There is no denying that globally the rapid increase of energy consumption has largely contributed to rising temperatures, higher rates of carbon emissions and an all time high on pollution levels. In 2009, the World Energy Outlook Report stated that Southeast Asia’s energy demand would expand by 76% between 2007 – 2030 – a rate much faster than anywhere else in the world. Singapore, the focus of this piece, is no exception to the rule with a yearly increase in energy consumption of 5% since 1990. Warnings of increased temperatures, higher rainfall, more consistent air pollution (‘the haze’) and an intensified dependence on air conditioning, all threaten the small nation’s future environmental state. Titled by the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2012 as holding the largest carbon footprint per person of any nation in the Asia Pacific, Singapore has been working hard to compensate for its emissions by implementing a vast number of ‘green’ schemes to improve energy sustainability, commit to clean technology creations and limit the threat of climate change. Now marked by many (including UN-Habitat), as being at the leading edge in sustainability within Asia, the Singapore Government continually develops policies and incentives that promote green growth and opportunities to export sustainable technologies worldwide. As a dense urban city, Government initiatives have centred on Singapore’s construction industry, including the BCA Green Mark Scheme, as a means to raise environmental awareness among developers, designers and builders. Encouraged by such schemes, many local architects and designers have embraced green theory, incorporating energy efficient measures, establishing niche ‘eco’ departments and applying technological gadgetry to produce the best long term results. Sustainability goals have become so entrenched in the quality of functioning and liveability of Singapore residents, a plethora of organisations and institutions, both public and private, have evolved to educate, motivate and develop the best solutions for an environmentally responsive nation. As one reviewer noted, Singapore’s green success is a comprehensive mix of regulation, financial incentives, demonstration programmes, capacity building consumer education and awareness – a feature that looks to guarantee sustainable success.
The Singapore Government’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, is responsible for the management of Singapore’s limited resources and addresses environmental sustainability challenges as they arise. In response to the centrality of the environment, on a policy scale, the statutory board The National Environment Agency was established in 2002 as a means of improving and sustaining a clean and green environment via the development of initiatives and programmes with the people, public and private sectors. Legislation enforced under the National Environment Agency including the Energy Conservation Act (Energy Labelling and Minimum Performance Standards for Registrable Goods; Energy Management Practices; Fuel Economy Labelling) and the Environmental Protection and Management Act (Vehicular Emissions; Energy Conservation; Ozone Depleting Substances) are just some of the ways in which the Government is monitoring and restricting potential environmental degradation. Building on from this, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development (IMCSD) was set up in 2008 as a means to formulating a national strategy for sustainable development in the context of emerging domestic and global challenges. Involving the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Ministry for National Development, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Trade & Industry, the IMCSD produced the Sustainable Development Blueprint, a report outlining the top priorities and initiatives to improve resource efficiency and improve Singapore’s urban environment over the course of the next 10 – 20 years. Emphasising Singapore’s commitment to environmental sustainability since the 1960s the blueprint reports on the success of the initiatives already in place, as well as proposes new schemes to implement. Some of these include:
- Ensuring 80% of households are within 10 minutes walk of a park
- Enforcing ½ of new residential and 1/3 of new commercial buildings to contain some form of greenery (eg. vertical greenery)
- Encouraging companies to take part in the Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance scheme – saving annually up to $125million in energy consumption
- Plans to introduce new innovation districts to create living laboratories that test bed ideas to improve the environment
- Develop a $52million Green Buildings Innovation Cluster to grow capability in developing green buildings
- Designing HDB housing to include natural ventilation, sunlight, shading and greenery to create more sustainable homes
Including info-graphics, statistics and well laid out information, the Singapore Sustainability blueprint enables all facets of Singapore society to engage with and understand the goals set for achieving long term environmental responsiveness. Embracing the motto of “A liveable and endearing home, A vibrant and sustainable City, An active and gracious community”, the Singapore Government have demonstrated that a top down approach to environmental sustainability can produce an array of positive results and motivate a community to partake in the greening of a nation.
A central proponent of Singapore’s sustainability plan centres around the built environment, more specifically the BCA Green Mark Scheme. Launched in 2005 by the Singapore Government, the BCA Green Mark Scheme was designed specifically for the tropics as a way of moving Singapore’s building and construction industry towards a more environmentally responsive approach via the implementation of a standard benchmark and guideline system. New and retrofitted buildings are rated in accordance with five criteria; Energy efficiency, water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality and other green features that contribute to the better building performance. Upon assessment, buildings are awarded a rating, ranging from certified all the way through to the highest level of Platinum and are assessed every three years as a means to encouraging building owners and operators to commit to long-term sustainability measures. In addition to this, the BCA’s third Green Building Masterplan released in late 2014 has allocated $50million for a new Green Mark incentive scheme to encourage building occupants to improve their behaviours and practices in relation to energy efficiency. With benefits including a reduction in energy consumption and thus bills, an improvement in indoor environmental quality and a reduction in the detrimental impact to the environment, the scope of buildings undertaking Green Mark Certification is expanding rapidly. In 2014, a whopping 227 buildings received Green Mark Awards, including 69 Platinum level buildings. At present, 25% of Singapore’s buildings have achieved Green Mark Certification, with a target of 80% to be attained by 2030. Deemed as a successful benchmark for sustainable constructions, the certification program has expanded beyond the confines of Singapore and now is viewed as the desired green criteria for the built environment in the tropical Southeast Asian region. For all the positives, there has been some criticism that the Green Mark Scheme places too much emphasis on the use of air conditioning as a design component – an unsustainable element regardless of the improvement in energy efficient models. Some experts propose that other rating tools in Southeast Asia (such as Malaysia and Indonesia) may be more effective ultimately as they emphasise the use of vernacular passive technologies. As architect Deo Prasad surmised, is Singapore getting hooked into energy consumption being absolutely necessary for comfort? Long term results will soon reveal the limitations of the Green Mark Scheme but it would appear that for the present moment Singapore is committed to building an accountable sustainable urban environment.
