For Feiy’s Impact Series our writer in residence Nika Dulevich is talking to entrepreneurs who pursue a path greater than just profit and strive to contribute to the greater good with their products and services.
在这次的 Feiy’s 冲击系列，作家 Nika Dulevich 会与不仅仅追求盈利道路并努力通过其产品和服务为更大的利益做出贡献的企业家们。
The business owner she talked to this time is Teck Tin Wong, the founder and CEO of RenewMaterial (www.renewmaterial.com), an international company focused on research and development of renewable, sustainable and green alternatives to wood.
In this interview TT talks about his struggle with creating and promoting innovative products, shares his insight into the dangers of formaldehyde and PVC, and opens up about the legacy he wants to leave behind.
This is the second part of a two-part interview, where TT talks about succeeding as an impact-driven company, shares his insight into the dangers of formaldehyde and PVC, and opens up about the legacy he wants to leave behind. You can read the first part of the interview here
Interviewer: What advice would you give to entrepreneurial individuals who would like to make a positive impact in the world?
TT Wong: You must be persistent and believe in what you’re doing. More importantly, have the determination and the will to do what you think is right. I’ve seen a lot of people give up. Just imagine, I launched a product and it took me 3-4 years to put it on the market. Every time we had to test our products in front of a customer, we could have failed, and we did, at times.
At such times it is easy to give up, but we didn’t. You must have a strong heart to do things that you believe matter.
Interviewer: How did you build your team? And what advice would you give people who are starting their ventures in terms of building a team?
TT Wong: Even if your business is good for the environment, but isn’t economically viable, you will not stay in the market for long. I strongly believe that we can build this to be a profitable business. I promised my staff that if we are successful, if there are companies interested in taking over or we go for IPO, I will share the profit with all of them so at least they are guaranteed. Guaranteed to walk out of this place and become their own boss if they wish to, instead of working for someone else. I have also given good shareholder options to my key staff.
Interviewer: RenewMaterial was born in 2010 in Singapore since then you have received multiple awards and worked with clients around Asia and the world. How do you scale your impact? And what advice would you give to those who want to scale their sustainable ventures?
TT Wong: Yes, as a matter of fact, we recently have been awarded German Design 2020 Award for Material & Surfaces, and the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label in both Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure and Responsible Consumption & Production.
As for the advice to those who want to scale their sustainable ventures, I can only say this: Always make sure you have enough resources, both people and financial. You need to understand the market before you go for it.
One of the reasons why RenewMaterial hasn’t expanded into other areas is that I strongly believe we don’t have the bandwidth. We don’t have the resources, especially the staff, to do it. I did a lot of turnkey projects in the past as well, so I think these are the key factors that we have to put into consideration before we scale up.
Interviewer: If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
TT Wong: I would say I would spend more time looking for a better location. Make sure your location is sustainable for a long time. I’m talking about at least 10-20 years.
王：我会说我会花更多的时间寻找一个更好的位置。确保您的位置在很长一段时间里是可持续的。我说的是至少 10 - 20 年。
Interviewer: How can we as consumers encourage companies to have more sustainable products and practices?
TT Wong: Use and help to promote the products that are good for health and the environment. That is the way. For example, I would not encourage anyone who has children to use PVC flooring. So instead of using PVC, I would use natural fiber flooring that is proven to be safe. We have tested the product and have the certificates to prove that it’s much healthier than any other man-made flooring in the world.
Today, people are more conscious of their purchases. I remember 10-20 years ago in China, when you wanted to sell something, the first question people would ask was “How much is it?” Today the mentality has changed. Most Chinese will now ask “Does it contain formaldehyde?” Everyone knows and worries about formaldehyde. The practice in China is to not move into a new or renovated house for 6 to 9 months after the work is done, to make sure the toxins have evaporated. They know formaldehyde is carcinogenic.
Interviewer: I didn’t know that. Can they look for more environmentally material? What is the problem there?
TT Wong: A lot of the material in the market claim that they don’t contain formaldehyde, when in fact they do. There are “smart” businessmen, who come up with ways to camouflage formaldehyde. It works temporarily, maybe for a year, but formaldehyde takes about 30 years to off-gas from the product.
Interviewer: As a consumer, how would I know?
TT Wong: You wouldn’t know. For example, most MDF board uses melamine-formaldehyde or urea-formaldehyde (UF). Even this flooring (points at the floor in the room, where the interview was conducted), the top skin is paper, but this paper is soaked in formaldehyde liquid, taken out and pasted on top. So if someone were to tell me this flooring contains no formaldehyde, I wouldn’t believe them.
