Meet Shanghai's Eco-Warriors


With July being Green Month, it's a gentle reminder for all of us to rethink how much we do to care for our own environment. Whether it's a matter of being a little more conscientious of our own water usage at home, recycling instead of simply throwing things away, or looking for natural products, there are plenty of ways for us to reconsider our actions. 

This week, we spoke with a few individuals in Shanghai working hard to help the city make smarter lifestyle choices; from the clothes you wear to the way that you recycle unwanted goods, there are a number of brands and companies who work hard to provide sustainable services. Meet the eco-warriors paving the way to eco-friendly living in Shanghai.

Alizee – Co-founder at Zero Waste Shanghai

Years in Shanghai: 3

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

I grew up in Belgium and I came to Shanghai first to study for six months before deciding to come back to live and work there. I currently have two jobs: on the one hand, I am a digital designer and I work closely with entrepreneurs and small companies with their graphic universe, social media, and digital marketing. On the other hand, I started Zero Waste Shanghai in 2016, first a community, then a website and today a registered business in China. We work with schools, companies and individuals to reduce their impact on the environment through workshops, seminars and consulting.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a green business in Shanghai?

The demand was there. I never thought of starting a business, but my co-founder and I realized at the time that something was happening and demands were coming in, so we decided to go ahead and start a business for good.

3. What was the experience like?

The experience of opening a business is exciting and exhausting at the same time. It takes months to finalize all the paperwork, and we were operational from the start, so doing those at the same time was exhausting. But you learn so much while also meeting interesting and inspiring people. Starting a green/sustainable/impact-focused company on top of that is a challenge because you need to educate people a lot on the "why" and "how" before they see the value in what you’re doing. People think that if you’re doing something good, it’s free.

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your green business in Shanghai?

Obviously not speaking the local language was the most difficult one. Secondly, local insights are tremendously different to what you might be accustomed to. Besides that, it’s again the awareness/ education part that is tough. 

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

I believe China has great potential when it comes to the future and sustainable living in the city. I have a lot of faith in China’s future in that aspect, and they’ll have a very good and positive impact and will also be an example for other countries. 

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

  • Avoid using plastic bags for shopping, groceries, fruits and vegetables, or gifts. Don’t even contend the idea of biodegradable plastic bags. Unless you compost them, it remains an issue. 

  • Avoid plastic straws, and plastic or paper cups to take away. Bring your own bottle to fill it up. People think ‘it’s only one straw’ … we’re eight billion people, we can’t all think like that. 

  • Try to separate your food waste from your other waste (wet versus dry) and if possible, try to compost your food waste (we offer workshops in September). 

On our website and official WeChat account, we share information on brands that sell products to help you reduce waste easily such as Baluchon (beeswax wraps, makeup pads, net bags, produce bags). Other people offer refills for your cleaning products at discounted prices; we’ll be adding more content over the summer, but there's already a lot to learn.

Last but not least, it’s all about baby steps. 

More concrete examples can be found on our website on how to start living a greener lifestyle.


Ashley Fernandes – Director of Operations and Projects at Green Initiatives

Years in Shanghai: 7

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

After spending over a decade in the corporate world, while volunteering for various causes, I joined Green Initiatives (GI) as a Partner and Director of Operations and Projects, to pursue my goals of (directly) creating social and environmental impact. I oversee the operations of GI’s many recycling projects, and I am currently developing a new program for the team.

I have lived and worked in India, the Middle East and China, working on Supply Chain Management, Operational Efficiency and Project Management. Born and brought up in Mumbai, I completed my Masters from Hult International Business School, specializing in business and project management.

GI is an environmental social enterprise that focuses on education, awareness and action on environmental issues through events, workshops, short-term campaigns and long-term impact projects for the community - for both students and professionals. GI has organized over 350 events since its inception in 2009. GI's monthly forums, organized as ‘Green Drinks’ events, regularly draw in 70-100 people in each event and have been attended by over 15,000 people to date.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a green business in Shanghai?

Green Initiatives, as an organization, evolved out of a community called ‘Green Drinks Shanghai’, a monthly environment-focused networking group, which was started by my business partner Nitin Dani. 

