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Greening Singapore in myriad ways

Mao Sheng Quanji Construction has helped Singapore stand out from other metropolitan cities with its landscaping expertise.

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"Ideas like urban farming in buildings, butterfly gardens in residential estates, and therapeutic horticulture for the elderly... make this industry an exciting one." - Choo Jun Wei, project director, Mao Sheng.

THE Istana, Changi Airport and Jurong Lake Gardens share another common denominator besides being Singapore landmarks - and that is Mao Sheng Quanji Construction, a landscaping firm.

The company has won various awards for its landscape construction projects, which include The Sandcrawler at Fusionopolis, which is the regional headquarters of Lucasfilm.

Mao Sheng's most recent project is the landscape implementation of Novena Church and it bagged the Horticulture Excellence and Best of Show at the Singapore Garden Festival 2016.

Choo Jun Wei, project director and son of Mao Sheng's founder Choo Kim Chuan, says: "There were 15 international competitors. We did something that was technically challenged so there was that 'wow' factor. My team did a fantastic job in the preparation and paid attention to details such as the quality of plants. We were fortunate the judges and public appreciated our work."

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From a one-man operation, the firm now boasts about 500 people which includes a team of award-winning landscape specialists.

Manpower was, and still poses, a challenge for the firm, Mr Choo acknowledges.

"We always lack people and talent in our industry. The sector always seems to have more jobs available than workers."

He adds that the industry has an image issue as "many Singaporeans think this is a job for foreigners and shun it".

However, the firm has not let the challenges impede its vision to make Singapore a green city.

"Things have been improving and we need to strengthen our efforts to remake our industry image. We need to present ourselves as professionals and emphasise that the work we do can be rewarding and purposeful."

The 36-year-old tells The Business Times that the company's name has a meaning in Chinese of constructing beautiful and luxuriant landscapes as at that time when the firm was first established, the vision of Singapore as a garden city was very prominent.

"I used to tell people that when tourists visit Singapore, they always remember Singapore for three things: It is safe, clean and green."

Hence, it is no surprise that more than 80 per cent of Mao Sheng's clients are from the public sector (government or government-linked firms).

Mr Choo believes that greenery is here to stay and the landscape industry would be a growing one as it is not only Singapore's national policy, it also makes the urban environment more liveable.

However, much of the work is still laborious, and Mr Choo sees the need to continually innovate and invest in better tools to help in the daily work processes. This is especially important as the company has been expanding and taking on more challenges along the way.

Within the landscaping industry, Mao Sheng is involved in four areas: designing, implementation, maintenance and supply of plants.

The landscaping industry has evolved beyond just planting trees and flowers.

"In our built-up environment, it is also about sophistication with ideas like urban farming in buildings, butterfly gardens in residential estates, and therapeutic horticulture for the elderly. Hence, this industry is definitely an exciting one," Mr Choo says.

Mao Sheng has been greening Singapore on the first three levels - turfing, shrubs and trees - and the firm seems to have run out of space to plant new things, he adds.

"Hence, we will be intensifying our greening efforts on the next three levels - vertical wall, rooftop and waterways. I nicknamed them straight, above and under, like a continuous green belt."

"As a growing industry, it will eventually attract more companies which increases competition; we have to continue to maintain our edge, invest in our people and technology and give better service deliverables to our clients."

On being a winner of this year's E50 Awards, Mr Choo says: "It is a great honour to be a repeat winner. Mao Sheng is the first landscape company to be given this prestigious award so it is a big recognition for the landscape industry. It also shows that the landscaping work we do is professional and worthy of the event."

Since its establishment, Mao Sheng has forayed into other areas such as general cleansing and housekeeping.

When asked about the reason for such a move, Mr Choo says that being "clean and green" is the hallmark of Singapore.

"So if one is in the landscape business, it's pretty safe you would always have business. It was a natural progression for us to offer complimentary services to our existing clients."

More importantly, Mr Choo wants to spread the message to the younger generation that the landscaping sector is an exciting industry and work is meaningful as it helps Singapore stand out from other metropoles in a green way.

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