Rumah Group’s Kathlyn Tan is on a mission to grow environmentally sustainable businesses

Have an environmentally sustainable business plan? Rumah Group would like to hear your pitch

Kathlyn Tan from Rumah Group is investing in the best jewels the world has to offer: the environment

by : Allyson Tutay

Sustainable. It’s a word that’s being used as an adjective for many of our favourite things – fashion, meat, cars – to the point where we can’t help but wonder if it’s just another fad. We’ll buy organic produce, but the car we drive to the supermarket has a shockingly large carbon footprint. In our wardrobes, our Prada Re-Nylon jacket hangs next to our fur coats. As ‘sustainable’ seems to be worn like a brooch (and taken off just as conveniently), the real question becomes – how can we walk the talk?

We could learn from Kathlyn Tan. She leads the environmental portfolio of Rumah Group as well as its philanthropic arm, Rumah Foundation. Add to that her position on the GYP Properties team where she champions community and sustainability initiatives. But even beyond the professional hats she wears, Tan also practices sustainability in her daily life. She’s a freediving athlete, after all. She knows that oceans are homes, too.

Is there a reason why you have a particular focus on the ocean and increasing ocean awareness?

Kathlyn Tan (KT): I’m an avid scuba diver and seeing coral reefs decline over the years has motivated me to act for the ocean. It’s upsetting when you see your favourite places become shadows of what they once were. While not all of us are able to experience the beauty of the underwater world, the fact is that we depend on the ocean for our survival and way of living. Not only is it a carbon sink that produces the oxygen we breathe, but we also depend on marine ecosystems for food and livelihood. We’re eating unsustainable seafood and marine species are seeing serious declines – all while we continue to destroy habitats and pollute the environment.

How would investing in environmentally sustainable businesses change the way the business world views the environment?

KT: At Rumah Group, we hope that, by investing in areas like alternative proteins and waste management technologies, we can have a positive impact and do our part to shape a sustainable future – one where people and nature flourish together. It is not unusual that as a family business, we have a long-term view. However, with the rapid expansion of these spaces and their growing demand, one would expect that such investments can also be profitable in shorter time frames. We hope others will join us, as we have joined those before us, in seeing value in sustainability.

Becoming environmentally aware has made me rethink how and what I consume and what I choose to support.

Do you think there’s enough of a positive shift towards sustainability, both in the business world and in individuals’ daily lives? Do you ever think it’s too late for the environment and how do you deal with this kind of cynical thinking?

KT: Although the sustainability space has been around for decades, it’s encouraging to see momentum pick up now when we need it most. However, just talking about sustainability isn’t enough. Individuals and businesses have to change their behaviour for us to have any impact at all. We can all do more to minimise waste and embrace a plant-rich diet, clean energy, sustainable cities and transportation, environmentally friendly materials, indigenous peoples and local communities. Environmental grief is weighing on the minds of many, including myself, so I try to work and surround myself with like-minded individuals, and stay connected to nature and the wonderful work that’s already being done to protect and restore natural ecosystems.

If there was one thing you could change about the business world and its relationship with the environment, what would it be?

KT: Today, if I were to purchase a fast fashion T-shirt for 15 dollars manufactured in Bangladesh, this cost wouldn’t include the harmful consequences to communities or the environment, including the energy, water, land and chemicals used across its lifetime, from cotton field to landfill. If I could change the business world’s relationship with the environment, it would be to use true costs across all industries so that consumers know the impact of their choices and that the additional funds go towards supporting workers’ rights and sustainable welfare, as well as reducing and repairing the environmental harm caused by production.

How has environmental sustainability influenced your lifestyle? What tips would you give someone who wants to have a more sustainable lifestyle?

KT: Becoming environmentally aware has made me rethink how and what I consume and what I choose to support. It’s encouraged me to reduce my waste and energy consumption, and purchase clean energy and carbon offsets. It’s also inspired me to adopt a plant-based diet. While I have made some progress in adjusting my consumption and lifestyle, there is so much more to do. The key tip I’d share is that changing your lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight and it’s important to celebrate the little steps – whether it’s bringing your own bag or attending a beach clean-up. What’s critical is that everyone is doing their part. Surrounding yourself with like-minded friends who care about the same things makes all the difference in how you experience your journey.

And finally, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?

KT: I hope to be able to contribute to conservation in whatever ways I can and support the amazing people I’ve been lucky to meet and know. I’d love to be able to tell future generations that we tried our best to leave behind a more liveable and just world.

Rumah Group