Within the first few weeks of my coming to Shanghai, I realized that this is an incredible city and I love it here. It's big, crowded and bustling with activity; just like my hometown of Mumbai. Yet it is safe, clean and much more organized, compared to India. I saw that there's a lot happening here in terms of awareness of sustainability, but that there was still a lot that needed to be done. The rate at which Shanghai is developing and with the ‘use and throw’ attitude of the people, there is a huge opportunity for GI to reach out to more people. The city really has a good vibe that gets people moving. 

I joined Green Drinks Shanghai back in 2012 as a volunteer while working full-time with a local architecture firm. There has been no looking back since then, and today I am one of the few permanent members of our small team. 

3. What was the experience like?

It was a rollercoaster ride back then, and it still is to this day, although the scale of things has changed tremendously. My journey has evolved from learning about climate change and global warming by watching Al Gore’s documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ which was released more than a decade ago; to my delivering workshops and lectures to students on a wide range of topics related to environmental sustainability and conscious consumption. 

While learning is a never-ending process for us, sharing knowledge with others about the current state of our planet is of prime importance to Green Initiatives. The experience has been truly enriching. 

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your green business?

The biggest challenges we faced while setting up Green Initiatives was that of getting around the hassles of the legal framework and dealing with the day-to-day administrative and taxation issues. It does sap the energy out of you but it also gives you a perspective on how other profit-driven businesses function. However, we have always been fortunate to be surrounded by great volunteers, partners and organizations who supported our work at every step of our journey. But without a doubt, the biggest backing we have received has been by our families, who believe in our mission and support our every move. 

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

The fast-paced, consumption-driven, waste generating lifestyles in cities are unquestionably detrimental to the future of our planet. Nowadays, most people seek happiness in materialistic desires and have lost touch with nature and humanity to some extent. But there are still many out there who care, and this is what drives us to keep going. Last month, Green Initiatives ran a campaign called ‘The Abundance of Less’ which reminds city dwellers that people are so focused on growth and amassing wealth that they have become slaves to the system. 

Perhaps its time to slow down and start living a more meaningful and simplistic, yet abundant lifestyle. If each one of us takes small steps to reduce our waste, shop consciously, and be more considerate of people and life around us; cities could definitely be a great place to live in the future. Hope our future generations can reap the benefits of our efforts. 

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

  • Shift to a plant-based diet – you will be amazed by the reduction in your carbon footprint just by removing meat from your diet.

  • Stop shopping for stuff that you don’t need – most of the items we purchase impulsively end up in our storage cabinets after being used just a few times.

  • Reconnect back with nature – taking time off and getting a regular digital detox helps us realize how beautiful our planet used to be before we started turning it into a giant dump yard. 


Heather Kaye – Co-founder at FINCH Designs

Years in Shanghai: 12

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business? 

Itee Soni and I co-founded FINCH eight years ago, after nearly two decades of working in fashion. We definitely didn’t consider ourselves entrepreneurial types in the beginning, but a combination of being a part of a wasteful industry, and being stationed in a manufacturing capital which enabled us to make the leap and see for ourselves if we could design garments sustainably, from start to shop.

We started with what we knew, women’s apparel, but saw a big opportunity in swimwear to both use recycled materials and provide high-quality options where none existed in Asia. We launched FINCH swimwear in 2014, a brand that uses recycled PET for their entire collection. We developed our signature RepreverPET fabric and put years of research into developing innovative swimwear with natural UPF50+ sun protection. Our colors don’t fade in chlorinated pools or salty oceans. Our fabric and elastics don’t lose shape, ensuring our suits will make you look awesome for years to come.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a ‘green’ business in Shanghai?

Being from the fashion industry and having seen the waste generated first-hand was definitely the main motivation behind launching a green business. As designers, we have enormous control over the environmental impact of the products we create, which translates into a responsibility to do better. It’s important to us to demonstrate that being a profitable business doesn’t have to involve depleting resources and taking advantage of people in your supply chain.

