What waste? The business benefits of circularity
GUESTS FOR CHANGE with christian g. mongendre
Within the Guests for Change series, thought leaders, pioneers, visionaries, and game-changers are interviewed to give us more insight into the world of sustainability and circularity. Already a close collaborator with THE GUESTLIST and a well-known pioneer of Hong Kong's plant-based movement, Christian G. Mongendre shares his experience as a young change-maker putting sustainability and circularity into practice.
Exposed to both western and eastern cultures, Christian was born in Hong Kong and then lived in both the USA and France. Parts of his childhood years were spent living in an old farmhouse just outside of Paris. Within this, he was intricately connected with his food system. Being surrounded by animals, collecting eggs directly from their chickens, it was completely normal to him to know exactly where his food was coming from.
Going on to become a high-performance rower as a student, he realized that food was his fuel - and that the quality of his performance was directly connected to the quality of his food and diet. A turning point came when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he did all he could to help her heal with dietary assistance. It was at this point that he recognized the connection that one’s diet has with healing too. Upon further examination into the food and medical systems, Christian recognized how little good-quality food and nutrition is emphasized as a tool to assist with healing.
Image © row2k.com via Christian G. Mongendre of the IRA Regatta 2006
Diving deeper into it, he saw that the food system is not currently set up to provide us with the highest quality. Rather, the focus has been on pushing for profits while compromising on quality and traceability. Furthermore, the environmental impact of the amount of food waste produced is immense - and this is not something that makes sense. Christian says that the current food system is simply not very efficient from both the environmental and financial implications.
For example, “There are so many ingenious things you can do if you’re monitoring your garbage,” Christian shares. One can make use of the flavourful zest of lemons instead of throwing it away after making lemonade with the inners of the fruit. Christian explains, as a restaurant owner, “Wastage of food is a main contributor to food costs, and if you’re losing if your staff is throwing a big part of the vegetable away.” Not only are we able to come up with creative solutions that make use of what we discard, this enables us to be more profitable in a financial sense. By being more circular, Christian identifies that:
“Business is the right tool to create change.”
Image via Getty Images
As an agent of change, a business can have a further-reaching, positive impact that stretches across multiple levels. As a business, you can provide a tangible “experience” of concepts that may otherwise not have been within someone’s scope. As an example, within his own business, the TREEHOUSE restaurant, he places a focus on creating environmental profits first.
This includes incorporating an aspect of “giving back to nature” with all that is done. From chairs made out of recycled plastic, to juices that are served in glass bottles that are reused after professional cleaning, to composting as much of their waste as possible, TREEHOUSE is at the forefront of conscious eating, providing an eco-friendly experience for its Hong Kong patrons.
By linking business into the food system, humanity can become more circular. The food system, (at its most basic core) is inherently circular. Food is grown and consumed. What is not consumed, can return to the earth - back into the system from where it came to nourish the growth of more food. But telling people that what they’re doing is wrong is not the way to go about it. Implying that someone is harming the world by choosing not to have a plant-based diet often won’t leave a good taste in their mouth.
Image via @treehouse.eco
“Being negative doesn’t create change,” shares Christian.
“Being negative doesn’t create change,” shares Christian. Rather, giving people the option of something that “accidentally” does good and makes a more positive impact is what he advocates.
Having an experience in which you realize only after the fact that there was a further-reaching positive impact that came from your actions plays more powerfully and sustainably in the longer-term. This is a far better consumer experience than insinuating that something is wrong.
An experience of the positive brings your audience straight into the notion of “What do I care about?” “How much deeper can I go today?” and “What is my ideal?” This seamlessly filters into what circularity is about - as Christian shares:
Image via @treehouse.eco
“Circularity, essentially, is deeply understanding the whole process.”
Christian says that circularity also accounts for “What is the true price? What is the true cost? What is the true value of things?” - similar to what Karla Magruder highlighted in her conversation with Guests for Change. We need to take into account the true cost of things.
And as transparency and integrity become more and more valuable within business, Christian highlights that in his experience, “Your good actions [become] your identity. You never have to pay for advertising, because you have this story to tell, you have the things that you’re doing that are motivating your team, that is making the difference. That’s your communication.”
Read the first part of our conversation with Christian to gain an insight into how the food system can be a vehicle for change from the perspective of the youth.