Sustainability – The Recipe for Success for Richard Ekkebus’ Amber

Introducing Our Interview Series: Chatting with Changemakers

What drives people to throw out the rule book and find new, innovative ways to revolutionise the way their industry works? In our latest series, Chatting with Changemakers, RESET talks to sustainability trailblazers – the movers & shakers breaking new ground on the path to a more sustainable future. From Hospitality to Apparel, from Retail to Real Estate, we sit down to speak with influential sustainability advocates, uncovering the motivations, insights, and strategies, driving positive change in their respective fields.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agricultural activities contribute 31% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making food production one of the most carbon intensive industries in the world. A major challenge in reducing agricultural emissions is the sheer size of the industry, not to mention the complexity and opacity of the supply chain. This is a particular challenge in Asia, where farms are often small, family businesses with extremely low margins, and there is little in the way of regulation to cut emissions or improve supply chain traceability. However, there are people in the market showing a new way for the industry, and in our Chatting with Changemakers series we profile Asia’s sustainability leaders. First up is Chef Richard Ekkebus, the Culinary Director at the Two-Michelin- and Michelin-Green-starred Amber in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

In the bustling culinary landscape of Hong Kong, Chef Ekkebus stands out not only for his culinary expertise but also for his unwavering commitment to sustainability. As the creative force behind the Two-Michelin and Michelin-Green-starred Amber, and the Director of Food & Beverage at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, Chef Ekkebus has become a leader in the world of ethical dining practices. Amber has been awarded The Michelin Green Star since 2022 as well as Asia’s 50 Best Sustainable Award for Most Sustainable Restaurant.

Green beginnings – from Holland to Hong Kong

At the heart of Chef Ekkebus’ culinary philosophy lies a profound respect for the environment and a deep understanding of the interplay between food, sustainability, and responsibility. But where did it all begin? According to Chef Ekkebus, it started with his upbringing. “My mom was very aware of these things — she always bought fruit and vegetables directly from farmers, and our fish came straight from the fishermen.” Growing up near the seaside in the lowest part of Holland meant constantly battling with rising sea levels. “My family’s province has been submerged and I grew up hearing stories of survival from my grandparents, uncles, and mother”, he shares. As a child, his mother’s activism also left a lasting impression. “She steered us toward becoming members of Greenpeace, we’d join in efforts to protect whales during a time of heavy whaling. And we made a difference. Today, whale populations have resumed to a normal level worldwide.” These childhood experiences taught Chef Ekkebus the power of personal contribution to effecting change – a lesson that continues to shape his culinary approach.

Upon arriving in Hong Kong nearly two decades ago, Chef Ekkebus was struck by its beauty and futuristic skyline, but also by its culture of overconsumption and neglect of waste management. “Nobody seemed to care about waste segregation or prevention,” he notes. From the constant glow of city lights to the extravagant purchases of seafood and beef, Hong Kong is a city of overconsumption. Chef Ekkebus wasted no time inquiring about waste management policies. The response was simple: “There’s a truck coming. It goes in a truck and then it leaves,” he recalls. Chef Ekkebus knew something had to change, and his team began implementing changes.

Conscious cuisine: ethical sourcing on the path to sustainability

Essential to Chef Ekkebus’ approach is the concept of ethical sourcing. For him, it’s not just about culinary excellence — it’s also about knowing where that food comes from and the impact it has on the planet. “We cannot just say, ‘Oh, we’re going to work with this fish,'” he explains. “We first need to know, okay, this fish, where does it come from? Which boat caught it? Was it caught under some form of certification?”

This meticulous attention to detail extends to every ingredient used in Chef Ekkebus’ menu. From sugar to fruit, every component undergoes a rigorous selection process to ensure that it meets his high standards of sustainability and quality. For example, Amber sources seafood that is certified by ‘Friends of the Sea’ meaning the seafood is from sustainable fisheries and sustainable aquaculture. Although this may limit the number of suppliers he can work with, Chef Ekkebus sees it as a necessary step towards building a more sustainable food system: “We only work with those that have a very similar mindset and who share our values.”

Chef Ekkebus emphasized the significance of recognition for sustainable practices within the culinary industry. “We were honoured to be recognized as one of the most sustainable restaurants by World’s 50 Best,” he noted. “It’s a robust acknowledgment audited by Food Made Good’s London office. Their audit process is thorough and evidence-based, which adds credibility.” He highlighted the importance of evidence-based assessments in driving real change. “It’s not just about claiming to do the right thing; you have to show tangible proof. Our sustainability initiatives are validated by a third-party auditing company. This ensures that there’s no room for doubt or challenge regarding our commitment to sustainability.”