3. What was the experience like?

An eco-friendly mandate was definitely the easiest decision in starting the brand. Then came the rest of the work! One challenge to eco brands in China is the realization that there's a lot of wastage from fashion - especially with fast-fashion nowadays. Organic food has a lot more awareness, but there tends to be a forgotten focus on the apparel sector. Unfortunately, there is a lot of textile surplus that is not being used properly and ends up in landfills.

Reckoning the impact of fast fashion and rampant consumerism is news to younger generations, whereas older generations in China are maximally practical, and our current consumption is staggering and totally unsustainable.

The second challenge is one faced by most entrepreneurs: raising financial capital to scale a small business. As designers, we’ve had a steep learning curve since our founding to learn all the other parts of running a business. From branding to managing social media channels to accounting, we’ve never had the same day twice!

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your business in Shanghai?

For us, one of the biggest challenges was staying really focused on our particular product and market. One of my favorite ‘red herring’ examples comes from our friend Lexie Comstock, founder of Strictly Cookies, who was advised early on that she should also make cornbread. Whaaat? People will always come up with lots of ideas and input for your business, especially when you’re starting out, and it’s up to you to dig down and learn how to stay true to your mission.  

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

I saw the film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ last year as part of speaking at EF’s Green Week. I thought I knew a lot about plastic pollution, but this film motivated me to email the filmmakers’ foundation and ask how I could help everyone in China – starting with school children – see this essential film.  

Intent on reaching out to schools first, I approached Nitin Dani about launching a new impact project called “Plastics Are Forever” under the Green Initiatives umbrella. Together we’ve worked with the Plastic Oceans Foundation to translate their existing curriculum into Chinese and set up a structure to screen their movie here in Shanghai.

Our first screening was in early March and, to date, we’ve screened the film and held discussions and workshops with thousands of people across 12 schools and numerous companies focusing on sustainability such as Adidas, PwC, Citicorp, and Decathlon.

Tying together what we do as a company and what we care about as citizens is the real mission, the real work of FINCH. We’ve seen incredible changes and vast improvements to life in Shanghai over our 12 years here, and the pace of change makes us hopeful that initiatives like banning disposable plastic (especially straws, coffee lids, bags, bottles and take-out containers) will happen here before 2020.

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

Most of us ride bikes and take the metro already – Shanghai is such an awesome city for low-impact transportation options – so it really comes down to putting some parameters on our own consumption habits. Disposable plastic, meat, dairy, low-quality fast-fashion clothes and beauty products with micro-beads are just a few examples of categories to reduce or eliminate from our lifestyles altogether to lead a greener life in our city. Take the long view and choose things that will last.


Jonathan Cruysberghs – Co-founder of Feibao Waste

Years in Shanghai: 10

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business? 

Feibao Waste does waste collection, designs waste storage solutions, and improves environmental consciousness. We service offices, schools, organizations, and citizens to sort and recycle waste in a smarter way. In exchange for using our service, citizens receive Feibao points that they can redeem at our partners such as Sherpas, Lizzies, Sproutworks, etc. You can check out our website for more deals to redeem.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a ‘green’ business in Shanghai?

My co-founder Clement and I have been environmentally-friendly for a while and we wanted to spread good practices to other citizens. Feibao started on the idea of reducing environmental impact on electronic waste first, then diversified to various other kinds of municipal waste.

3. What was the experience like?

Challenging and passionate. After servicing more than 500 requests, we feel we have made an impact but it is still much too little. Many people have supported us and one in particular, Yunyun, joined us at the early stage to help us (thank you so much).

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your business in Shanghai?

When we launched the service of waste collection, we didn't expect we would have so much positive feedback. We were overwhelmed by the demand, which is good, but the logistics were a bottleneck so we decided to pivot and launch Feibao 2.0, which are large storage solutions for compounds.

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

Not only do we need to improve waste recycling going towards a circular economy, but it is a collaborative mission that all social enterprises and organizations need to tackle. Citizens need to change their habits, and we need to help them do it.

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

Sort your waste and don't use one-time use items such as straws and plastic bags. Ask your office managers to contact Feibao so that we can provide a waste storage and recycling solution. 

