Securing our Future, by Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder, Group MD and CEO of Olam International

    Blog

    As part of Singapore’s 50th celebrations, Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder, Managing Director and CEO, has contributed to the Singapore Institute of International Affairs’ Future50 report, launched on June 25th, 2015.

    Future50 is an initiative of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), and part of the nationwide SG50 celebrations. It was launched to examine the “The 50 Year Future for Singapore in Asia and the World”, exploring geopolitical, economic, social and environmental trends that could affect the nation.

    Securing our Future

    Singapore’s focus on Sustainability has always been ahead of its time. Today, besides being ranked as one of the world’s greenest cities, it has set an example on sustainable living across multiple areas, including eco-friendly buildings, development of green and blue spaces, promoting the use of public transport with high standards for vehicular emissions, energy efficient technologies, promoting minimum water efficiency standards, waste recycling, improving air quality and public cleanliness. A nation that was not meant to be is today one of the most livable cities in the world.

    Today I see six developmental challenges we must all face up to this century, challenges that all stakeholders, including Olam, must be part of addressing. These six challenges are: a) food security; b) water security; c) impact of climate change; d) energy security; e) sustainable growth without massively depleting “natural capital” and, f) inclusive growth. Each of these issues has interlocked causes and we must start integrating how they are dealt with because they are closely linked together.

    The first two developmental challenges of food and water security are challenges Singapore has worked hard to address since its founding.

    Water Security

    Singapore’s water demand today is estimated at 400 million gallons per day and is expected to double by 2060. Singapore’s water management strategy comprises of a four ‘tap’ plan which includes: a) local catchments for capturing rainwater through 17 reservoirs linked through a comprehensive network of drains and canals; b) imported water from Malaysia (Johor); c) recycled water (NEWater) by recycling and treating Singapore’s used water; and d) desalination. NEWater and desalination is expected to meet 80% of Singapore’s water demand by 2060. This four pronged strategy has significantly reduced Singapore’s reliance on imported water. Singapore’s domestic water consumption per capita has reduced from 156 litres per day in 2008 to 151 litres in 2013. There is a nationwide drive to improve water usage efficiency amongst companies. NEWater has been a disruptive innovation and a game changer.

    Food Security

    Given our relative lack of arable land, the risk of food security is another key challenge that has been proactively addressed by our nation.

    Without the right security of supply and diversity of sources for securing our food supply, geopolitical conflict, climate change and natural disasters can make countries like ours vulnerable to fluctuations in food supply, prices and food safety. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s food security roadmap for Singapore includes encouraging investments in food supply chains abroad.

    This is one of the areas where Singapore corporates such as Olam can play an important role. We operate from seed-to-shelf in 65 countries across 44 agri-commodities. That makes us an enabler in the global food supply framework. Similarly, partnering with organisations like Temasek Life Sciences can help us leverage their breakthrough innovations to enhance farm productivity.

    Building a sustainable future for Singapore

    Continued focus and enhanced partnerships are two of the fundamental elements required to address the ongoing challenge of food and water security. Building a sustainable city, country and society cannot be the sole responsibility of Government.

    We must all do our part. Businesses in particular must understand that generating profits by depleting natural capital from the world’s scarce environmental resources is not, in the long run, a sustainable proposition.

    Olam’s focus on “Growing Responsibly” is driven by that fact. It means we have been working to make “Growing Responsibly” an integral part of our business model. It means embedding commercial, environmental and social responsibilities in equal weighting and value natural capital, the benefits that flow from nature to us.

    Authors

    Sunny Verghese Executive Director, Co-Founder and Group CEO

    Sunny Verghese was with the Kewalram Chanrai Group (KC Group) for over two decades and in 1989 was mandated to start the Company with a view to building an agricultural-products business for the KC Group. Before joining the KC Group, he worked for Unilever in India. Mr Verghese previously chaired CitySpring Infrastructure Management Pte Ltd, a listed Business Trust in Singapore and was also a Commissioner of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC). He has won several awards including ‘Outstanding Chief Executive’ at theSingapore Business Awards in 2007, ‘Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ for Singapore in 2008 and ‘Best CEO of the Year 2011’ at the Singapore Corporate Awards. He was also awarded the Public Service Medal by the Government of the Republic of Singapore in 2010.

    At the beginning of 2018, Sunny Verghese officially took up his role as the new Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the global, CEO-led organisation dedicated to accelerating the transition to a sustainable world.

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