Ruby Shang – the Woman Driving Bill Clinton’s Climate Initiative in Asia

Managing the Clinton Climate Change Initiative in Asia and helping co-ordinate the Large Cities Climate Change Group is all part of a normal day’s work for environmental powerhouse Ruby Shang. Jeremy Torr reports.

The Clinton Climate Initiative helps cities go green in innovative ways

Singapore, 2 March 2011. “When Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, started the C40 group of major cities committed to implementing climate change policies, we knew we had to be involved,” says Ruby Shang, Regional Director, Asia for the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI).

Describing her job as “simple yet difficult at the same time”, Shang says the job of the CCI is to help reduce CO2 emissions wherever they can. “We implement programmes that work on things like street lights, waste disposal, water, airports, electric cars and air quality,” she says. All these things come under her remit – and she works with schools, universities, corporations and planners to make sure they are working in the right direction.

“We don’t do anything physical ourselves,” she explains, “but our expertise is connecting people to other people who know things, or have influence in different areas. WE offer measurement facilities, technical support, and finance expertise.”

CCI's Ruby Shang practices what she preaches in a green way - she doesn't own a car!

Shang says her key goal is to work on making building across the region more eco-friendly. The CCI started work on a building retrofit programmes some five years ago, working initially on schools, museums, public buildings and subways to link public and private stakeholders together in ways they could both save money and reduce emissions.

“We help people share best practices, and offer some vital links between state and national government that other organizations aren’t able to offer,” she says. This advisory role extends beyond that of simple consultants – the CCI model demands that before any work starts, the savings are precisely enumerated and stated in a contract that guarantees a return to the building owner once the retrofit has been carried out.

“Because of our high profile, we can help with contracts with really big players like Honeywell, GE and the like,” she says. “This allows us to build in much better savings and technology that just talking to the local facilities managers. We go direct to the CEOs instead.”

CCI has already completed more than 2000 projects so far across 33 cities, with Bangkok being the start player in the region, says Singapore-based Shang. The savings so far – apart from a massive reduction in CO2 emissions – amount to over US$1.4 million in reduced power and aircon bills.

City bicycle schemes are just one of the ways CCI helps to make cities nicer places to live

Now the C40 initiative has expanded to include major cities across the world, many offering bicycle hire schemes, quieter streets, fresher air and more efficient public buildings thanks to their co-ordinated approach, along with help from the CCI.

“Our unique advantage is the way we can bring together commercial and government players, and apply our tender creation expertise,” she says. “We can help with things like LED components, Insulation, special coatings, solar panels, special sensors and more. And we are also advising on things like electric vehicle fleets too.”

Shang is not just a token greenie either. Pointing out that her work involves getting past the “environmental mumbo-jumbo” used by some consultants and academics, she says her job is to act as a sort of high-level fixer for the environmental movement in Asia; to identify gaps and listen to what people want, and what they think is practical.

To that end, she has put her own money where her official mouth is, has replaced all her light globes with LEDs, walks as much as she can, and doesn’t own a car.

“What we want to do is to help governments, to strengthen their ability in climate health and environmental awareness. It’s hard, and in many Asian countries it’s not happening yet,” she admits. “But our strength is we act as a sort of honest broker – we don’t have any financial or political agenda at all. We just want to be a catalyst.” END

Text and photos by Jeremy Torr