Going green from the red dot: How a smartphone app is empowering social change

Singapore is a gastronomical city-state where enjoying good food is a shared culture but vegans may find it a challenge to find options that work for their lifestyle. Vikas Garg, founder of smartphone app, abillionveg that boasts a global community of vegans, shares his plans to change that and rally for more to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

24 Jun 2020 / By SGN

The sustainable movement is on the rise and many are starting to see the benefits of living a more conscious lifestyle and being mindful of their personal consumption habits. With food so deeply rooted across the diverse cultures in Singapore where local dishes are not usually vegan-friendly, new vegans may find it a challenge to juggle with the limited food options.

ImageVikas (pictured) made the move to Singapore five years ago and is driving for good with his app, abillionveg.

Vikas Garg, the founder of smartphone app abillionveg, shares that he thinks experiencing Singapore’s food and culture that hails from every corner of Asia has made living in the city “truly special.” Vikas’ app, abillionveg is on a mission to make vegan food options available by tapping on user ratings and reviews to enable the global community to commit to a vegan lifestyle.

Even though the app was only created in 2017, Vikas has always been a big believer in activism and consumer advocacy. Originally from India, Vikas grew up in the US and made his way to Wall Street where he had a long-standing career in investment. This flourishing career led him to California where he worked for the state’s pension fund, one of the world’s largest institutional investors, serving in the fund’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) committee.

Vikas’ career eventually found him at a job in Singapore where, after two years of learning from local successful entrepreneurs, he decided to start abillionveg. Much of his illustrious career focused on building platforms around themes of activism and consumer advocacy – which Vikas says helped him to form the foundation of what abillionveg will become over the next decade.

“It’s been just over five years since my wife and I along with our dog moved from California to Singapore,” Vikas shares. “Living in Singapore is like experiencing the best of Asia all in one place. Building a global platform with my teammates that’s making the entire world more sustainable from right here in Singapore has been a highlight.”

Using data to transform societies

abillionveg was founded as a data-driven technology company that believes that consumers have the power to transform societies. Much of what abillionveg does starts with its app, where people across more than 120 countries use to find healthier, more sustainable options when they shop for food, beauty, and fashion products.

Vikas reckons that while data has been a driver for business opportunities, it can also be used as an instrument to push for positive societal change. abillionveg donates a dollar for every time its members choose a sustainable option and reviews it on the app, in hopes of inspiring others to adopt healthier and more environmentally friendly habits. These reviews also increase the visibility of vegan-friendly brands in the vicinity, thus making known the number of options available for vegans in the area.

In Singapore, abillionveg is a firm supporter of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), which rescues and rehabilitates Singapore’s wildlife. In 2019, the business donated more than S$100,000 to partners around the world and aims to continue supporting these initiatives with more than S$1.4 million in donations in 2020 thus far.

“We did what we were supposed to. [We] focused on building the product and a community of early adopters around that,” Vikas says. “I spoke at a lot of events, used social media to get the word out, and built a community that I spent most of my time talking to. Trust is a big factor in the vegan and sustainability community. We spend a lot of time building bridges between abillionveg and organisations that are highly respected in our space around the world.”

A billion reasons for doing better

The green movement in Singapore is growing and more people are becoming conscious of their consumption habits. In the red dot, local sustainability events and organisations like Earthfest and Green is the New Black are popping up and a growing number of start-ups are tackling issues around food sustainability. Singapore’s flagship investment entity, Temasek, has also backed some of the most successful sustainable food start-ups like Impossible Foods and Perfect Day.

However, the reality of living in a city means that there is a great disconnect in how our food travels to us which can lead to unnecessary wastage and a heavy price to pay on the environment.

“While there isn’t a lot of pollution [in Singapore] relative to other parts of Asia, improving sustainability in Singapore starts with education and an understanding of how our actions have an impact on the rest of the world,” Vikas says.

Leading a sustainable lifestyle also brings about a separate, yet apparent, issue of class privilege. Not everyone can afford to be conscious in their options but creating the right incentives can encourage more to come on board.

Vikas believes that a big part of helping consumers live more sustainably is to first start with making the scene more financially sustainable. “In the last few years, the trend has been to charge more for sustainable options. A perfect example is the surcharge most coffee places charge for soy or oat milk. This has to stop,” he stresses.

Despite the hurdles, Vikas remains hopeful that more Singaporeans will get on board with conscious consumerism for a more sustainable lifestyle. “We think that 20% or more of Singapore’s population will be vegan by 2030. As for the rest of the world, our goal for abillionveg is to inspire a billion people to go vegan by 2030,” he says.

Vikas explains that “achieving this goal will mean healthier, more [environmentally conscious consumers] and a more equitable world where nobody has to go hungry or kill for food.”