By Pratch Rujivanarom
Being both a top executive of a big conglomerate and a leading environmentalist devoted to preserving biodiversity is a rare combination. But Nonn Panitvong, the Asean Biodiversity Hero for Thailand, brings his personal interest in the natural world to bear on promoting the protection of wildlife and a healthy environment, while also leading an eco-friendly business.
After graduating in the field of business administration and managing the family business, Nonn’s passion for nature led him to earn a doctorate degree in environmental science from Kasetsart University.
This combination of experiences has drawn local and international attention.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation after returning from an award ceremony at the Asean Summit in the Philippines last week, Nonn, 43, said he was proud of the award.
But, he said, he was even more delighted that his work in promoting wildlife preservation and environmental awareness had borne fruit, as more people have a better understanding of the environment and ecosystems around them, and love and cherish nature. “I was chosen by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to be nominated as the Biodiversity Hero from Thailand. I am surprised that it was me,” he said.
“I am glad that I am an ambassador for biodiversity protection in Asean. This is a very important role, because we are in a biodiversity hotspot in the world. We [Thailand] occupy only 3 per cent of the world’s area, but we have up to 18 per cent of known animals and plants. It is important for us all to understand and protect this blessing.”
Being a founder of Siamensis.org, an online community devoted to biodiversity in Thailand, Nonn and members who share a common interest have offered a clearinghouse for educating people about biodiversity in Thailand. They are opening common ground for the general public to learn from experts about the animals and plants around them.
“I began my interest in nature as a child, as my father often took me out to fish in the river,” he said. “Then in 2001, after graduating, my friends and I started a website about freshwater fish and aquatic plants to share knowledge about the topic. The website later grew into covering other fields of biology as more and more experts joined our website.”
Nonn added that Siamensis has developed an authoritative online index of the animal and plant species in Thailand. There are nearly 20,000 members on the website’s Facebook group, where anyone can share and learn more about the environment.
“This is our priority goal, because if people do not understand the nature around them, they will have no intention of protecting it,” he said.
“The lack of understanding about nature and our ecosystems is a big problem in our society. Even the authorities often do not understand and cherish the diversity of ecosystems, which leads to many projects, such as dams, that lack environmental consciousness and destroy nature.”
In addition to his role as a leading environmentalist, Nonn is also the executive director of Nakornphet Sugar Ltd and Asian Marine Service PCL. He credits his love in nature for inspiring him to make his businesses eco-friendly.
“My main business is in the sugar industry and sugar factories have always had a bad name for pollution. Therefore, when I am took charge of my business, I had all my factories installed with pollution-management systems, and my factories also generate up to 8 megawatts of clean energy from biomass.”
On the 50th year anniversary of Asean’s establishment, the Asean Centre for Biodiversity was set up to respond to the challenge of biodiversity loss in one of richest, most biodiverse regions of the world.
It was the first time that people who have spearheaded important work on biodiversity were chosen from each Asean member country and awarded the prize of Asean Biodiversity Heroes.
In addition to Nonn, those honoured were Eyad Samhan from Brunei Darussalam, Sophea Chhin from Cambodia, Alex Waisimon from Indonesia, Nitsavanh Louangkhot Pravongviengkham from Laos, Zakri Abdul Hamid from Malaysia, Maung Maung Kyi from Myanmar, Angel Alcala from the Philippines, Leo Tan Wee Hin from Singapore and Dang Huy Huynh from Vietnam.