The Singapore Perspective

Sustaining the green awakening

The silver lining of the haze that hung over Singapore last year was a green awakening among consumers and businesses, which sought to be more responsible with their purchases and practices.

On the buying side of the retail level, consumers said they would boycott products from haze-linked firms.

On the selling side, firms distanced themselves from suppliers such as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) over supposed links to the haze. Supermarkets yanked APP products off their shelves.

But, now that the skies are blue again, it remains to be seen if the green push can be sustained, though the outlook is encouraging.

A poll of 1,083 people last month, by volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), showed that 91.7 per cent of them were willing to pay more for certified sustainable products that help minimise haze.

This is good, as it shows that people are aware that money talks.

The problem, however, is that many did not know how to put their money where their mouth is - the survey found there is little awareness of eco-certification here.

What are haze-free products?

For a start, look for products which carry the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, which recognises sustainable palm oil production, says PM.Haze.

Palm oil can be found in almost everything, from food to skin care products.

The group has looked into the certification process and is convinced that buying RSPO-certified items is the first step to going haze-free, said its president, Mr Tan Yi Han.

Yet, only 24.5 per cent of those polled recognised the certification.

Mr Tan said: "People are willing to use their wallets to support responsible brands, which is encouraging, but our survey also shows that they lack awareness of how to identify haze-free companies."

The group's research team, he said, has identified boosting awareness of RSPO certification as a good starting point.

He said: "We will intensify our efforts to reach out to the public and encourage them to choose RSPO-certified products to support haze-free companies through outreach programmes such as roadshows, talks and campaigns."

For consumer action to work effectively, however, there must be a level playing field. Most consumer products do not carry eco-certification, as it is a voluntary process.

Singapore has already made progress on eco-certification on other fronts.

The National Environment Agency, for instance, has a Mandatory Energy Labelling Scheme that awards more ticks to energy-efficient products, such as air-conditioners.

Perhaps having a similar labelling scheme for consumer products is what Singapore should look to, to give consumer action more bite.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Sustaining the green awakening '. Print Edition | Subscribe