Arthur Huang is the Founder and CEO of Miniwiz, a circular upcycling technology company dedicated to transforming consumer and industrial waste into high-performance materials. His expertise in structural engineering and architecture has played a crucial role in Miniwiz’s groundbreaking initiatives in ESG engineering and upcycling since the company’s establishment in 2005. Miniwiz’s efforts have been well-recognized by the international community: It won the Wall Street Journal’s Asian Innovation Award in 2011 and was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2015.
As part of our “Build Back Greener: Addressing Climate Change in Asia” report, CAPS spoke (virtually) to Arthur in February 2022 to understand Miniwiz’s core values and the process of translating such values into innovative solutions within the ever-evolving environmental, social and governance (ESG) landscape.
CAPS: Arthur, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Miniwiz is deeply committed to realizing a truly circular economy, one that is based on reusing and recycling to preserve resources and lessen the environmental footprint. Could you share with us the premise behind Miniwiz’s work?
Arthur: Of course. I would like first to emphasize that the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint is by reusing resources rather than simply recycling them. Recycling invariably presents environmental challenges due to the requirement of waste segregation, which exists in almost all such schemes in developed economies. Unfortunately, this process not only devalues waste materials but also causes secondary pollution as additional processing is needed, leading to a trash conundrum.
This is precisely why Miniwiz has tasked itself with reusing as much of the original configuration as possible when turning waste into scalable resources. It is essential to understand that technology plays a pivotal part in achieving this objective, and it works hand in hand with environmental activism to build a fairer and more sustainable planet. These two elements should be linked together, albeit they are often perceived as separate.
CAPS: How have you put these ideas into practice?
Arthur: We strive to unlock the potential of upcycling, which involves reusing waste in its current state and refurbishing it to create a higher-quality product. Drawing from my own experience in structural engineering, we convert low-value waste into high-performance building materials and modules as alternatives to existing carbon-intensive products.
For example, commissioned by the Nan Fung Group in Hong Kong, we have conducted a series of experiments to transform post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into 3D-sublimated textile fabric designed for interior spaces. The material exhibits not only splash- and abrasion-resistance but also acoustic and antibacterial qualities, marking critical technological breakthroughs.
** In a follow-up with Arthur in November 2023, CAPS learned that this collaboration successfully repurposed over 140,000 disposable water bottles as curtain wall systems for the newly opened AIRSIDE mall in Hong Kong. The surfacing itself contributed to a carbon footprint reduction of more than 48,000 kg.
CAPS: Do you collaborate with other companies to help grow the circular economy?
Arthur: Yes, we do. Interestingly, several of our innovative ideas have stemmed from collaborations with the Fubon Group, a conglomerate with diverse business interests including banking and telecommunication. A case in point is making wireless phone chargers out of recycled surgical masks, with each charger composed of nine recycled masks at a low cost. The Group even invited us to display the manufacturing process in front of its employees as part of their ESG initiatives. All of this points to how ESG demands can organically expand the notion of a circular economy.
Our business partnerships go beyond Taiwan to all corners of the world, and one such instance is the previously mentioned collaboration with the Nan Fung Group in Hong Kong. Other leading property developers there such as Sino Group have also embraced our upcycled materials as their ESG solutions in the design and construction of shopping malls.
CAPS: Speaking of ESG, what related trends have you observed in Taiwan and other economies you work in?
Arthur: There is a notable trend in which the governments of Taiwan and Singapore are increasingly incorporating ESG themes into procurement and development projects. In Taiwan, this is particularly noticeable in initiatives related to public land development. This shift is likely motivated by public institutions seeking to showcase their ESG commitment to constituents, such as reducing emissions and benefiting the local economy.
In the private sector, smaller companies often face resource, knowledge and capacity constraints when implementing ESG programs. Larger consumer companies, with whom we have partnered, intend to do good but struggle to have full control of their supply chains. This lack of control poses increased difficulties for them to effect meaningful ESG impact. On the other hand, the banking and real estate industries have shown significant interest in ESG initiatives, primarily due to the long-term nature of their projects.
CAPS: How have these changes impacted Miniwiz?
Arthur: Taken together, these shifts reflect a growing market demand for our sustainable products and services. While Miniwiz operates in various economies, we have refocused on Taiwan since the pandemic. This decision allowed us to engage in the previously discussed ESG-oriented procurement contracts with the government and the largest real estate developer in Taiwan. We could bid on these contracts at market prices comparable to typical technology companies, and these projects amounted to over US$1 billion.
Such tremendous ESG procurement opportunities have, in turn, allowed us to reshape our business model. We have invested more resources in waste collection and enhanced our technological capacity to transform waste into sustainable materials locally. Seen this way, these substantial procurement volumes can translate into a significant force in influencing local transformation, ultimately disrupting long-established supply chains.
Another way of looking at these procurement contracts is that the profits generated can be redirected to our operations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, gradually expanding our global reach.
CAPS: Finally, with respect to the private sector, what do you think could be done to drive impactful ESG outcomes?
Arthur: One positive step corporates can take is to integrate ESG components into their current research and development (R&D) projects. This way, R&D can serve as a means to promote not only technological progress but also industry transformation towards greater sustainability. This also brings us back to the idea I said earlier in our conversation – harnessing technology for doing good.