Young professionals in Vietnam energised by new momentum in nation’s clean energy transition

The emerging economy has just landed a US$15.5 billion climate finance package with donors led by the European Union to shift its economy away from coal. For young, white-collared workers like To Hai Dang who work in emerging industries, Vietnam’s renewed commitment to sustainability is inspiring.

Hai Dang HYLI 2022
To Hai Dang (third from right), a data engineer at FPT Corporation, participated in Hitachi’s Young Leaders Initiative in 2022.

Amid the sea of motorbikes, quaint cafes, street vendors, and endless power lines that criss-cross throughout the city, there is also an ever-present mist that permeates the air – and one that the more than 8 million residents of Hanoi have grown used to: air pollution.

It is a deadly issue, and one that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore each year – over 60,000 annual deaths in Vietnam are linked to air pollution, according to data from the World Health Organization. The city’s hazardous air quality has been attributed to factors such as large-scale construction, the large number of private vehicles, and emissions from its cement factories and coal-fired power plants.

But there is also a tinge of hope in the air. On 14 December 2022, Vietnam became the third nation to receive funding over the next three years through the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) to support its shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy. The JETP is an agreement where developed countries provide funding through public and private investments to developing countries to fund their clean energy transition. It is an arguably important step forward for Vietnam, which is the ninth largest consumer of coal globally, according to Reuters, citing data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The funding, if utilised well, could help the country peak its greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 – earlier than a previous 2035 projection – by sourcing almost half of its power from renewable energy by 2030.

For 24-year-old To Hai Dang and young professionals like him, the JETP signals more green projects and initiatives to take place within Vietnam, and also fuels hope that pollution and smog can be alleviated in not just Hanoi, but across the nation.

These recent developments also illustrate that sustainability is now being taken more seriously in Vietnam than ever before, says Hai Dang, a data engineer at Hanoi-based FPT Corporation, one of the nation’s largest information and communications technology companies. “I hope that this funding motivates big companies and helps them understand how important it is to protect the environment, and to strike a better balance between economic and environmental needs,” he says.

Company-wide sustainability policies and initiatives may also lead to increased investments over time. FPT Corporation, for example, has consistently been featured on the Vietnam Sustainability Index (VNSI) since 2018, which is an index of Vietnam-listed companies with high sustainability ratings. It has also received funding from closed-end fund company Vietnam Holding as a result of the company’s high quality of corporate governance and sustainable development policies.

Dang participated in Hitachi’s Young Leaders Initiative in 2022. Also known as HYLI, it is Hitachi Asia’s flagship youth development programme, and every two years brings together university students around Asia-Pacific to discuss regional and global issues centred on a chosen theme.

In this interview, Dang tells Eco-Business why his experience at HYLI helped him to grow both professionally and personally, and why sustainability is set to shape strategies across businesses in Vietnam over the next decade and beyond.

Vietnam will receive funding through the JETP to support its transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. What impact do you think the new financing scheme will have on development in Vietnam?

I am proud that Vietnam is the third nation to receive the JETP funding. It is an important announcement – the three targets of the JETP include reducing the volume of emissions generated by the energy sector, reducing the number of coal-fired power plants in Vietnam, and developing renewable energy and more effective energy infrastructure.

I would say most people in Vietnam are concerned about air pollution. The problem is especially serious in Hanoi. A huge source of the capital city’s pollution is motor vehicle emissions. The emissions from industrial plants and construction add to the problem, so I believe a shift to clean energy will alleviate pollution.

The demand for renewable or green energy such as solar power can potentially create jobs in the sector.

What do you think the recent sustainability-related developments in Vietnam mean for large corporations?

Large companies in Vietnam, like multinational telecommunications firm Viettel and information technology firm FPT Corporation [where Dang works in], are taking greater responsibility when it comes to the environment and sustainable development.

Of course, when they were smaller companies in the past, they may have been more focused on near-term profits. But now that they have a positive cash flow and a large team of employees, more of them are choosing to dedicate some funding towards sustainability. By encouraging better environmental, social and governance initiatives, they can promote their company and image, so it is a win-win situation.

Can you tell us about your experience at Hitachi’s Young Leaders Initiative?

HYLI provides a platform for students to connect with government officials, business leaders, academics and non-governmental organisation representatives. My group, tasked with writing and presenting a proposal, put forward an idea of creating a website and smartphone application to inform people living in rural areas about how they could be more sustainable and environmentally-conscious.

What I cherish most about the event was meeting other students – all of whom came from different backgrounds – and engaging in group discussions with them. I enjoyed listening to their stories and the problems they face back home.

The programme also taught me the importance and value of cooperation and mutual respect. English isn’t my first language, and I was lucky to meet a friend from Myanmar who helped me with my presentation. Everyone helped each other and I learnt a lot about teamwork; there was a strong sense of solidarity within the team.

I also enjoyed the field trips, which were eye-opening. It was the first time I travelled outside of my home country, and I was impressed by how clean and modern Singapore is. The people are really friendly, and I really enjoyed walking in the street. Every time pedestrians crossed the street, cars would also stop and wait – that is something you don’t see very often in Vietnam.

I will advise students who participate in HYLI to step out of their comfort zone and connect with as many people as possible. It is the best way to gain as much as possible from the programme. I feel that attending HYLI has enhanced my understanding of global trends and the importance of harnessing alternative energy sources to achieve economic growth, all while preserving the environment. I’ll never forget the experience.

Established in 1996, HYLI is a regional thought leadership and social responsibility programme organised by Hitachi, with the aim of identifying the future leaders of Asia. Held biannually, the platform allows four selected university students from each participating country a chance to meet and discuss current regional and global issues, as well as exchange views with prominent speakers representing governments, business and academia. Interested participants may look forward to the next edition of HYLI in 2024.

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