We collaborate with various organizations in Shanghai and suggest citizens to get to know them - Zero Waste Shanghai does workshops on zero-waste lifestyles and Feiy is a great platform that spreads social information and jobs. Drink juices from Lizzie's and bring the glass bottles back!

Together, we can make a change. 


Nanou - Founder at Baluchon

Years in Shanghai: 8

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business? 

I am Nanou, the founder of Baluchon zero-waste supplies. I am 34 years old (already?!), French, a mother of one, married to the most amazing man in the world. By day, I am an environmental engineer specializing in contaminated land management – meaning I investigate and remediate industrial soil and groundwater in China. By night, I'm dedicated to letting the world know that zero waste can be trendy and accessible to all by providing zero-waste supplies handmade in Shanghai. Currently, these include cloth gift wraps, beeswax food wraps, cotton grocery bags and washable make-up remove bamboo pads.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a ‘green’ business in Shanghai?

Everything happened very quickly and without any intention of starting a business! I was always a big fan of paper wrapping; come Christmas, you would find me buying all the fancy stuff and spending hours wrapping gifts one by one. That was until I discovered the Japanese art of Furoshiki - beautiful folds and knots made with cotton cloth rather than paper that you could reuse again and again. A sustainable solution to gift wrapping!

At first, I began trying to make my own furoshiki. Then I thought, why not for others? And that's when everything started for Baluchon - in December 2017, right before Christmas. I began to think of different food wrappings to replace clingfilm in the kitchen, and grocery bags that would say no to plastic once and for all. Recently, I launched a new product that people love: the Panda Pads. These are washable bamboo pads to remove makeup and replace the disposable cotton pads that we use every day. It's a big hit in the Shanghai community!

3. What was the experience like?

It has been nothing short of fantastic! Meeting people who truly enjoy my products, thanking me for bringing them to Shanghai, receiving feedback from all over the world and collaborative offers with nice brands. Really, I enjoy it all! It's a lot of work, and I have to say that I'm tired most of the time now, but I'm happy to discover that Shanghai is ready for change. People from many different communities are responding positively to zero-waste initiatives like Baluchon.

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your business in Shanghai?

Starting a new business is challenging, especially when you're working full-time and have a new-born baby! She is now almost 1.5 years old and has been very accommodating during this whole ride, as has my husband! Basically, I have a second day starting at the end of my normal day, so saying it has been challenging is an understatement. What's more, even though I am in contact with a few stores/brands around the city, finding the perfect partner/retailer has been one of my biggest challenges so far. Plus, I'm also looking for investors to bring Baluchon to the next level! Overall though, I find the difficulties challenging and Shanghai is the perfect city to start a business. It is bustling with energy, businesses, activities and interesting people from all walks of life who openly share ideas and offer their support. It's like no other city out there.

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

Amusingly enough, some people can't believe that I have started a green business in China. They fail to see that China is open and embracing a cleaner lifestyle designed to create a better environment including setting legislature to ensure regulations for air, water, waste and soil are being met at a pace western countries could only dream of! Progress has been tremendous on many levels, and everyone has shown a big interest in sustainable products like zero-waste supplies. The first "bulk store" opened in Beijing in 2018, and it's just a matter of months before Shanghai gets its own.

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

Care, get informed and start with something little - be it a bamboo toothbrush, biking to the office or bringing your own straw. Seems simple enough, right? I think most people would be willing to live a greener lifestyle if you ask them about it, but it seems difficult and complicated; in other a words, they don't know how to start.

Getting closer to green communities like Zero Waste Shanghai, for example, is one of the first steps you can take to live a greener life because not only will you receive tips on how to integrate small steps in your daily routine, but you will get informed. To me, that is key. Knowledge is power; knowing how your waste gets recycled is only the beginning - it makes you wonder how to reduce your waste production instead of saying, "it's OK, it'll be recycled at some point." By being close to the community, you come into contact with so many ideas/people and realize that you, too, can integrate this little change into your everyday life. Just care and start getting informed. The rest will follow!


WeChat: Baluchon

Itza Bocken - Founder at Momoco Bikini

Years in Shanghai: 6 months, and lived in Beijing for 2 years prior.

