Sustainability in Action: AIR CCCC

by Portfolio Magazine
Photography by Zulfadli bin Rahman, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Shot on location at AIR CCCC
20 May 2024

From producing eco-friendly alternatives of global commodities to championing conscious retail through e-commerce, these individuals are fearlessly forging a path to a more sustainable consumer landscape.

In exploring the interconnected realms of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, we dive into the dynamic landscape of sustainability in action. Through conversations with a handful of changemakers, we discover how their strategies are driving positive change across industries. At the same time, we learn more about the indispensable role of sustainable investments, showcasing how financial support and capital allocation are essential in realizing transformative sustainability goals.

Matthew Orlando, Head Chef and Partner

Sustainability is at the heart of what you do. Can you tell us what inspired your journey and what the experience has been like so far?
Growing up in California, I was exposed to the importance of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and the impact of food choices on the environment. My journey with Noma and Per Se is where I witnessed the potential for innovation and creativity in cooking. These experiences inspired me to delve deeper into how we can minimize our impact while maximizing flavor.

The conception of AIR CCCC was a culmination of these experiences and a shared vision with my partners. We wanted to create a space that not only celebrates delicious food, but also fostered a conversation about food, which is centered around awareness and respect for ingredients. The journey so far has been incredibly rewarding, albeit challenging at times. We've encountered obstacles and setbacks, but each one has only strengthened our resolve to make a positive impact on the food industry. If it’s not difficult, then it’s probably not creating much of a positive impact.

What kind of impact are you hoping to make in Singapore and the region? At the same time, how do you walk the talk?
At AIR, our mission is to spark meaningful conversations around food, emphasizing the connection between flavor and sustainability. We do that by fostering a deeper respect for the ingredients we use. By respect, I mean respecting the ingredient as a whole – not just taking the part of the ingredient that is perceived to have value, but using different processes and techniques to create new ingredients out of the forgotten or neglected parts of the product. This often yields new flavors and as chefs, this is our ultimate goal. Each dish at AIR tells a story, from the locally sourced ingredients to the thoughtful preparation techniques we used. Our focus remains on crafting delicious food, with sustainability as a natural byproduct of our commitment.

The sustainability journey is not always easy. What kind of challenges have you encountered and what difficult conversations have you had in pursuit of doing the right thing?
From sourcing ethically produced ingredients to minimizing our impact throughout our operations, we've faced obstacles every step of the way. One of the most significant challenges has been balancing the desire to do the right thing with the practicalities of running a business. This has involved difficult conversations about cost, logistics, and sometimes even re-evaluating our initial plans. However, these challenges have only reinforced our commitment to responsible cooking, pushing us to find new ways and continually improve our practices.

Sustainable investing is on the rise. Some may see it more as a moral obligation rather than the real value that it can add to an investment portfolio. What are your thoughts on this?
There will always be a conversation around ethics and investing in general. In my opinion, being ethical about your investments is a bonus. What matters is that you are putting your money into something that potentially can yield a positive impact down the road. I think we need to leave ethics out of the conversation and just get to work regardless of people's intentions.

(Related: Navigating investments for a sustainable future)

How do you ensure that your sustainability efforts are sustained in the long run? What kind of support have you received and what more is needed?
Education is key to the longevity of the process. Preparing the next generation of F&B is how we will see this kind of work percolate into the future. Collecting data is key to understanding our impact based on our decisions. It also gives us the tools to make the decisions that can mitigate our impact. Restaurants struggle to collect this data, due to the nature of the business. Receiving additional support to be able to collect this data on a large scale across the industry would give us invaluable information to make a shift as a whole and not just at an individual level.