Make going green second nature

It might seem negative to herald the prospect of a new dawn for sustainability by focusing on obstacles to change. But these must be squarely addressed to realise a "lively and liveable Singapore" that is the driving vision of the $1.5 billion updated blueprint - to boost the quality of life without sapping life from the economy. It is not an either/or scenario as new technologies and capability building can help to viably deliver a greener future, when combined with wide-ranging efforts to expunge harmful diehard habits.

The impediments are multiplied millions of times as many are complicit. For example, the domestic recycling rate is a paltry 20 per cent (compared to 77 per cent for the non-domestic sector). Active green volunteers are in short supply and Green Mark-certified buildings stand at just 22 per cent.

Old entrenched systems are slow to change everywhere and many continue to treat the environment as a subset of business - a pliant supplier of resources. With economic priorities ranking above the environment, governments are said to channel "over $700 billion a year to subsidise environmentally unsound practices in agriculture, water, energy and transportation", according to eco-activist Arty Mangan.

So ingrained are unmindful habits among individuals, businessmen, administrators and investors that changes won't come easy even though planet woes are already showing and will be felt more acutely by the children and grandchildren of those now in a position to alter outcomes. The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 implicitly acknowledges such existing challenges by setting targets that are ambitious yet mostly not unrealistic.

However, achieving a "car-lite", zero-waste Singapore, in particular, will call for a huge, coordinated effort to spur lifestyle changes. User-friendly alternatives like electric car sharing schemes, driverless vehicles, cycling infrastructure and efficient waste disposal and recycling systems will help. But central to this national effort is the "greening" of old ways of thinking and social norms.

It is the inherent connection of all activities and players that needs to be deeply internalised. For example, when service, consumption and disposal are based on a cycle of incessant, competing demands, it is the environment that's stuck with the ill effects. And when in sharing roads and paths, the system "pits cyclists, pedestrians and cars against one another", as Member of Parliament Irene Ng put it, the solution is not to add more concrete at the expense of green spaces. Give and take is the golden rule in the social sphere, and it applies just as much to care of the environment.