Published on 25 Aug 2021

Different disciplines, same sustainable goals

From setting national agendas to encouraging sustainably driven mindsets in today’s students, the Government, academic institutions, and businesses in Singapore are striving to improve the future of the environment.

By Sean Shagaran

Seeking to encourage new dialogue on sustainability and the roles some of Singapore’s different industries can play in promoting it, the NTU School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association (NCEEA) held the inaugural NTU CEE International Alumni Webinar Series on 28 May.

During the session, three panellists addressed over 130 virtual participants on sustainability in their respective industries and the value of collaborating in an ever-changing climate. The session was moderated by local media personality Mr Benedict Goh, Chief Investment Officer, UTICA™️ Solar.

NTU Sustainability 

Home to a vast array of solar panels, the NTU Smart Campus integrates sustainable technologies to maximise every Watt of renewable energy.

 

‘Practice sustainability in everyday life’

Mr Luke Goh, Chief Executive Officer, National Environment Agency, Singapore said that sustainability has always been a part of our nation’s DNA. Since independence, he said, “we have pursued sustainable development by balancing economic growth with environmental protection and social inclusion.” From the Clean Air Act in 1971, to the Climate Action Plan in 2016, the Government has implemented decades worth of environmental policies through its various agencies, and continues to do so today.

As a whole-of-nation sustainability movement, the Singapore Green Plan 2030 sets future sustainability targets and outlines new initiatives towards these goals. It builds upon the efforts of preceding decades and seeks to ensure Singapore remains a green and liveable home, with sustainability also serving as an engine of growth. Green Plan goals includes for all new car and taxi registrations to be of cleaner-energy models from 2030, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill by 20% by 2026, and ensuring that at least 20% of all schools are carbon neutral by 2030.

While the plan will see new legislation introduced to reach its targets, Mr Goh explained how community involvement can influence the plan’s success. Commenting on how citizens and businesses can help Singapore reach its sustainability goals sooner, Mr Goh advised them to practice sustainability not only in accordance with regulations but in their everyday lives and daily operations.

Creating curiosity and encouraging questions about sustainability

During the webinar, Prof Ng Wun Jern, the then Professor & Principal Lead, Environmental Bio-Innovations Group (EBiG), CEE, NTU (presently Honorary Advisor to the School of CEE)provided his perspective on the role of educators and researchers in further developing interest and capability in sustainability across different fields to help Singapore build a greener future. “By knowing the relevant needs, we are better able to innovate solutions that can more holistically address current environmental issues while keeping an eye on unfolding ones,” said Prof Ng.

Prof Ng believes an effective educator not only acquires knowledge but also disseminates it, and most importantly, promotes critical thinking. “With this critical thinking, we can move on to fostering curiosity and encouraging questions. The latter can lead to innovations and inventions and from these the solutions that are needed to address local and very large global problems in sustainability,” said Prof Ng, who emphasised how education can prepare and inspire future generations to want to help protect the environment.

Prof Ng also spoke on the importance of interactions academia can have with policymakers and businesses. “Through partnerships, we are able to understand needs and constraints, and help policymakers and businesses identify appropriate solutions. Where such solutions are not yet available but by knowing what they require, educators and researchers can conduct research and development projects that work towards the necessary solutions for the issues they face,” said Prof Ng.

A new driving force for businesses

Recently, many businesses have been forced to adapt to the circumstances brought about by the global pandemic. For some, it has given them the opportunity to pivot their businesses towards more sustainable practices; for others, sustainability has always been at their core.

TEMBUSU Asia Consulting Pte Ltd is a sustainability consulting firm comprising experienced engineers, architects, scientists, planners and management consultants who guide their clients to reach goals in natural resource stewardship, environmental performance and sustainable development.

Er Tan Seng Chuan, Managing Director of TEMBUSU Asia, explained that everyone has a role to play in reaching global sustainability goals: “There have been numerous signs that the world is taking firm actions to seek green growth opportunities and harness sustainability as a competitive advantage. Organisations at international levels, governments of nations, businesses, professionals, academia and individuals have roles to play in transforming our world,” he said.

“Who will lead the charge?”

Responding to a question on which industry would be spearheading Singapore’s efforts in sustainability, Mr Goh said that contrary to what many might expect, the responsibility would not be solely the Government's. He said that the answer “depends on the specific issue in question, and who is best able to, or in the position to convene and get the conversation going". Although he acknowledged the Government's ability to bring people together, he also said that achieving sustainability goals was a shared task.

Agreeing with these sentiments, Prof Ng added that he looks forward to more collaborations between academia, policymakers and businesses, because “sustainability is not the domain of any single discipline, profession or person but the responsibility of all”.