Protecting the environment need not come at the expense of business interests, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
He added that societies that can live in harmony with nature will have a competitive advantage by being ready for their future.
"This is not just ideology, this makes good business sense," he said, citing the large economic costs imposed by pollution and global warming. "The old ways of getting rich are not going to be viable in the future."
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to a 120-strong audience at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Enterprise Cooperation Sustainability Summit 2013 where local and foreign companies discuss social and environmental sustainability.
He also cited Singapore as a good working example of environmental protection.
"We could never afford to spoil our environment, because we are so small," he said. "My backyard is your front yard."
Singapore made a deliberate choice to put sustainability at the top of its development agenda 50 years ago even before it became fashionable to be green, he said.
He said Singapore's use of technology and long-term planning enabled it to use water management, once a strategic vulnerability, into a business opportunity.
Dr Vivian added that the government would be revising its Singapore Sustainability Blueprint, which set up in 2009, to chart a strategy for the country's sustainable development.