Spurred on by Singapore’s projection as a green identity, along with it the Green Mark Scheme, a number of both large and small local architectural firms have encompassed sustainable measures and as a result produced various structures to reflect eco ideals. On the ground level, small firms are implementing practical sustainable measures such as Chang Architects who design and renovate residential premises to contain tropical vernacular features that enable low energy consumption, and internal green spaces (including plants, water features and trees), that almost reduce the need for air conditioning all together. Other larger firms such as DP Architects and WOHA, have developed specific ‘green’ departments that address sustainability issues and are comprised of architects, green mark professionals and environmental engineers to ensure that Asia’s rapidly growing urban centres evolve in response to their tropical climate, not simply build upon inappropriate northern hemisphere models. Technological advancements have also facilitated the expansion of companies drawn to sustainability, ultimately producing some of Singapore’s most iconic green structures. Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Sports Hub, both incorporate digitally engineered systems that make the spaces ‘zero carbon’ – a feat that may just set the benchmark for all future large scale projects. Despite the more costly outlay at the commencement of these projects, the long-term savings (both monetary and energy consumption) and the benefits to the environment in conjunction with the support from Government schemes, has cemented a successful expansion for sustainable design in Singapore – the future is bound to unveil even more creative initiatives.
It is not only the practical application of features within the building industry that have taken on the challenge of being environmentally conscious, a number of other Government schemes and private enterprises are developing institutions and organisations that conduct research and educate the general public on sustainability. For Singapore, the belief is that investment in research, education, industry expertise and working relationships between public and private benefits the entire nation, environmentally, socially and economically. Some of these varying schemes and organisations include:
Singapore Green Building Council: Established in 2009, the Singapore Green Building Council is a public-private sector partnership, non-profit organisation that advocates for green building design. SGBC holds annual conferences on green building design, conducts programmes that raise awareness of energy efficiency in schools, manages a certification scheme for green building products and frequently organises industry seminars for professionals as a means of sharing knowledge bases and developing strategic directions.
Centre for Liveable Cities: The Centre for Liveable Cities was set up in 2008 as a way of distilling, creating and sharing knowledge on liveable and sustainable cities, from Singapore’s own experiences and via sharing and learning from other cities and experts. Made up of senior figures from academia, industry and the public sector, the Centre works across three main areas - research, capability development and promotion – ultimately producing publications, workshops, programmes and lecture series for both local and global individuals and organisations.
Call for Ideas Fund: Initiated by the National Environmental Agency, the Call for Ideas Fund provides co funding for projects that seek to resolveenvironmental problems in the local community, and the development of mobile applications to allow the public to access environmental information so they can make informed choices and decisions in their daily lives.
Singapore Green Labelling Scheme: Launched in 1992, the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme (SGLS) endorses industrial/consumer products that have minimal effects on the environment. Administered by the Singapore Environment Council, the SGLS has over 2,800 products certified across 25 countries.
Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme: NParks encourages the installation of skyrise greenery on existing buildings by providing up to 50% of the cost of installation of green roofs and vertical greenery.
Asian Green Buildings: An Online platform that provides industry professionals with news, features, interview videos, market reports, networking opportunities and event guides.
Partnerships between private and public sectors as well as investment in research and education have encouraged a well rounded view of the potential for sustainable measures and the ways in which society can partake in environmental responsiveness. Engaging with all facets of society has reinforced the idea that sustainability can be the norm, rather than the exception – a concept that is also pegged as producing long-term economic benefits. As director of the Centre for Liveable Cities, states; “The consciousness is very much in policy making, land use planning and community engagement, and is essential for Singapore to be a liveable city and sustainable economy.”
Undeniably, Singapore as a nation has developed an integrated approach to ensure the long-term future of a green and sustainable environment - a feat worked upon by many from both the top and bottom levels of society. Government legislation, building benchmark schemes, private architectural sector’s ideological commitment, research centres and industrial networking have all contributed to making Singapore present as a nation that strives for the best for the future in the face of climate change, the most liveable sustainable city in the present day and as a driver of investing in green technology, with the potential for global export. However, inhibitors still stand in the way – dependence on air conditioning, poverty, rapid urbanisation and economic expansion (a fact that contributed to a 23% energy consumption increase between 2005-2011) and limited energy resources all present some form of obstacle for Singapore’s green future. Long-term approaches will need to be adaptable and current schemes and initiatives open to review for the course of their lifespan. For the moment though, Singapore’s pledge to sustainability via the routes of policy, research, education, networking, technology investment and community engagement continues to see it at the forefront of environmental pro-activeness – a potential beacon in light of Asia’s growing energy demand.