September 18, 2017 CEEC

Southeast Asia Spotlight: Singapore Setting the Ideal for Environmental Initiatives

It is clear that sustainability has become a popular topic around the world. As a Canadian, most of us are raised to believe we are a very developed and forward-thinking country. We are internationally renowned for our natural treasures – lakes, prairies, and mountain ranges – that seem to label us as a nation that prioritizes environmental concerns.


On the contrary, I want to highlight a small city state in Southeast Asia that has been leading the world in sustainable initiatives. Singapore, a city state of 5.5 million people, has continuously illustrated a sustainable ideal for urban centres. After living in Singapore for four months, it came as no surprise that the small country is ranked first in sustainability among Asian cities, and second globally. If you were thinking it was just luck of the draw that Singapore happened to be one of the most environmentally-renowned cities, consider that no North American city even ranked amongst the top 20 – shocking, as I know most Canadians would assume we are a role model for sustainability and biodiversity.


So, how did Singapore quickly develop their reputation as “The Garden City”? With origins as a fishing village of only 150 people, Singapore was not known as the glamorous and modern centre it is today. British establishment in 1819 caused Singapore to quickly urbanize and industrialize, the result of such contributing to extreme air and water pollution. This rapid development could have resulted in a poorly planned city like those we witness in North America, but several key factors contributed to Singapore’s environmental focus.


Geographic factors: If you haven’t before, I highly recommend looking at Singapore on a map. For better perspective, Canada is measured at 9.985 million kilometres squared; Singapore is 719.1 kilometres squared! Why is this important? Singapore’s small geographic size creates intense pressure to carefully consider planning of logistics, smart and green buildings, and construction. They simply don’t have the space to utilize resources unsustainably.


Planning fundamentally: Singapore was not overcome by quick successes and the demand for rapid development. While other cities initiate construction quickly, Singapore invested in the fundamentals of its infrastructure while implementing a sophisticated catalog of urban solutions. For example, Singapore has required buildings greater than 2000 square metres to meet the Green Mark’s minimum standards, with requirements spanning extensive overhangs, sky gardens, and IT that monitors carbon emissions. Green Mark buildings already account for more than 20% of Singapore’s gross floor space! 


Culture: Singapore prides itself on peace, justice, social and religious harmony. While this does not explicitly define the environment as a core value, this translates to a culture of working together and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Even though most sustainable initiatives are implemented by the government, the commitment and collaboration of public, private and people sectors moves Singapore to the forefront of environmental change.


Innovation: Two key factors of Singapore’s infrastructure have supported its reputation as the Garden City: water management and transportation management. Without access to substantial bodies of fresh water, the city state focuses on reuse of reclaimed water, rainwater catchment systems and saltwater desalination. Their government-introduced NEWater plants meet 40% of Singapore’s water needs by treating reclaimed water which is then supplied to the public. Secondly, if you have never been to Singapore and need a good reason to come…I recommend you come to try out the public transportation! Incredibly reliable, effective, and clean subway (MRT) and bus systems provide environmentally friendly transportation around the country. Additionally, Singapore restricts car ownership with high taxes, translating to reduced pollution and crowding.


Singapore’s ability to implement so many sustainable initiatives begs the question: why are cities, which cover 2% of the Earth’s surface, still requiring consumption of 75% of the world’s resources? Countries like Singapore are taking great movements forward to creating a truly sustainable city, and one that creates a more positive living experience. Environmental sustainability, quality of life and competitive economics go hand in hand – it is time to start prioritizing sustainability in Canada and adopting Singapore’s environmental ideals.