For Andrew J. Smith, a green future requires a clear vision from the government, the trust of local businesses to develop that vision, and a commitment from the people to support that vision even if it is difficult to maintain
When Smith and his wife Jessica came to Danang in 2018, they wanted to contribute to the community. Of course, they didn’t know anyone who was living there and were also unfamiliar with community groups that supported local charities and provided social benefits. But they knew that one simple and easy way to help their neighborhood was to identify areas that accumulated trash and help clean them up a little bit every day.
Trash and more
There are many empty lots owned by people who live elsewhere in the city and don’t visit them often. Some probably even live in a different city and are unaware of the amount of trash on their property.
So, one thing the couple did was to pick up this trash and help make their neighborhood beautiful and clean. “It is something that any resident of this city can do on their own or with their friends and neighbors,” Smith said. “Although we didn’t speak Vietnamese, our actions told our neighbors that we cared about them and the neighborhood we shared, and that together we can do simple things to make a difference.”
Then, more and more locals and expats who were their neighbors or friends responded, while the local papers also featured the good deeds of the couple.
When Covid-19 broke out in early 2020 in Vietnam, their life changed just like it did for everyone in Vietnam. Just like the other residents of Danang, Smith and his wife experienced difficulties at work, with friends and family.
“We all have friends that moved back to their hometown to be closer to their families. In my district of Ngu Hanh Son, many restaurants and businesses that I previously enjoyed are now closed and unlikely to resume operations,” Smith said.
He said while living habits had changed, with people avoiding crowded places and large groups, things are now slowly changing. The couple is seeing more people gathering together in their homes and doing outdoor activities safely and comfortably.
However, one thing that has not changed is their commitment to protecting the natural environment, as according to Smith, it is something he will always care deeply about. He has helped by supporting groups of young people like the Greenie Environmental Club, which has many young people working with their friends to impact the natural environment.
He has also donated money to local Vietnamese groups already doing excellent work, such as GreenViet, which protects the animal habitat and teaches the community about the importance of being stewards of nature.
“I do these things because I believe that education can improve the health of our environment and that we must provide more financial resources for environmental protection if it is to be successful,” he said, adding that funding local groups and supporting education are things that anyone living in Danang can do.
Promoting the keyword “green” widely
About bigger environmental issues, Smith thinks that Danang and other parts of Vietnam have had many recent successes.
Restricting the exploitation of natural resources such as the forests of Hoa Vang District, protecting the lives of animals in the Son Tra Peninsula, and reducing plastic waste citywide are all great achievements.
But, to Smith, who is supporting the Danang Department of Foreign Affairs as an English editor, the future will be increasingly difficult. As Danang grows, its use of resources will increase and the challenges of climate change will become more and more difficult to handle.
To be successful, Danang will need to increasingly put more funding and human resources into protecting the environment, he said, adding that if Danang wants to have a reputation as a green city, it will need to do much more.
Development will require more detailed planning and the training of human resources that looks further into the future and places environmental stewardship as a priority. “Danang has done a good job but bigger challenges lie ahead. It will require learning from the experiences of its international neighbors and building strong partnerships to succeed,” he said.
He also highly appreciated that “green” was the keyword of Vietnam’s tourism in the upcoming journey but believed the country needed to do much more than just use the word “green” as a slogan.
“Just using the word ‘green’ as a keyword in branding and advertising can easily be seen by the international community as meaningless unless it is supported by clear, concrete policies and adopted by the local people,” Smith said. “Sustainability is a lifestyle and must be the foundation of a community’s identity. It needs to be part of every decision and the framework for all future development.”
In fact, people worldwide and throughout Vietnam are becoming more aware of what different international localities are accomplishing to promote sustainability, as seen on social media.
So, Smith believes that if the keyword “green” is used only to promote tourism and development, it will have little value. If the central region of Vietnam wants a reputation as a model for true sustainable development, it will need to demonstrate it everywhere, not just in its tourism promotion.
The region will need a plan for promoting electric vehicles and e-bikes. It will need to reduce its use of plastics and manage its waste through comprehensive composting and recycling programs. It will need to incorporate trees and native plants into urban planning to naturally cool and protect streets, homes, and businesses. And it will need to support green building standards with energy efficient structures.
Additionally, individuals will need to change their behavior by reducing their consumption of single-use plastics such as plastic bags and takeaway containers. “These actions will show that Central Vietnam is serious about growing in a way that protects the environment,” he said, adding that there needs to be a clear plan that is easy to understand because enterprises and localities will need to make significant changes to the way they operate and these changes must be sustained for a long period of time.
In other words, a green future requires a clear vision from the government, the trust of local businesses to develop that vision, and a commitment from the local people to support that vision even if it is difficult to maintain.
Climate change will increasingly create greater challenges in the future. That means that more needs to be done now so that the burden isn’t so heavy on our children and grandchildren. People need to make difficult decisions and sacrifices now and continue to make those choices for a long time.
“I can be a model for environmental stewardship. I can share my knowledge and experience with others. But other expats and I can’t do that much,” Smith said, describing how he, along with other expats, can help Vietnam cope with environmental issues.
Foreigners make up less than 1% of the population of Danang. Most of them don’t speak the language well and don’t have the ability to significantly influence society. They don’t hold any leadership positions in the city and are not responsible for making decisions.
So, it is only the Vietnamese leadership that can make these difficult decisions and the Vietnamese people need to do the difficult work for the betterment of the shared future, Smith told the Saigon Times in conclusion.
HEART-TO-HEART WITH ANDREW J. SMITH
Q: Describe your first days in Vietnamand what’s kept you in the country for a long time.
A: The first days in Vietnam had many exciting experiences and new challenges. Everything from finding an apartment to buying food at the market and learning new cultural customs made the transition to a new environment difficult.
But I found the people very friendly, helpful and generous, and that’s what has kept me here for over four years.
What are the highlights in your daily life and on weekends?
The highlight of my daily life is seeing the people in my neighborhood that I have known for many years. I visit the same market vendors that sell fruits and vegetables. I ask for advice at the local hardware store. I wave hello to the children on my street. On weekends, I like to get away from the noise of the city; I like to get outside and enjoy the quiet of small villages or remote beaches.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy drinking tea and reading. I read two newspapers every day to learn what is happening globally.
What are your favorite foods and drinks?
My favorite drink is Taiwanese oolong tea. I drink it every day and it helps me to relax and focus. I enjoy eating seafood and local noodles such as bun cha ca and banh canh ca loc.
What are your favorite sightseeing spots in Vietnam?
My favorite places to visit in Vietnam are mountain areas such as Ha Giang in the North and Kon Tum in the Central region. It’s where I can learn about the ethnic tribes and spend time in places that are quieter and more relaxed, away from the city.
What is your motto in life?
What are your future plans in Vietnam?
This year, I will continue to support the Danang City People’s Committee and the Department of Foreign Affairs as an English editor.
Unfortunately, I will be leaving Vietnam next year. There aren’t many opportunities for work or me to invest in a life here. I can’t buy a house or become a permanent resident. As I get older, it has become more important for me to plan for my future, but the visas are too short for me to make a long-term commitment.