王：你不会知道的。例如，大多数 MDF 板使用三聚氰胺甲醛或尿素甲醛 （UF）。甚至这个地板（点在房间的地板上，在那里进行采访），顶部的皮肤是纸，但这份文件浸泡在甲醛液体，拿出来，并粘贴在上面。所以，如果有人告诉我，这个地板不含甲醛，我不会相信他们。
Interviewer: So, there isn’t a lot of trust in the market?
TT Wong: Correct. You look at data and see that the top 10 furniture manufacturers in China use materials containing the level of formaldehyde that exceeds the limit. About two months ago, there was an article about a famous Chinese furniture company (http://english.tubaobao.com/about.php) and their products having high levels of formaldehyde.
I mean, there are businesses like it everywhere, I’m not talking only about China. It is especially true in less developed countries. When they send new material for testing, it is different from the one they actually produce and sell. That’s the reality we have to face.
Interviewer: How should we as consumers go about it? If I want to have a renovation, what do I do? Is there no other option?
TT Wong: There are. You have to ask for a certificate. Honestly, on average, most man-made materials you get in China have formaldehyde. They claim that its content is around E0. E0, E1, E2 are different emission classes. E0 is supposed to be the best with the lowest content. 0.5 PPM, is still higher than the American new standard. The average is about 1.5-2 PPM and it is about 30 to 40 times higher than the new standard. If you feel tired in a room, there are probably materials with high formaldehyde content.
王：有。你必须要求一个证书。老实说，在中国，你得到的制造材料平均有甲醛。他们声称其内容在 E0 左右。E0、E1、E2 是不同的发射类别。E0 应该是内容最低的最好。0.5 PPM，仍高于美国新标准。平均值约为 1.5-2 PPM，比新标准高出约 30 至 40 倍。如果你在房间里感到疲倦，可能有高甲醛含量的材料。
For example, carpet contains formaldehyde. Carpet is one of the least environmentally friendly materials because the central layer is PVC. So， we don’t encourage people to use carpet.
Interviewer: What do you use then?
TT Wong: Natural fiber flooring (smiles)! That’s what I’m coming up with. (Editor’s note: you can read more about PVC and its dangers here).
王：天然纤维地板！这就是我要设计的。（编者注：您可以在此处阅读有关 PVC 及其危险性内容的更多内容）。
Interviewer: How do you as a consumer individual contribute to environmental and social wellbeing?
TT Wong: I will not use any environmentally unfriendly material, such as plastic. I also encourage my family members and friends to transition to environmentally friendly alternatives. Not many people know about formaldehyde or PVC. So I always explain how harmful they are and advise not to go for a low price.
It is not because I want to sell my products. I will send them the information from independent sources to judge for themselves. At the end of the day, you want to be both environmentally friendly and cost-competitive. That’s why we are successful. Our products are cost-competitive with all the conventional flooring and furniture.
Interviewer: Who do you think has a bigger role in driving sustainable change, government, businesses, or consumers?
TT Wong: I think it depends on the location. For example, in Europe, Switzerland, and Sweden in particular, you don’t need much help to promote sustainable material. In China, however, you need help and strong government support. Without governmental support it is difficult to grow, unless you have very strong financial support.
At the end of the day, whatever you produce, you need consumers to buy your products. So, the government can play a very strong role in promoting the products. We sponsor a lot of exhibition materials in China as well as do a lot of governmental projects. In return, they promote us. For example, we built a four-story laboratory at Nanjing Forestry University.
We provided all the materials for the flooring, the walls, and everything else for free. In turn, they have set up a new R&D center there. They have been trying to develop similar materials for years. So we volunteered to display our products there. And I am happy to discuss how we can work together to make it better. I’m always open to new ideas.
Interviewer: What does success mean to you?
TT Wong: I’m 60 years old. I have 3 beautiful daughters. My eldest has graduated, she is a lawyer. The second and third ones are doing medicine. I can retire very comfortably, but I choose to do this work. This is a very meaningful project and I’m willing to spend the time. When we talk about success, we can talk about monetary success or success in terms of satisfaction. I choose the second one. Everything you do, you must be interested in. If you only work for money, you won’t be successful.
Interviewer: What impact do you want to make in the world and how far are you into it?
TT Wong: I have spent half of my life developing new products, new applications. I want to create something to replace plywood and MDF board that is better, more sustainable, and healthier for the younger generation.
Interviewer: How would you like to be remembered?
I don’t need people to remember me. I would rather people know that there are more sustainable materials that they can use. So I want people to remember the material I create rather than me personally.