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Making Singapore sustainable

From safeguarding limited natural resources to mitigating the impact of buildings on the environment, local companies have recognised the roles they can play and have stepped up to the challenge.

Children at a school in Lombok (above), Indonesia, where volunteers from Xylem Watermark helped built an aqua tower.

Boxgreen (above) is building a sustainable business with commitments to responsible sourcing, hiring and giving back to the community.

LogisTech is the first logistics building (above) in Singapore to receive the BCA Green Mark Platinum Super Low Energy Award.


STUDENTS of my generation were imbued with water-conservation habits - talks and rationing exercises were par for the course in the education system, which taught us to not take accessibility to this resource for granted.

Fast forward a few decades, and although great strides have been made in enhancing water security, this area remains an imperative one for the city-state, as new challenges have emerged.

Global water technology company Xylem has been a part of the Singapore's water story since 1982, and had installed more than 320 sensors in the country's potable water supply pipelines to monitor the performance of the network and respond swiftly in case of abnormalities related to pressure variations, water quality issues, and leakage.

In Singapore, NEWater meets up to 40 per cent of the current water demand.

Koh Chong Hin, managing director, South-east Asia, Xylem, said: "To further improve the quality of NEWater in order to meet fast-paced developing international potable reuse water standards, an ultraviolet (UV)-based advanced oxidation process (AOP) is usually introduced after reverse osmosis to oxidise the organic micro pollutants and provide an additional protection barrier against pathogens."

Xylem is collaborating with the Public Utilities Board on a 1.7 million gallons per day (mgd) pilot plant at Kranji NEWater Factory involving the use of Wedeco UV-AOP reactor.

By 2060, NEWater is expected to meet up to 55 per cent of Singapore's future water demand, and the narrative on water issues may be rewritten, as challenges may shift to other areas in water security.

"Singapore has low non-revenue water so it is not so much about finding leaks and further reducing water losses but to improve on workforce productivity through the use of automation and technology," Mr Koh said.

Dedicated to solving the world's most challenging water issues, Xylem founded its corporate citizenship and social investment programme, Xylem Watermark, 11 years ago.

Providing relief

More than 9,200 members of Xylem's employee base volunteered more than 70,000 hours in more than 52 countries, providing water-related disaster relief expertise, technology and equipment to communities in need. For example, staff members have built aqua towers that provide clean water to communities and schools in Cambodia and the Philippines.

As Covid-19 hit the world, the Watermark programme is dedicating US$3 million of critical funding to partner global non-profit organisations. In Singapore, Xylem matched its employees' donation at a rate of 2:1 for the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home) and Children's Wishing Well.

Water is one of the many resources on Earth that is increasingly strained by rising consumption from global population growth and rapid urbanisation. Hence, as a small, low-lying city state without natural resources, it is crucial for Singapore to do its part to reduce waste and mitigate its impact on the environment.

As the lead agency for the built environment sector in Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority has been driving the industry to reduce construction waste over the past 20 years by encouraging efficient and productive construction methods such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA).

Ang Kian Seng, group director, Environmental Sustainability, said: "DfMA involves construction being designed and manufactured off-site in a controlled environment, before being assembled on-site. This optimises the use of construction materials and reduces waste. It also improves construction productivity and allows manpower on site to be effectively used and managed. BCA also introduced the Demolition Protocol, which is a set of procedures to help contractors better plan demolition procedures so as to maximise the recovery of waste materials for beneficial reuse or recycling."

In 2005, Singapore kick-started its green building journey when the Green Mark Scheme was launched, as a tool to rate the environmental sustainability of buildings in the tropics.

"At the end of the first year, there were only 17 building projects in Singapore that had met the BCA Green Mark standards. Today, we are making good progress with 40 per cent of the gross floor area (GFA) in Singapore meeting the green building standard, which accounts for close to 4,000 buildings," said Mr Ang.

This shows a shift in awareness and support as green buildings are now better recognised as a form of value creation.

"Adding green building certifications such as Singapore's BCA Green Mark to a development's list of credentials can boost the developer's corporate image and the prestige of such developments. From a business perspective, it also makes financial sense to advance green buildings," said Mr Ang.

"This was validated by a recent independent consultancy study on the BCA Green Mark schemes, which showed that the net present value of Green Mark buildings is strongly positive over their operating life. In other words, the gains from energy savings far outweigh the upfront investment cost to build an energy efficient building."

Beyond all these tangible benefits, they also provide a conducive environment for the occupants, he added.

BCA also collaborated with Singapore Green Building Council to develop the Zero Capital Partnership scheme, which was launched in 2016 to help building owners who lack the necessary capital and technical expertise to implement energy efficient retrofit projects on their own.

"The scheme aims to help building owner who are keen to retrofit their building but do not have the know how to do so," said Mr Ang. "Through (it), building owners can tap the expertise of accredited energy performance contracting (EPC) firms which serve as a one-stop retrofit solution support by providing technical expertise . . . as well as provide financing, and/or facilitate the application of suitable financing and incentive schemes for building owners to fund the retrofit works."

To date, SGBC has accredited 14 firms with the expertise and capabilities to deliver guaranteed energy savings that translate to financial savings for building owners.

When asked about increasing awareness among the public on the issue of green buildings and/or going green in general, Mr Ang said that beyond the hardware, individuals also have a big role to play by adopting sustainable practices in their daily activities.

Playing our part

"As occupants of buildings, all of us can play our part to safeguard the environment too. Simple acts such as turning off the lights and air conditioning in the meeting rooms when not in use and at home can help in reducing the energy consumption. Together, we can create a more sustainable environment for future generations," he added.

Besides its many skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, Singapore is known for its endless makan options. The National Environment Agency noted that food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore, and only 18 per cent of it is recycled. The rest are disposed of at the waste-to-energy plants for incineration.

Boxgreen, as a food company, is aware of how the environment impacts food supply through ingredient shortages and price increases as a result of climate change.

Hence, the company came up with plant-based snacks that are as much as possible sourced regionally from sustainable suppliers. All packaging boxes are also made of recycled material and are 100 per cent recyclable.

Andrew Lim, co-founder, said: "We think it's every company's responsibility to address the climate change issue in their operations, and a great way to start is by looking at how to reduce waste or to encourage recycling. While our impact may not be great globally, we do believe that we can make a small difference in our geographically-small country. Climate change aside, we'll run out of space at some point if the waste keeps piling up!

"It's an ever-evolving balancing act between reducing and ensuring that our packaging does what it was designed to do. Short shelf lives can result in lots of sad faces and wasted snacks. So when we are looking at reducing, we also consider if changing our packaging to a more sustainable option will result in increased waste of the product inside (either through damage in transport, or reduction in shelf-life) - and that's the challenging part."

Mr Lim added that sourcing sustainably will result in a more efficient and effective use of natural resources, and reduce the impact of hazardous substances on human health and the environment.

Company of Good connects organisations to do good strategically, sustainably and impactfully. It is a part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), which is the steward of the City of Good vision for Singapore. Find out more at  


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