Even as we grapple with immediate concerns like rising prices and economic uncertainty, a critical threat looms large – our ongoing climate crisis. Singapore’s susceptibility to its detrimental effects and limited renewable energy options calls for an urgent need to prioritise the sustainability agenda.
In response, the Future Economy Council’s newly-developed Resource and Environmental Sustainability Cluster will oversee industry transformation efforts to align with national priorities on sustainability. The cluster is co-chaired by Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Koh Poh Koon and Sembcorp Industries group president and chief executive Wong Kim Yin.
But why should companies go green – especially when they’re recovering from pandemic-related shocks? Take a leaf from a homegrown environmental services company and a luxury hotel brand. Their sustainability strategy is clear: Going green can be win-win.
Walking the sustainability talk
A passionate advocate of sustainability, Mr Premkumar Retanamsamy believes that everyone has a part to play in reducing waste and unnecessary use of single-use products. He hopes that future generations can benefit from what we choose to do today.
The 36-year-old is the principal manager of operations at Chye Thiam Maintenance (CTM), an environmental services company. His job involves sharing the company’s sustainable practices when he trains new employees.
“When I tell them they should try to reduce plastic bag usage and only use what they need, their reaction is usually ‘I know la’,” he says.
It was initially challenging to get employees to adopt habits of reducing and reusing where possible. But he perseveres, encouraging his colleagues and leading by example.
In his primary role, he helps the company save storage space and reduce costs by only ordering what is needed on a monthly basis.
Even then, the items must come from green label companies. For instance, Mr Premkumar only orders paper from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified companies. FSC is an international standard that ensures that products are from sustainable and responsible sources.
“As one of Singapore’s largest homegrown environmental services companies, sustainability is of utmost importance to us,” says Dr Adrian Ang, 39, CTM’s director of corporate development and new businesses.
“As our company grew, we decided to go into materials recovery and e-waste recycling as we realised how sustainability will benefit Singapore and future generations.”
Thinking long term for future benefits
With Pulau Semakau landfill forecasted to be full by 2035, CTM opened its first materials recovery facility in Sungei Kadut in 2018 to reduce incinerated waste by recovering reusable or recyclable materials.
By extracting items such as plastic bottles, aluminium cans, cartons and boxes, the company reduces the total amount of waste sent for incineration, and derives revenue from the sale of recovered materials to recycling partners.
Last year, the facility processed about 1,600 tonnes of materials a month, reducing the amount headed for incineration by up to 40 per cent. In turn, the company’s incineration cost was reduced by about 20 per cent.
The company has also adopted technology to improve efficiency at the facility. Materials used to be sorted manually, which was time-consuming and labour-intensive.
As part of a $1.6 million investment, CTM installed waste sorting technology such as a ballistic separator and electromagnetic system. Today, the facility is semi-automated with about 10 to 15 workers, half the number previously required.
CTM also tapped on Enterprise Singapore’s Productivity Solutions Grant when setting up its e-waste recycling facility, which began operations last year. The facility is the first and only fully automated plant for large electronics in Singapore.
Today, the facility recovers 90 to 95 per cent of materials such as metal, plastic, rubber and glass – a large portion of which comes from large household appliances that are sent for incineration.
“The signs are promising and we hope to increase the recovery rate to 96 to 99 per cent in time to come by working with our partner government agencies,” says Dr Ang.
Moving forward, the company plans to transform its fleet of over 100 lorries – used for daily operations and maintenance of public cleanliness – into electric ones over the next five years, says Dr Ang.
But he knows that no company can address the climate crisis alone. To spread awareness on the importance of sustainability, CTM has given talks on its green practices at its clients’ corporate sustainability events and hopes to do more in this area, he shares.
Dr Ang adds: “Waste management in Singapore should be a collective effort, and we are always open to partner government agencies and companies to encourage Singaporeans to consume less and conserve more.”
Creative ways for better days
Having worked in the hospitality industry for 11 years, Mr Rohit Suvarna, 33, is acutely aware of the need to adopt sustainable practices.
He’s heartened to see that hotel guests have been warming up to the idea of opting for greener options over the years.
“I have seen people bringing their own straws to the bar, and I really appreciate that,” says the venue manager at W Singapore - Sentosa Cove.
But he understands that the road to sustainability is an ongoing journey, and not all guests would follow suit easily. To discourage the use of plastic, the hotel has swapped out plastic straws at their food and beverage outlets for ones made of metal and paper.
“It’s a very small change, but it’s the little things that matter,” says Mr Suvarna.
This is part of a larger initiative by Marriot International, which operates W Singapore. The platform, called Serve 360, outlines a set of sustainability and social impact goals by 2025 across close to 8,000 properties globally.
Within W Singapore, Mr Suvarna is constantly looking at new ways to boost the hotel’s sustainable food and beverage practices.
This year, he started a small eco-garden to grow microgreens that can be used as garnishes for cocktails. These were previously purchased from suppliers. In addition, the shreddings from preparing the garnishes – which are normally discarded – are used to flavour drinking water.
In the kitchen, chefs play a major role in finding creative ways to optimise ingredients and minimise waste, says executive chef Henry Jordan, 34, who is part of the hotel’s food waste management and sustainable food sourcing programmes.
“It’s about introducing a culture of waste prevention,” he says. “It does not happen overnight and needs to constantly be a priority worked into our daily kitchen operations.”
Even discarded food is not wasted. W Singapore uses food waste compactors that process and recycle over 4,000kg of food waste each month into fertilisers for the greening of Sentosa.
This is part of the Sustainable Sentosa strategic roadmap, launched last year, which aligns with national efforts to advance sustainable development and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Thinking green from the beginning
For W Singapore, sustainability has always been a key component of its business, ever since it opened its doors in 2012, says general manager Christian Metzner.
“The hotel was built with a sustainable concept. It was always in our minds, and was always planned like this,” adds the 45-year-old.
Within a year, W Singapore became the first hotel in Sentosa to be awarded the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum Award for its efficient and sustainable design elements.
Based on previously released statistics by W Singapore, the hotel has reduced overall energy consumption by roughly 39 per cent with the use of energy-efficient LED lighting over the years, and saved 8,000 cubic metres of water annually with water-efficient fittings certified under PUB’s Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme. W Singapore shares that these figures will be updated with plans to implement more sustainable practices and programmes.
But such initiatives do not necessarily favour the hotel’s bottom line. “It actually costs more and more over time. Sustainability does not come cheap,” says Mr Metzner, who adds that there are additional costs with installation and maintenance.
“The reality is that if we want to go sustainable, the cost will go up. But it's about trying to find that middle ground that allows us to live more sustainably while still being able to manage the costs.”
For director of marketing communications Andreana Soh, 35, there are gains from the intangible value of being a brand that prioritises sustainability.
“Travellers today are looking for businesses that stand for something, and show efforts to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable,” says Ms Soh.
“What we offer at our hotel resonates with them and by effect, attracts more customers as our values align with what they believe in.”
This is the second of a six-part series titled "Transforming today for tomorrow’s challenges" in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry