When I first met Ms Joline Tang(Jo), founder of The Sustainability Project (TSP), I was floored in the best way possible—she was only 24!
The young SMU accountancy graduate had started her eco-friendly business in 2018, but her heart for the environment had already begun growing when she was studying in polytechnic.
Back then, Jo’s course mates would tend to write on only one side of a paper, which she found to be a rather wasteful practice. She started collecting her friends’ used papers and made use of the other side before discarding them.
Recycling became a more frequent habit of hers and slowly, but surely, she moved towards a sustainable and almost zero waste lifestyle.
Cultivating Her Interest In An Eco-Friendly Lifestyle
Although she went on to further her studies in accounting at university, she still wanted to participate in environment-related activities, so she joined the environmental club, where she organised various events to help raise awareness for this cause.
Jo also took up several internships in the sustainability sector.
She first started working in a small start-up that sold biodegradable and compostable products. She then continued to be involved in sustainable reporting. Concurrently, that was also when she started up her blog to help raise awareness on sustainability and eco-friendly efforts.
The Start Of The Sustainability Project
To my surprise, Jo revealed that it was her family and friends who first came up with the idea of her opening a store. She also went on to explain how she was even against the idea initially.
For her, what was worrying was having an adequate amount of finances to start up her business and keep it afloat and thriving. She came to realise that while her blog was crucial in educating the public and raising awareness of the importance of sustainability, the shop gave people a concrete platform to make a tangible step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
“We don’t want this to just be a shop, because anyone can start a shop. The main thing is to spread awareness and help people integrate the idea of sustainability into their daily lives,” Jo explains.
The Inspiration Behind The Sustainability Project
She started by bringing in international products.
Australia, for instance, was more well-versed in sustainability efforts, with many brands actively promoting them. Bento boxes, metal straws and even beeswax wraps from Tasmania were some of the items being brought in.
Initially, she had to learn to be more selective as she had to ascertain the ethical standards and procedures of the brand before she could accept more items for sale. Subsequently, with more local shops emerging, she gradually integrated more locally made items into her shop.
Now, she can proudly declare that 70-80% of TSP products are locally made, compared to the less than 50% figure of the yesteryears.
Jo shares candidly, “To be honest, I never aspired to have my own brand. I’m not a business student (…) what we study in school doesn’t prepare us for entrepreneurship. Things were also a little rocky when it came to finances. I had to pick up things along the way too, like HR. The most crucial factor is that the market has definitely become more competitive. Many more shops of this nature started popping up. Plus, almost anyone can sell these kinds of products at cheap prices.”
Jo goes on to share that it’s not just about buying the right things; she’s also concerned about reckless shopping, which is something she’s trying to discourage.
“Our shop helps people get what they need, but we also want to make sure it’s not consumerism. We want to advocate the concept of “slow fashion” and try to educate people on when to purchase products too,” she explains.
Hence, TSP puts out limited stocks (as seen by the different stock counts on their website), so people who need [a product] can sit on their decision before purchasing it.
She also sells ‘Imperfects” which refers to products that are sold at lower prices as they are slightly flawed, but can still be used.
Jo’s Favourite Products
Personally, Jo’s favourite product in the shop is the Aleppo soap, which can be used to clear up the skin for someone suffering from skin conditions such as eczema.
She also uses the SoL Bottle on the daily, as its glass material means that it does not retain any unpleasant smells or stains.
Future Plans For The Sustainability Project
When asked about prospective projects, Jo explains that their current focus is on talks, workshops and events as these reinforce education.
She is attempting to gauge what else she can do in terms of educating more individuals and also working with companies, introducing ideas to different corporate businesses who practice sustainability in their office as well.
Turning Challenges Into Motivation
When asked about the biggest challenge faced, Jo revealed that it was experiencing the feeling of dejection when people don’t share her heart for a noble environmental cause.
“No matter how hard you try, some people just don’t care [about the environment]—but that’s normal. You must be patient in terms of waiting for change to happen. For myself, it took me 7-8 years to finally see change happening. Persevere and patience are key! Currently, change is happening quite fast. Don’t give up and underestimate what you can do for the environment.”
Jo is encouraged by the current generation of students who are perceptibly more interested in sustainability efforts than her peers.
“I see a lot more student-led groups in universities and Instagram accounts owned by students— and that was very heartening. [Back then], my friends couldn’t understand what was going on.”
A Change In Lifestyle
As big of an environmentalist as Jo is, her lifestyle changes didn’t take place overnight.
“My change happened quite gradually. It began with recycling and I soon got my family on board. When I started interning at the packaging company, I stopped using straws and plastic lids. When I went into sustainability reporting, I stopped doing takeaway for my food and used reusables. And when I went to Norway for my student exchange, I made my own shampoo.”
Indeed, her inspiring testimony reveals that step-by-step modifications are the key to leading a sustainability lifestyle!
So, what can one do to start being more environmentally conscious?
“The first step to take is to reflect on your current lifestyle. There are definitely small changes that you can make that don’t require a very heavy commitment.” Jo advises.
Check out Jo’s shop, blog and her other projects here.