Singapore is a place where history, principles and economics have been brought together creating a unique balance. The ‘Garden City’, a nickname of which locals are justly proud, has its origins in the famous civic planning on display, but also serves as a reminder of the possibilities of a greener urban future. As large portions of the world’s population become even more drawn to cities, questions of quality of life and sustainability naturally come to the fore.
Going ‘Green’ is a goal that people often agree upon without being able to fully define it. Simply put ‘Going Green’ combines an endeavor to make our lives better in the near term (through bringing ourselves closer to nature) while protecting the earth. Going green enables us to preserve our health and the environment for future generations to come.
Together with improving matters for the general population, another ambition for Singapore is to help manage the world’s ecological health through more sustainable forms of growth.
What does this mean in practice?
The answer goes to the core project of building the Singaporean state and identity. Famously small and densely populated, the city has always walked the line between its own independence and the need to engage with the wider world to secure wealth and security. Halimah Yacob, the incumbent president of Singapore, captured this in her opening address to Singapore’s parliament in late 2020. With globalization’s circulatory system under threat from the coronavirus and other elements, she reminded her audience that “We make a living by doing business with the world”.
Singapore on Going Green
It started with Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘Tree Planting Day’, which was an initiative which began in 1963, celebrating the urban vision that he laid the groundwork for. His legacy is one of long-term thinking and responsible growth, which has led to the Tree Planting Day tradition to be continued until today.
Rapid growth has allowed Singapore to develop into a focal point for careful civic planning, and also put its inhabitants at the forefront of the battle for better development. The state remains a participant in the process begun by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1995) and is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
While carbon emissions and local air quality remain an ongoing challenge, they are ones that citizens, business heads and political parties are determined to fix. The Environmental Performance Index, created by Yale and the UN, recently placed Singapore 14th on a global level and first in Asia for environmental sustainability, showing that their efforts are not going unrecognized.
Ecology and environmental endeavors extend far beyond multilateral agreements. We see expert international consensus building in Singapore, but we also see local initiative in the public and private sectors. Official policy has outlined a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2050, and of moving to net zero emissions as quickly as possible after that, with a special emphasis on solar power due to the country’s location and abundant sunshine.
To realize ambitious goals like these, partnerships have to be forged between business and bureaucracy. The powerful Financial Stability Board created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in 2015, to recommend “voluntary, consistent disclosures” about climate-related risks.
Major Singapore-listed companies and entities duly assented to TCFD guidelines, including real estate giant CDL, agribusiness Olam, Singtel and the Singapore Exchange (SGX). DBS, Singapore’s largest bank, joined these companies (and major global financial institutions) in endorsing the plans, underscoring the impact of the new policy. Over 1,500 organizations have since got behind the TCFD, an increase of over 85% since a 2019 status report. Meanwhile the SGX has been refining strong sustainability reporting requirements to bring companies into line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) formalized by the UN in 2015.
Creating a Sustainable Environment
100% of the population in Singapore is urbanized, despite this Singapore still remains the greenest city in Asia. Currently Singapore is recognized as one of the most livable cities in Asia and ranks number 1 for livable cities among Asian expats. With the efforts and measures implemented by Singapore during COVID-19, they have climbed up the ranks of livable cities.
Architectural flair serves an important purpose for an urbanized population, gathering attention, creating travel destinations for visitors, and posing questions about the seriousness of a long-term sustainability. Truly iconic buildings and structures tend to last longer than their first generation of creators and occupants, often becoming a part of lasting heritage. The Singaporean government has been focused on creating both architecturally impressive structures that also contribute to a more sustainable environment.
‘Tengah’ is the Malay word for ‘Center’ chosen for the Singaporean project that combines the drive to both reduce the carbon footprint and improve the urban environment. Technology and entrepreneurship are working with civic planning to turn a grand vision into a reality.
Rather than making a utopian expo-conference or a start-from-scratch location to which people must be persuaded to move later. Tengah’s name and purpose means reworking the center, targeting the same space the citizens now work and live in for renewal.
For resourceful Singaporeans, local obstacles are presenting opportunities,
and promising new companies and ideas are emerging. These new solutions are bringing life to things such as solar powered air conditioning, underground tunnels adapted for electric cars, city-center farms and vertical gardens. With financial incentives in place to nurture green investment, and demand for green-urban solutions rising around the world, expect both competition and growth to be strong among the best of these companies.
Evidence of Building Green
Already on the Singapore skyline we can see one impressive example of green futurism, the CapitaGreen building, which gathers rainwater and fresh air through a visually striking structure on top and is covered by foliage and smart glass that maintains temperature.
Meanwhile, more recently, the new Nanyang Technological University has the aim of being “eco-friendliest campus in the world,” with minimal waste and maximal attention to detail in terms of resources and design. The NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media is catching attention with its sloping, turf-covered roof that looks resplendent while also serving (along with a cooling water feature) to maintain a comfortable ambient atmosphere. Other highlights include sensors that track motion, light and carbon dioxide levels to maintain appropriate energy use and improve air quality inside the school.
With the world in a moment of shared crisis and uncertainty due to COVID-19; travel, supply chains and other features of globalization have been disrupted. President Yacob and other leaders are outlining plans for surviving the pandemic and crafting a more sustainable future.
Restoring a necessary balance must start with some acknowledgement of ecological threats connected to consumption and habitat loss.
With the on-going development of legislation, Singapore’s commitment to green development of businesses and the reduction in use of energy, Singapore will continue to be a leader in creating a more environmentally friendly future.
Singaporean companies, regulators, communities, and other actors are defining a special kind of green urbanism that may well provide examples for others to follow, in terms of local and global improvement. The Southeast Asian city state today is a place where many strands of proactive ecological thinking are coming together. From the outside, the whole that they form is one with both responsible civic-minded color and an ambition that makes us take note of it as a destination for living, as well as for sound investment.
INS Global in Singapore
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