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Beyond the earthly hour

Organisers of lights-out event Earth Hour hope to turn it into a global movement for change

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HELPING HANDS (From left) Andrew Garfield, the lead actor of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2', Commonwealth Secondary 4 student Nicolas Ian Blackburn, Garfield's co-star Jamie Foxx, and Commonwealth Secondary 4 student Darryl Ang during a tree-planting activity yesterday at Commonwealth Secondary School. With them are WWF-Singapore's Ms Tan (partly hidden, at left) and school principal Aaron Loh (far right). - PHOTO: MARK CHEONG/THE STRAITS TIMES

Singapore

AT 8.30pm tonight, buildings in more than 7,000 cities across at least 157 countries will turn off their lights for 60 minutes as part of Earth Hour 2014.

This symbolic act is aimed at inspiring people to connect and save the planet, organisers say. Beyond that, the organisers hope to turn the event - best known for its lights-out visual impact - into a global movement for change.

Earth Hour co-founder and CEO Andy Ridley told The Business Times: "Of course, the symbolism of the hour is absolutely central to how we bring people together, but the most important thing for us is how do we take it beyond the hour?"

Part of the environmental organisation's efforts includes partnering local crowdfunding start-up Crowdonomic to launch Earth Hour Blue, the first crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform for the planet.

The digital platform lists various projects and campaigns backed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that people can support through donations. These projects - which include providing fibre-glass boats for coastal communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan and biogas stoves in Nepal - have funding targets of between US$20,000 and US$100,000.

Added Mr Ridley: "The essential principle is that the problems we are dealing with are on such a massive scale that we need to mobilise hundreds of millions of people to start addressing them."

The website currently has 16 projects listed. Only one project - WWF Singapore's effort to stop animal trafficking in South-east Asia - has met its target funding as at Friday. The goal for Earth Hour Blue is to have 1,000 projects - both from the WWF and externally - that people can support in four years' time, said Mr Ridley.

In a show of support to save the planet, more than 350 organisations here, almost double the 183 last year, plan to turn off their lights.

Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF Singapore, said: "For companies to be able to step up to make a pledge, even though it is symbolic, it is a way forward, because we need to bring this sense of environmental responsibility into the minds and hearts of everyone."

She added that businesses have a huge responsibility in environmental sustainability, and play a big role in taking leadership for it.

Companies here have started to take sustainability measures that go beyond Earth Hour, too.

Millennium & Copthorne Hotels said it was embarking on an "Earth Month", during which it will switch off facade lights and water features and will be dimming lights in non-essential areas starting today.

CapitaLand said it had adopted LED lighting at most of its properties in Singapore. The move is encouraged in Earth Hour's "Use Your Power" campaign as one of its four recommended acts - turning the air conditioning up by a degree, switching to LED lights, using fewer plastic bags and taking shorter showers.

NTUC FairPrice has also started dedicated lanes for customers who bring their own bags to selected stores.

This is in addition to its Green Rewards Scheme, around since 2007, for customers who bring their own bags. More than eight million plastic bags were saved last year, the retailer said.

Other companies and hotels, including Ikea, SingPost, Conrad Centennial Singapore and Pan Pacific group, have also rolled out their own initiatives.

Earth Hour, which began in 2007 as a lights-out event in Sydney, has not been without its critics.

Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School, reckons that the "celebration of darkness sends the wrong message".

"Global warming is a real problem, but Earth Hour is not the answer," he noted. "While more than a billion people across the globe make a symbol of foregoing non-essential electrical power for one hour a year, another 1.3 billion people across the developing world will continue to live without electricity as they do every other night of the year."

He added that the focus should be on bright solutions for "those living in permanent darkness".

But Mr Ridley said he was "slightly cynical about the cynics", because it was easier for them to criticise than do something about the problem.

"If you think of it from the perspective of is (Earth Hour) doing enough, the actual question is are you doing enough?," he pointed out.

He added that there was a large number of people doing more, making it important for Earth Hour to continue to drive action beyond the hour.

Looking ahead, Mr Ridley said the organisation is open to investment and partners, especially for Earth Hour Blue to help realise its potential.

Earth Hour, a global environment movement of the WWF, is headquartered in Singapore. This year, the city-state will be the heart of the global flagship event for Earth Hour celebrations worldwide.

Grabbing eyeballs is Spider-Man, Earth Hour's first global superhero ambassador.

Filmstars from the upcoming movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2, including lead actor Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb, are in town to switch off the lights at Marina Bay tonight.

During a visit to Commonwealth Secondary School yesterday, Garfield said that as a global community of human beings, it was important for people to talk about protecting their homes. "If you look at the earth from the moon, it's one home. We are all sharing this planet and it's screaming at us to take care of it."