Generation Eco Vietnam believes that after a hard day of cleaning up, celebrating with a party is well deserved. Generation Eco was created by a group of friends whose objective is to bring about the topic of trash among the public and create a new eco movement among the young generation in Vietnam. Caring for the environment and the community is the new definition of “cool” in their eyes.
Two members of the Generation Eco Vietnam team, Anh Nguyen and My Lan Nguyen, met with Vietcetera to discuss their vision for a cleaner Vietnam and the future of trash awareness in the country.
How did you come up with the idea of creating Generation Eco?
My Lan Nguyen: Hoang Anh and I have been friends since we were kids. One day I saw his Facebook post about a clean up day and I was interested right away, as I saw trash and pollution as a huge ongoing problem in Vietnam. We decided to join forces and come together to learn from the trash cleaning activity we went to. This was the first time I had gone to clean trash. We were cleaning away for three or four hours in the hot sun and we all went home when we finished. We thought, how can we make this more fun for people to come; there’s not really a reward.
After a group brainstorming day, we decided to create a reward system for volunteers to excite them. For our first event we used the concept of “gamification.” The first event we did was a scavenger-hunt. We chose five locations in Saigon. Each team had a challenge. We had different prizes such as fastest team to clean, the best before and after photo, and we tried to give out prizes to incentivize people. The event day ended with a fun rooftop party where we saw good friendships developing among the volunteers; everyone felt happy and rewarded for their hard-work and asked enthusiastically about our next event. It was then we knew that we had created a model that could work.
Anh Nguyen: A big problem is that people are not really aware of trash pollution. People will throw trash on the ground, both in urban and rural areas. People will picnic in beautiful places around Vietnam and litter, thinking someone else will clean up after them. We try to stop the habit of littering through social pressure. When you live in a community where littering is frowned upon, you will not do it because you do not want to be rejected or punished by the community.
M: It became this mindset where in Vietnam, if you throw trash anywhere it’ll be cleaned up. The trash can is pretty much anywhere in Vietnam.
Generation Eco wants the new generation of kids in Vietnam to know that being cool is about being socially responsible and doing good positive things for people and the world around you. We want our members to feel proud to be a part of such a close knit group of diverse individuals who want to change the world for the better. We have so many different types of people, from near and far, we are a mixed batch with different types of backgrounds and cultures. We have foreigners, we have Viet Kieus, and we have Vietnamese locals. Everyone is really excited to join our events because as they have the opportunity meet so many different people from all walks of life but all coming together for one shared purpose, to clean Vietnam!
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How did you create your last event, a beach clean-up?
A: That weekend was three special days: World Environment Day, World Children’s Day and World Ocean day. We wanted to combine those three elements into one, and most importantly, have local kids join our activity to educate them on the terrible effects of plastic pollution along our coastlines. We looked for beach locations close to HCM to do the event, and found a perfect place in La Gi, to host both participants from HCM and local school kids. During the clean up, the local school children were paired with the participants from HCM to learn from one another.
M: We’re like a family in this experience. Getting the local kids and students to come out is a more sustainable solution that we can provide. The minute you clean, someone is going to come by and throw trash. Most of the cleaning events are for local people to come by.
Fifty local kids who were on summer vacation came. They voluntarily came with three kids to one volunteer. We were lucky to have the support of so many sponsors so we could offer more prizes to participants. We were able to offer volunteers all these gifts…you came home with a shirt, tank top with the logo, “Tôi Chọn Không Xả Rác, Còn Bạn?” It’s such a strong message.
It’s always going to be fun. You feel like you’re awarded for doing something good. I helped kids…and I also had a great vacation on the beach. We always have an after party. The format is the same: hard work and then a reward.
How do you get people to care?
A: We started with friends first; it’s hard to get people who don’t care, but if their friends care about something, it’s easier to convince new people.
M: The pull and attraction for people who don’t care is to come out of curiosity. Turn-up and see what all this trash cleaning is about and once they attend one of our events, they will see how much fun it is and keep coming back!
Is there a definition for climate change in Vietnam?
A: There is “biến đổi khí hậu” but the Vietnamese term for climate change sounds really light.
M: The conversation for climate change is a hot topic in Vietnam. There is a lot of global pressure. All these things come together to create pressure for the government to act.
We (Generation Eco) don’t go deeply into waste management. All those details are too technical for people who don’t yet even have the habit of throwing their trash into a trashcan instead of on the street. Hence why, the first year, our campaign focuses on the very first step of simply addressing the behavior of littering. We went to educate the mass on the effects of littering, and hope to change behavior in a way where they are more mindful of where to throw their trash.
What are some common trash items you’ve seen?
A: Urban picnic locations have plastic spoons, lids…
M: A lot of the trash comes from street vendors. In Vietnam…when you order coffee there’s a staw, plastic bag holder…that doubles if you order two. For the street vendors, those are cheapest items that they can purchase.
A: At the beach, the heavy items were fishing nets and rice bags. A lot of the micro plastics came in from the ocean.
M: We’ve seen needles. We were told that a lot of drug addicts will shoot up and throw their needles on the grass or the street. Which is why during our clean ups, our highest priority is the safety of everyone.
Describe the Generation Eco volunteer.
M: What keeps a community alive is the people. Talking to new people, creating lasting memories. It’s about the experience and connection. Most of our participants are so full of energy and have so much passion, so fun to be around!
A: We don’t limit who comes to our events and who doesn’t. We welcome everyone. Vietnamese youth tend to be more introverted and withdrawn. When you throw everybody into a mix, it’s a very interesting mix. It becomes a cultural exchange, where everyone is fusing together. We all come from very, very different backgrounds.
M: The whole superhero theme is what we play around with in many of our messages and design. Misfits that come together and try to save the world. In Vietnam, there aren’t a lot of idols, so why not just take turns inspiring one another? We want to instill in everyone that you don’t have to do something so extraordinary to be a superhero, even the smallest act of kindness can make you a modern day superhero.
Where do you see the future of Vietnam’s eco-footprint?
A: Someday, I want Vietnamese to be proud of Vietnam. To look back at their country and talk with pride of how clean Vietnam is. I also have another dream the Vietnam enters the Guinness Book of World Records: for the biggest trash clean up event of any country. Similar to an earth hour, but this could be Vietnam’s “Clean Up Hour.”
What are your future plans with Generation Eco?
M: We are planning as we go and when we have the time, as all of us have our full time jobs and commitments. But we are doing this because we love it and we hope that one day, it can grow big enough so we can jump on and do it full time. We would like to continue the events and create a bigger community to have more impact, so I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to see what else we have in store next.
Written by Kimberly Nguyen