Pushing the boundaries of Waste Management

Chef Ekkebus’ commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with sourcing. He is equally passionate about waste reduction. Working with a leading sustainability data management platform, Chef Ekkebus has implemented innovative solutions such as anaerobic digesters to minimize waste and reduce emissions. There is also a balanced scorecard in place tracking Amber’s performance. This means they don’t just measure performance financially but also on impact metrics such as waste and energy consumption.

Amber also works directly with farmers to close the loop on nutrient management. “When it comes to working with farmers, it’s not just about purchasing their products,” Chef Ekkebus explained. He highlights the importance of providing essential nutrients to the farmers to enrich their soil. “When our delivery truck arrives full, I want it to leave full too. We started small, collecting eggshells, then moved on to coffee grounds,” he explains. “Now, we’re incorporating fruit and vegetable peelings. Next, we plan to include meat and chicken bones.” To facilitate this process, they’ve installed a grinder. “We grind everything down, and then the farmers use it to enrich their soil,” Ekkebus elaborates. “It’s all about finding that loop; creating a sustainable cycle of nourishment for both the land and our food.”

Chef Ekkebus makes the most out of every waste reduction opportunity. “Sometimes there’s a surplus of a fruit in Hong Kong. We say, okay, let’s make a beer with it. We’re also making all our own vinegar. So, left-over wine for example, that goes to the kitchen. We have special jugs where we make our own vinegars.” Chef also explained that they use their peelings to make their own kombuchas which are served as the amuse-bouche to start a meal. “So that is how we think we can grow. I mean, reaching zero waste is a very big ambition, but closing more of that gap – that is what we are aiming for.”

It’s clear that Chef Ekkebus means business; Amber has consistently succeeded in overachieving its waste reduction goals — in fact this year, they are already surpassing their initial goal by 45%.

Sustainable actions beyond the kitchen

In addition to his efforts in the kitchen, Chef Ekkebus is also dedicated to sustainability in restaurant design and furnishings. During the refurbishment of Amber in 2019, every detail was carefully considered to minimize environmental impact. “Everything was repurposed or sold at reduced prices,” Chef Ekkebus explains. “Tables were donated to a school in the New Territories, chairs were given to a non-profit organization, and ceiling sculptures were even melted down and repurposed into new art.”

One standout feature of the revamped Amber is its carbon-neutral tables, made from fallen trees in Hong Kong. “Every typhoon in Hong Kong brings down a lot of trees,” Chef Ekkebus notes. “The Hong Kong TimberBank repurposed these fallen trees to create our tableware and utensils, making them not only beautiful but also environmentally friendly.”

Ambition: The secret sauce

Despite his many achievements, Chef Ekkebus remains committed to continuous improvement. He stays informed about the latest developments in sustainability through his involvement with organizations like Food Made Good. “You need to stay on the pulse because it’s a subject that evolves very quickly,” he explains. “I’m at the point where I want to do a Master’s in Sustainability Management to legitimize my expertise.”

Chef Ekkebus offers practical advice for others in the industry who want to follow in his footsteps. “Address the low-hanging fruit,” he advises. “Start by putting in place a water filtering system. Implement a solid waste management system, invest in anaerobic digesters, and prioritize ethical sourcing practices. And do not hesitate to collaborate with organizations like Food Made Good — they can provide valuable support and resources to help you along the way.” Chef Ekkebus’ approach reminds us that small things can add up to big things on the road to a more sustainable world, and that we all have a part to play; as the iconic African proverb says, If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

RESET reflects: Our view on the industry

Amber’s story shows that sustainability leadership is growing in the Food and Beverage industry. Such leadership paves the way for others to follow; many of Chef Ekkebus’ sustainability initiatives, such as improved waste management and onsite composting, are easy steps for both luxury and mainstream restaurants to implement. Kickstarting sustainability behaviours then flows to greater ambition; we are seeing the first major Asian retailers for example setting Science Based Targets to formalize their commitments, which is hugely encouraging.

How can Food & Beverage players execute a successful sustainability roadmap? The secret lies in deepening partnerships in the supply chain, where the majority of carbon emissions and sustainability issues (including animal welfare) lie. Developing a high-quality carbon inventory and engaging major suppliers is key to understanding their sustainability practices and commitments. This establishes a baseline on which to plan actions on the supply side in high-emission areas such as beef and poultry. When suppliers step up their game, the entire industry can move closer to achieving a more sustainable future, one partnership at a time.

Chef Ekkebus’ journey epitomises collaboration, a key pillar for our team at RESET. If your organisation is ready to join the sustainability changemakers in your industry, get in touch with our team today.