1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business? 

Momoco Bikini is a sustainable swimwear "feel good” brand made from recycled plastic waste. Our focus is to offer swimwear for ANY body type. Offering a wide range of shapes and sizes in every print we do. We do it sustainably and slowly (one launch per year). We take pride in not only putting “sustainable” in our Instagram bio but truly analyzing the whole process from design to delivery and adapt it.

2. What was your inspiration for starting a ‘green’ business in Shanghai?

Momoco launched its third collection this year. Previous collections were all slow fashion and body positive, but it was only after my arrival in Shanghai last December that I was able to shift the company to what I had been wanting for years: making it sustainable. Made from recycled materials, nearly zero-waste creation during manufacturing and slow shipping to dedicated warehouses in the region (EU & ASIA) reducing CO2 output.

I was able to do this because I’m so much closer to fabric suppliers in Shanghai (that’s how I found my recycled plastic fabric supplier) and to the manufacturer. Thanks to that proximity, I was able to put the bar higher and demand that the manufacturer didn’t use unnecessary plastic and slow ships everything, for example. Shanghai has a way bigger entrepreneurial vibe than Belgium, and I was able to connect with peers here to get more inspired (Veronique from Make In China and Alizée from Zero Waste Shanghai).

3. What was the experience like?

Well, it’s always a little bit challenging to be a demanding client in China because I’m such a little fish for suppliers and manufacturers that I sometimes wonder why they would even listen. But it has been good! I’m able to get meetings at a much higher level with the companies and suppliers I’m interested in collaborating with. 

I feel liberated as an entrepreneur in Shanghai because I feel like everything is possible here. It’s amazing how many European sustainable fabric companies have a sales office here in SH. Sometimes a manufacturer exclaims something like “But no one does it like this”, to which I always reply: “I know! That’s why we have to do it!”

4. What difficulties or challenges did you face when setting up your business in Shanghai?

I think the true challenge for us is still the guarantee, track and certify HOW sustainably our products are made. I trust my Italian fabric supplier, but I would like to go even deeper in analyzing all steps of the manufacturing of the components of a bikini. Sounds crazy? 

Another BIG difficulty was reaching an MOQ that was interesting enough for a manufacturer. We solved it by producing in an atelier instead of going for bulk production.

I think trust is a big thing. Once you start demanding certificates, it changes the nature of the relationship. But it is necessary.

5. What are your hopes for the future of eco / sustainable living in the city?

Recycling and increased low-waste options! As a Mexican-Belgian, we are really brought up with having four different kinds of bin bags at the house. I understand that many people make a living out of recycling from the bins and I would really like to see consumers pre-recycle more. 

I also hope for better solutions for e-commerce and food delivery packaging in the future. China's waimai culture is definitely highly apparent compared with anywhere else. Unfortunately, it does come at an environmental cost if you consider the carbon footprint of couriers and the amount of plastic used.

Oh, and I would love for all cocktail bars to ban plastic straws.

6. Any tips for our readers on how they can live a greener lifestyle in the city?

I really am impressed by the amount of local businesses that are active in green/local living. I would say follow Zero Waste Shanghai; they have amazing tips on how to fulfill the “Plastic-free July” challenge (yes, it’s a thing!). Veronique from Make In China offers a workshop to be able to make your own household products. Not only is it natural and less harmful, but it’s good for the wallet and you don’t create non-recyclable waste (bottles).

In the beginning, I didn't dare to say “bu yong daize” to the local veggie-man because I felt rude. But now I just say it with a big big smile and it always works! Plastic bags are so 2000.

Take 15 minutes for yourself at a coffee shop instead of running around with a non-recyclable cup. Coffee doesn’t taste nice in such a cup and you deserve to chill and reflect for those few minutes.


Editor's Note: Interviews have been edited for content

If you're looking to make a change in your own lives, there's a lot that you can do to start taking those little steps towards a greener lifestyle with heaps of companies and brands in Shanghai to help you do just that. Aside from those mentioned above, you can also check out:

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Soapnut Republic

WeChat: SoapnutRepublic


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