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Olivia Choong on the power of nature to nurture

Olivia Choong on the power of nature to nurture

olivia choong environment day activist singapore

When it comes to a work-life balance, taking time out in nature is the perfect respite from the daily grind. A walk in the park or a day at the beach is always a cure for a frazzled mind. What’s more, with working from home, cancelled commutes and increased hours of screen time being the new normal, it’s more important now than ever to find reasons to get into the beautiful outdoors. 

Sadly given climate change—the big elephant in the room—our natural world is suffering and if we’re unable to stop global warming from tipping over the 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial times, future generations won’t have any parks to walk in or trees to climb. From the wide-reaching impact of fossil fuels and plastic pollution, big industry has a lot to answer for. On top of that, it can be hard to imagine how we as citizens can create change. But it’s all about small steps, something that environmentalist Olivia Choong—aka The Tender Gardener—strongly believes in. 

When Olivia isn’t organising events and or helping companies communicate their sustainability efforts, she’s in her backyard, composting or creating gardening content for social media. Her love for nature nurtured her journey into urban farming, founding Green Drinks and advocating for a more eco-friendly lifestyle. We chatted with the green thinker about why she loves farming (especially growing edibles!) and how we can all do a little to be more #Down4Earth.

olivia choong environment day activist singapore

Tell us about your journey in environmentalism. Where did it begin?

While studying in Perth, I became aware of the need to care for the earth. Most of us aren’t yet mindful of resource depletion and pollution. But, it was only after watching Live Earth, nearly nine years later in 2007, that I realised how climate change was truly impacting us all. It was a rude awakening and compelled me to take an active role in raising awareness on environmental issues. 

That year, I set up a local chapter of Green Drinks with a friend. The goal was to bring together people from business, academia, government, NGOs, and members of the community to discuss environmental issues, collaborate on solutions, and share knowledge. In more recent years, after taking an interest in growing edibles, my personal desire was to connect people to nature. I spend most of my time now creating gardening content on Instagram and YouTube. This helps to inspire people to take an interest in plants and nature as a whole, since people cannot love what they don’t know.

Since co-founding Green Drinks, what have been defining moments on your journey?

When the number of attendees started growing larger each month—over 150 at one pointit really signalled to me that more people wanted to learn about how they could care for the environment. Another defining moment was when government statutory boards started to partner with us, which really made us feel legitimised! 

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As a PR consultant, you’ve worked with multiple companies to convey their green initiatives. What are the biggest hurdles to communicating sustainability?

Around 10 years ago, many saw sustainability as a trend and that it would not be here to stay. That was my initial challenge; getting stakeholders to see sustainability as a serious issue that requires behavioural change and not some fad that will fade. Right now, people realise that climate change is a real issue, but many aren’t willing to shift their purchasing and behavioural habits yet. 

Another hurdle is that many find eco items to be more expensive. It takes a lot of convincing for them to see how ‘worth it’ they are. We need to fill these gaps in understanding with better awareness and statistics. It also helps to be more persuasive in getting people to see that we don’t need so much stuff in our lives. We should buy better quality things and take care of them so that they last longer.

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You’re a big advocate of nature and low-impact living. How do you feel urban citizens (locally, globally) can find ways to reconnect with their natural surroundings?

Having plants, taking nature walks and forest bathing are a few great activities that urbanites can take part in. I used to love staying indoors, but going on nature walks helped me realise the beauty and wonders of nature. However, it was only when I started gardening that I really started appreciating nature. It taught me to observe all the little details such as visiting insects and plant growth, as well as bigger things like weather changes. Now I am more observant of my surroundings and the biodiversity that exists around us.

Around 10 years ago, many saw sustainability as a trend and that it would not be here to stay. That was my initial challenge; getting stakeholders to see sustainability as a serious issue that requires behavioural change and not some fad that will fade. Right now, people realise that climate change is a real issue, but many aren’t willing to shift their purchasing and behavioural habits yet. 

olivia choong environmental activist singapore

Finally, tell us the ways you’re #Down4Earth and how you feel other individuals and brands can be too.

Everyone can try to be minimalist in at least one area of their lives! I believe in owning less – which is difficult when it comes to gardening – and buying better quality for longevity. I compost and harvest rainwater and try to create as little waste as possible, and reuse what I have on hand and recirculate what I no longer need. 

#Down4Earth is a social awareness campaign launched by ZERRIN on World Environment Day 2021. The campaign features Singapore-based sustainability advocates with a passion for urban farming, circular fashion, composting and more. They prove that there’s more to sustainability than the quintessential 3 R’s and there’s something everyone can do. Discover more about the campaign. Photography, styling and production by ZERRIN STUDIO.

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