Edwin Seah: In Sustainability, It Isn’t Difficult To Separate Doers From Talkers

As a first-world country, we really have no excuse to waste the food we import, produce and consume, says the head of Policy & Public Affairs, Food Industry Asia.

Edwin Seah: In Sustainability, It Isn’t Difficult To Separate Doers From Talkers

Food Industry Asia (FIA) is an industry association founded in 2010 by a group of leading food & beverage companies. The association serves as a hub for advocacy and debate, bringing together senior business leaders to champion initiatives that promote sustainable growth. As the head of Policy & Public Affairs, Edwin Seah leads a team that monitors, strategises and drives advocacy efforts on behalf of member companies to ensure their interests are served as the FIA advances the industry’s policy and regulatory positions. 

What are some notable projects you’ve done at the FIA? 

We have notched up quite a few significant projects and achievements, including gaining accreditation with the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2018, commissioning the first comprehensive study on tackling plastic waste in South-east Asia, working with FIA members to produce a sustainable-packaging roadmap for 2020-2024 for the industry, and partnering the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to conduct a multi-country survey to better understand perceptions on plastic and packaging waste. 

What are FIA’s broad-ranging initiatives on sustainability?

First and foremost, we invest in data and information — necessary as a base to help us determine how best to tackle, address or advance the industry’s collective sustainability priorities.

There is also a very strong focus on material innovation — to come up with food-packaging materials that are both safe for the environment and consumers. Together with the Economic Development Board, Nestle, and Procter & Gamble, we’ve launched the Circular Materials Lab to accelerate research into and discovery of new packaging materials.

We also actively engage with governments and stakeholders, and partner international organisations such as the UNEP, to co-develop policies and coordinate efforts to address some of the pressing sustainability challenges that countries and companies face.

What sustainable steps can government, businesses and consumers take to ensure the food security of Singapore? 

In Singapore’s context, we need to look beyond urban rooftop farming, which produces mainly vegetables, to larger-scale farming that can provide a significant quantity of our protein needs. These include poultry, seafood, eggs, etc. We might need to return to our farming roots and look at dedicating certain parts of Singapore, perhaps even one or two offshore islands, to housing these farms. We’ll also need to look at measures that stem food loss and food waste. As a first-world country, we really have no excuse to waste the food we import, produce and consume. 

With sustainability being such a buzzword these days, how can we discern who’s really walking the talk? 

In sustainability, it is not very difficult to separate the doers from the talkers. Companies that are doers have invested in infrastructure (e.g. recycling plants that produce new bottles from waste bottles) and research. They have also switched their product packaging formats to reduce material use and ensure they are recyclable. 

These companies have also instituted sustainability across their internal and external supply chains, by ensuring they procure from sustainable sources and impose the same requirements on their suppliers. 

Art direction by Catherine Wong; photography by Darren Gabriel Leow; grooming by Angel Gwee

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