Claire Chiang, co-founder and senior vice-president of Banyan Tree Holdings
Long before sustainability became a buzzword, Claire Chiang was already practising it. As the story goes, Chiang, her husband, executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping, and his architect brother and senior vice- president Ho Kwon Cjan, purchased an abandoned toxic tin mine in Thailand. They rehabilitated the site to build Laguna Phuket, Asia’s first integrated resort destination, where the brand’s flagship property Banyan Tree Phuket is located. Since then, the company has made its ethos of sustainable development the foundation on which all its properties and programmes are built. “Innovative design, thoughtful building and construction processes are in harmony with nature and infused with local culture for a deep sense of place. This includes cultural heritage and biodiversity protection, female empowerment and more,” says Chiang. She brings her depth of experience in championing and implementing corporate sustainability programmes to this year’s The Peak Power List. “Each honouree offers an interesting facet to contributing to the greater good, whether it is in infrastructure, construction or planning. They were chosen for their effort and continuous performance. This is not just a public relations exercise or a whitewashing practice. It is about shaping the future for the greater good. We believe every company has to be a steward of this planet in the way they do business and operate.”
John Kim, co-founder of Amasia
In his line of work as the co-founder of venture capital firm Amasia, John Kim is well aware of how critical a business’ sustainability is to its prospects. “Sustainability plays an increasingly dominant role in securing access to capital,” says Kim. “Academic literature demonstrates that enterprises with strong environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives not only avoid risks but also outperform the market. That is why more investors are demanding that their portfolio companies have strong sustainability programmes.” Kim, who has a decade of experience in managing trading and investment strategies across multiple asset classes for Goldman Sachs, Korean National Investments and Mercuria Energy Group, says practising corporate sustainability makes good business sense. “Growing markets tend to consist of young consumers who are conscious about making a better planet. That is why so many brands incorporate sustainability into their narrative. It is both the smart and the right thing to do.” In selecting the Power List honourees, Kim made it a point to shortlist organisations whose sustainable values are woven into their overall fabric. The greatest impact that sustainable companies have might just be on their employees, he says. “It creates a more meaningful and enjoyable working environment. People like having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. ‘I am going to change the world’ works a lot better than ‘I am going to earn a pay cheque’.”
Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations (CGIO) at the National University of Singapore’s Business School
In many ways, Covid-19 has made it even more essential for businesses to embrace sustainability. “Traditionally, we have approached it from an environmental angle to ensure natural resources are not being degraded,” says Professor Lawrence Loh. “Recently, however, the social and governance aspects are becoming even more critical, especially in this pandemic.” For instance, social issues such as employee health when working from home and worker welfare, especially among migrant workers, should be considered. The fact that most companies missed the pandemic in their risk assessments is also a wake-up call, he adds. A regular commentator on governance and sustainability for many leading global and local media, Loh also leads the Sustainability Reporting initiative covering Asean and Singapore corporations at CGIO and steers the Singapore Governance and Transparency Index. The well-respected academic says that for the Power List, the panel made it a point to dig into the companies’ sustainability disclosures. “The nominees have to move beyond generality and towards more specificity; proclamations must be backed by solid evidence. It is not about just ensuring that all the items in sustainability are ticked against but that the commitment tells a grand story – one that is purposefully woven into the business mission, too.”
Fang Eu-Lin, partner at PwC Singapore
In many ways, the adage “the only constant in life is change” rings truer than ever now. “Even before Covid-19, companies were already subjected to increasing volatility and uncertainties driven by megatrends, including technological change, evolving stakeholder expectations, population growth, resource constraints and climate change,” observes Fang Eu-Lin. “These will materially impact companies now or in the future.” To ensure longevity, progressive companies will have to understand both the risks and the opportunities that these changes bring about and develop their strategies with such factors in mind. “This helps them to be more resilient and more sustainable in the long run,” says Fang, who leads PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change Practice in Singapore. “Studies have shown that times of deep crisis are the moments in history when new norms and ideas are established. And I think we are at a moment in time right where new ideas on sustainability can be anchored.” For the Power List, she took into consideration how the organisations not only made sustainability a norm in their practices but also how clearly they expressed this value during the pandemic. “Extensive support was extended by these organisations. They provided children with education materials or facilities for distance learning and enabled migrant workers to stay connected with their families back home among other initiatives,” says Fang.