WWF-S'pore stalwart among winners of S'pore's highest accolade for green efforts

Mr Joseph Koh was awarded the President's Award for the Environment at the Istana on Sept 29, 2021.
Mr Joseph Koh was awarded the President's Award for the Environment at the Istana on Sept 29, 2021.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Former diplomat Joseph Koh has gone on trips lasting between two and three nights in the dense forests of Brunei - to look for spiders.

The 72-year-old's interest in spiders has seen him publishing a book on the creatures here and amassing a collection of more than  12,000 specimens.

Mr Koh has also contributed greatly to Singapore's conservation efforts. He led green group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Singapore between 2018 and last year, during which the organisation collaborated with the National Parks Board on several projects, including combating illegal wildlife trade.

For his efforts and more, he was awarded the President's Award for the Environment at the Istana on Wednesday (Sept 29).

The award is Singapore's highest environmental accolade, and recognises individuals, organisations and educational institutions that have made significant contributions towards environmental sustainability here.

The other four recipients are: Nanyang Girls' High School, urban farming social enterprise Edible Garden City, port operator PSA Corporation, and DBS Bank.

President Halimah Yacob, who presented the awards on Wednesday, said: "Everyone has a part to play as we tackle the growing threat of climate change, and I hope more individuals and organisations will be inspired by the winners to also contribute towards a more sustainable and climate-resilient Singapore for future generations."

This is the 14th iteration of the award, which began in 2006 and went from annual to biennial in 2017.

The award's judging criteria was also changed this year to reflect the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which the Government released in February.

The plan is aimed at charting the country's way towards a more sustainable future over the next decade. Among other things, people will be encouraged to commute in a greener way, with cycling paths tripled in length and the rail network expanded.

Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment and chairman of the judging panel Desmond Tan said in a statement that there were 69 nominations this year - more than double that received in 2019, which he added is a reflection of a growing sense of commitment among Singaporeans to protect the environment.

This year has the most number of recipients - apart from 2015, which saw four recipients, there were three for all the other years of the award.

Mr Koh is the sole recipient in the individual category. On Wednesday, he recounted how he and his wife had brought along walkie-talkies while looking for spiders in the forest, so that they could communicate if they were separated and became lost.

But they still had difficulty finding each other, he told The Straits Times.

"We found that a more effective solution was to bring a whistle," he added.

Like his passion for spiders, Mr Koh's nature conservation efforts have not ceased.

He is now senior adviser to WWF-Singapore's board of directors, and also the chairman of the organisation's conservation fund.

He also leads the "Friends of Bukit Timah Forest" community group, which aims to encourage Singaporeans to appreciate and protect the forest ecosystem.

The group's activities include tree-planting and eradicating invasive weeds.


(From left) Nanyang Girls' High School science teacher Benny Koh, school principal Ng Chuen-Yin and Nature Society Club president Soh Jia Min. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Nanyang Girls' High School, the award recipient in the education institution category, has been actively encouraging its students to embrace sustainable living, and offers a cycling-centric module in its physical education curriculum.

Its initiatives include those on recycling, food composting, edible gardening, and waste reduction.

Edible Garden City, one of three recipients in the organisation category, has groomed 80 urban farmers, contributed to academic publications, and successfully cultivated new plant variants that are supplied to local restaurants and consumers.

Among other things, it has created 260 food gardens out of underutilised spaces.


(From left) Mr Samuell Ang, Mr Ong Kim Pong and Mr Shee Tse Koon received the award on behalf of Edible Garden City, PSA Corporation and DBS Bank respectively. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO

PSA Corporation, which is committed to phasing out diesel-based equipment, has switched to using electricity to power its port cranes and liquefied nitrogen gas - a cleaner fuel - for its prime movers.

Its environmental sustainability efforts include working with industry partners to explore ways of using hydrogen as a low-carbon energy source.

DBS Bank, meanwhile, has developed a framework to help its customers transit into more sustainable business operations and is offering financing for such transition.

Among other things, it is seeking to progressively phase out funding for carbon-intensive sectors, such as those on coal and palm oil, and is pursuing financing opportunities in the sustainable and renewable energy sectors.