Charting the Green Path at Ascott

The Ascott Limited’s Chief Corporate Officer, Mr Tony Soh, shares insights on Go Green @ Ascott and leaping into new adventures

Issue: Mar 2012

Striking a green chord is a challenge that Mr Tony Soh, Chief Corporate Officer of The Ascott Limited, has taken on with great gusto
Striking a green chord is a challenge that Mr Tony Soh, Chief Corporate Officer of The Ascott Limited, has taken on with great gusto

When Mr Tony Soh, Chief Corporate Officer of The Ascott Limited, went to the Ascott management retreat in January 2011 - wearing a green shirt - he had no idea he would be appointed the face of the Go Green @ Ascott campaign. “We were talking about having a dedicated effort to go green and discussed who should lead it and then it landed with me. So my theory was that I got the job because I happened to be the only one wearing a green shirt that day!” he joked.

And even though Mr Soh admitted that he had no experience driving a green campaign in his previous jobs, he gladly accepted the challenge. “I had some experience in managing organisational change in the public sector so it was not something that was completely new to me. I do follow the discussions on climate change and green issues, and have been quietly modifying my own behaviour. Being tasked with a responsibility was an opportunity for me to make a bigger impact in this area, so that my contribution to the green effort is much more than what I can do on an individual basis,” Mr Soh said humbly.

Taking Things in His Stride

Mr Soh is no newcomer to handling unfamiliar tasks. In fact, he embraces new challenges and is not afraid of the unknown. “Nothing ventured, nothing gain,” shared Mr Soh. His adventurous spirit was evident even as a young man. He was offered a scholarship by the Singapore Tourism Board to do a Bachelor of Business Administration (Tourism Management) at University of Hawaii and at the same time, a place in the Law Faculty at the National University of Singapore. “I fancied myself as a corporate lawyer, but for a 21-year-old fresh out of National Service, I thought it would be fun to do tourism and this was an adventure not to be missed. My choice raised quite a few eyebrows, but it was a risk I felt worth taking. I come from a working class family, so at that time, I have never even travelled on a plane by myself,” laughed Mr Soh.

When he returned to Singapore to serve out his scholarship bond, Mr Soh was exposed to a myriad of jobs in the public sector. He spent 17 years in the Singapore Civil Service, which included stints in the Singapore Tourism Board, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs. “As a summary of my career, I would always tell my friends that I went from Tourism to Total Defence to Terrorism, and now I am back to Tourism,” Mr Soh said wittily.

While he describes his time as an Administrative Officer in the civil service as fruitful and enjoyable, Mr Soh wanted to join the private sector for a more complete career experience. “So, when the opportunity came along for me to join CapitaLand, I could not turn it down,” said Mr Soh.

His 10 years spent at the Singapore Tourism Board bodes well for him when he was considered for the job at Ascott. “Having spent more than 10 years in the Singapore Tourism Board working on tourism issues, I did have some knowledge of the hospitality industry, even if it was at the macro level and primarily from the government perspective,” he shared.

Mr Soh and his colleagues bonding over drinks at the Ascott Global Conference dinner in 2010
Mr Soh and his colleagues bonding over drinks at the Ascott Global Conference dinner in 2010

Unleashing the Green Potential

While one may look on leading the green movement in the world's largest international serviced residence owner-operator, with more than 29,000 apartment units in over 70 cities across more than 20 countries, as an onerous task, but Mr Soh and his green committee have set their sights on achievable targets right from the start. “We did not want to set unrealistic targets and make all kinds of nice sounding statements. Plans were translated into smaller achievable action plans that are purposeful. Targets have to be real, tangible and engage our guests, staff and stakeholders,” he said firmly.

A progressive approach was adopted. The Go Green @ Ascott campaign was first launched internally among 5,000 employees in July 2011. Through various ways, Mr Soh and his team has helped their colleagues understand the environmental challenges at hand and how they could make a difference - both as an organisation and as individuals.

As Mr Soh already knew that some colleagues among their midst have adopted eco-friendly practices at work, he felt that his job was to provide a platform for co-workers to unleash creativity in such individual green efforts and organise them in a concerted way.

In a short span of a year, they managed to get broad-based support within Ascott for the green initiatives. Consistent green practices were put in place in all the Ascott properties and offices. Water, energy, paper and waste reduction is now a way of life at the Ascott properties and offices.

Mr Soh sharing Ascott’s green vision with colleagues at the company’s Global Conference in 2011
Mr Soh sharing Ascott’s green vision with colleagues at the company’s Global Conference in 2011

In January this year, the Go Green @ Ascott website was launched to share more about the organisation’s green vision, framework and green initiatives. For example, fun activities such as Wear Less or Wear More Day (where employees are encouraged to dress down for work on the day when the air conditioning is turned up or where heating is reduced) and Ascott Earth Day (where staff and residents observe Earth Hour every first Friday of the month at all its properties around the world) became popular events.

Mr Soh is encouraged by the green efforts put in place by the properties and offices whether they are in Asia or Europe. “Although it may come more naturally for our colleagues in Europe to adopt such green practices as they are already eco-conscious to begin with, it did not take much for our colleagues in Asia to get on board. Their response to green initiatives may be slightly different but they are no less environmentally conscious than our European or Australian colleagues,” he said.

Walking the Green Talk at Home

Although he does not profess to be a green warrior at heart, Mr Soh says his aim is to be greener every day. “I do not believe in trying to completely change people’s lifestyles overnight when it comes to living green. Rather than have a small group of people trying to be “super-green”, it is better to target the mass population and encourage them to take small but meaningful and progressive steps towards the green effort. I believe that each person can make a difference by consciously being greener today than yesterday, and being greener tomorrow than what we are today. If everyone does that, we will be fine,” reasoned Mr Soh.

(Clockwise) Mr Soh, his wife, Ting Ai and his children, Mitchell, Russell and Claire, all try to make going green fun at home
(Clockwise) Mr Soh, his wife, Ting Ai and his children, Mitchell, Russell and Claire, all try to make going green fun at home

As he charts the green path at work, Mr Soh tries to walk the green talk at home. In small and tangible ways, the family of five tries to be environmentally friendly. “I try to make it real and simple for the family as I do at Ascott. For instance, we do not use air conditioning at home except for bedtime. Even then, on weekend nights we try to have ‘sleep-overs’ where we all squeeze into one bedroom so that we use the air conditioning in only one room. The trick is to make going green fun as well. When we do need to use disposables at parties, we reuse our paper cups by personalising them with special icons or names. Planning our trips and using public transport where possible is another way to avoid using the car too much. All these are ways of being green,” explained Mr Soh. His three children Mitchell, Claire and Russell, now 16, 13 and 10 years old respectively, have also started to nag at one another when they are not being green.

“I think it is good that they nag at each other; they even nag at me when I forget to be green. I think it is healthy and in fact we should do that in the office, too, because we may not always remember so it is good to be reminded once in a while,” said Mr Soh.

And he is optimistic that the younger generation will grow up to be eco-conscious. “While the school teaches them to be green, I believe that we need to reinforce the message at home, so that they will not be confused and in time, it will be instinctive and natural,” observed Mr Soh.

With Mr Soh’s realistic approach to stay green, it looks like in time, it will become instinctive not only for his children but for employees and residents at Ascott, too. As for Mr Soh, his adventurous spirit will undoubtedly bode well for him as he continues to chart new paths in Ascott’s green journey.

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