This may be extended to other properties in the future.

Wong hopes the Green Army will create a holistic sense of environmentalism amongst not just CapitaLand staff, but also the many customers they serve, eventually radiating to the community

And though Singapore and the world continue to struggle against climate change, it is comforting to know that the Green Army reflects a small but important revolution to bring about change nonetheless.

With so much going on, one wonders how Wong, who is married and has a daughter, copes. He reveals that gardening, creative writing, and playing the classical guitar help him to unwind. He explains: "They are very green hobbies. Gardening produces beautiful plants while writing and music-making utilize very few resources." Naturally.

Green ICE Camp:
A brainstorming session where staffs gather to address climate change problems and seek solutions that everyone faces today.

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