Fashion cover: Emily Lam Ho on her mission to make Hong Kong sustainable
May 7, 2018
Emily Lam Ho is a mother in more ways than one. First and foremost, she’s a mother to a three-year-old son and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. But she’s also a mother to an environmental movement she’s kicking off in Hong Kong.
A woman wearing at least 10 different hats at any given time, she’s utilising her background in economic policy, communications and journalism along with her seven years of experience working in finance to help with the business development at Sing Tao News Corporation, alongside husband Kent Ho and father-in-law Charles Ho. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg – her passions go far beyond profitability and business. She’s an entrepreneur with a vision of the future; it’s a future far beyond our lifetime and she doesn’t like what she sees. By combining her business know-how with her love for the environment, she’s determined to salvage what’s left of it for the generations to come.
So what drives you right now?
The main drive in this next chapter of my life is to give back to society in sustainable fashion. While I am still learning every day and being inspired by those around me, my main passion in life right now is the environment and women’s empowerment. There are a lot of great causes doing great things, but sustainability is always the challenge. Impact investing and corporate sustainability are the ways forward, for me personally. I believe that empowering even one person or one company with the knowledge that they can make a difference in the world is the start of a great cycle of change.
Can you explain a bit more about what impact investing is?
There is a broad definition of impact investing, but to me it is investing in sustainable and socially responsible companies. Being socially responsible can be a competitive angle for corporations today. A good example is Tom’s, which is a pioneer with its one-for-one model. For every pair of shoes it sells, one pair gets donated to children who don’t have shoes. In a sense, this is sustainable as a business because it’s profitable, but at the same time the company is able to help the needy. Another example is companies who want to operate with minimal negative impact on the environment, like businesses seeking to use alternatives to plastics. Sometimes, it’s not so much about the environment as much as it is whether or not people care – especially mothers. Do you care more about your children’s future or your immediate convenience?
Were these matters on your mind before you had children?
From a young age, I’ve never been afraid to push the boundaries or leave my comfort zone; I guess this was due to my keenness in exploration and being a bit different. When I had the opportunity to go to Gambia for volunteer work, I knew I had to go, but my mom was very against this and told me not to because she was worried about my safety. Like any curious kid, this sparked the rebellious side of me, and the more my mom didn’t want me to go, the more I wanted to.
Besides that, I ran an orphanage in Grenada before and I went to Yunnan with Teach for China. I think many people, especially in Hong Kong, feel there is a disconnect from these issues because we are so lucky and privileged – sometimes we do live in our own bubble. But by going to these places, you really get the full picture and experience the severity of the situation.
If I had only stayed in my comfort zone, I don’t think I would feel the way I do now. So giving back has always been ingrained in me, but it magnified the second I became a mother, because there’s suddenly something you care about more than yourself.
Are you hoping your children will follow in your footsteps?
Definitely. I think especially for their generation, risk-taking and creativity is important in doing something different in life – something that could benefit those around them and their community.
Three years ago, you had your first child. What’s changed the most about you?
A lot of what I am doing now is inspired by my children; being a mother really changes you. Everyone can be a bit selfish sometimes, but being a mother you have to be constantly selfless and see the bigger picture instead of always just living in the moment. You need to be planning 10 steps ahead, like a chess game, but meanwhile you often question yourself if it’s the right choice or not. I think that was the hardest part for me when I became a mother.
What’s next for you?
I started a non-profit organisation called Eco Drive with a group of friends. Many of the co-founders, like me, are mothers inspired by their children and doing what’s best for them. Our focus is to encourage those around us to change their behaviour about single- use plastic, one step at a time. Unlike some save-the-earth initiatives, this one isn’t about shaming people into reducing their impact on the environment. I fully understand that this needs to happen gradually, and it’s about making small changes here and there. I’m not totally guilt-free either, because if I’m out with my son and we don’t have water and he’s thirsty, I’ll still buy him a bottle of water. Plastic is not the enemy – it is about reducing use and reusing. I understand with our current lifestyles, there may be limitations. However, we just do the best we can.
I want to believe that everybody can make a small change. Right now I’m working on a no-straw campaign. I chose to start with eliminating straws because it seems to be the easiest thing for us to give up. This campaign has led to all of my father’s [Peter Lam’s] hotels and restaurants converting to metal or paper straws. We’re also working with several large corporations to give them ideas to become more eco-friendly and we partnered with the Plastic Oceans Foundation to secure the rights for educational screenings of the documentary A Plastic Ocean. We are also currently developing a film with John Alexander that looks at the plastic problem specifically in Hong Kong.
How do you feel about the recycling situation in Hong Kong?
That’s also something we’re working on. It’s shocking – we met with this company that had a recycling plant in Hong Kong, but unfortunately due to lack of recyclable materials coming in, it had to be shut down. They had to end up buying trash from other countries to maintain the plant. I think there’s a lack of knowledge about recycling here. For example, many people don’t know that a plastic bottle cannot be recycled unless it’s been cleaned out and the cap removed. There’s a lack of information – and this is where we can help, too. Because Hong Kong is a relatively dense place, I feel like it shouldn’t be so difficult to implement an efficient way to recycle.
What’s your advice for those who want to save the planet?
This cause that I’m so passionate about may be on a global scale, but it’s important to start local and at home. Otherwise, we don’t feel empowered, because it can feel like we are simply a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. It might seem like one person using one plastic bottle is insignificant, but if everybody thought like that, the world would never change. While it is important to educate the new generation and teach them how to preserve the earth for their own living, it is equally imperative to educate the working and elderly, as their actions dictate the future for those who inhabit it when they’re gone.
Photography / Ricky Lo
Styling / Kieran Ho
Florist / Blooms & Blossoms
Hair / Heitai Cheung
Make-Up / Gary Chung
Styling Assistant / Bobo Lau
This feature originally appeared on the May 2018 print issue of #legend