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Building a bastion of sustainability in Singapore

CDL's new sustainability academy in Singapore aims to spread awareness of and offer resources on sustainability through all levels of society, especially the young. Here's the story behind it.

Coming soon: a hub of sustainability sitting atop the bustling City Square Mall in Singapore’s Farrer Park district. 

This new facility, named the Singapore Sustainability Academy (SSA), will walk the sustainability talk. Designed to be a zero-energy space — meaning it produces its own energy for its consumption — the 4,300 sq ft building is equipped with over 3,000 sq ft of solar panels and monitors to keep track of energy production and consumption.

The new rooftop academy — due to open in March next year — was born out of a joint vision between leading property developer City Developments Limited (CDL) and non-government organisation Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS).

The SSA was conceived in 2014 under the leadership of CDL’s late deputy chairman and prominent sustainability advocate Kwek Leng Joo, who passed away in late 2015. CDL had wanted to fill a gap and create a sustained platform, with the partnership of a programme expert, to further advocacy, networking, training and capability-building especially among industry and sustainability practitioners.

At that time, chairman of the non-profit, non-government SEAS, Edwin Khew, was also looking for a new way to amplify the message of sustainability to the masses. SEAS was already working within industry circles and had successfully tied up with local authorities for various training programmes and events for professionals.

Khew said: “I spoke with the late Mr Kwek Leng Joo, CDL’s (former) deputy chairman then, to explore possible collaboration of the two organisations since we share a common commitment to sustainability. He readily agreed and I met up with Esther An, CDL’s chief sustainability officer and her team.

“At the end of our discussion, the idea of a sustainability academy was mooted, to advocate sustainability practices and build capacity for a low-carbon economy. As the saying goes, the rest was history,” said Khew at a recent media event.

Much progress has been made on the SSA in the two years that have since passed.

The S$2 million academy was unveiled to the press earlier this month.

Supported by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Building and Construction Authority, it is the first major People, Public and Private (3P) ground-up initiative in support of the national goals to tackle climate change articulated in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint and recently-released Climate Action Plan.

Designated as a community and non-profit space, SEAS will base its new headquarters and run courses within the SSA rent-free.

Notable ongoing professional training programmes include the Sustainable Energy Centre of Excellence’s initiative for regional policy makers, supported by partners Asian Development Bank and International Enterprise Singapore; the Singapore Certified Energy Managers programme in conjunction with the NEA; and a certified programme on designing, installing, and maintaining solar photovoltaic systems in collaboration with the Workforce Development Agency.

In addition to ongoing programmes for working professionals, new courses targeting a varied audience — from school kids to the general public — and covering all areas of sustainability including climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency will be conducted.

Khew cited solar panels as an example. “For homeowners who want to know what kind of roof they need to have in order to mount the solar panels, how solar panels work… It’s pretty complicated, so they need to be shown how the solar panels are being manufactured, how they’re being wired together.

“These are things that the normal Singaporean may not understand, so we’ll make it simple for them,” he said.

The academy also plans to target the young through its SSA Green Ambassador Programme, which lets students from secondary to tertiary school levels learn more about sustainable practices such as bio-composting as well as meet prominent business leaders and experts.

Summarising the vision for the SSA, An said: “The SSA exists both for industry and for community. A successful SSA would be one that is buzzing with activity and attracts the interest of the man-on-the-street.

“It would also be a trusted, leading and top-of-mind academy whose programmes draw practitioners for continual learning, capacity building, networking and sharing of best practices. The SSA will provide businesses, the community, in particular the youths, more accessibility to the best practices in the area of sustainability.”

Networking sessions every two to three months, inviting professors and lecturers to give talks, and providing the space to industry players or the media to share thoughts on sustainability, were just a few of the possible ideas for the SSA in serving one of its functions as a thought leadership platform, An suggested.

Building on a green legacy

Being one of Singapore’s leading real estate developers, CDL recognises that the building sector has had a big impact on the environment. Globally, buildings consume 40 per cent of energy, 25 per cent of water, and 40 per cent of resources, and are responsible for 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is why CDL has made it its corporate philosophy to reduce its environmental footprint. 

“Right from 1995, in an industry that was deemed to be destroying the environment, CDL transformed our business strategy to integrate sustainability considerations into our practices. ‘Conserving as we Construct’ remains our ethos today, to transform the way buildings sustain life,” said An.

Practising what it preaches, the SSA is the first building in Singapore to have its construction materials, Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glued Laminated Timber (Glulam), verified as coming from responsible sources. The verification will be done using the Nature’s BarcodeTM system which uses DNA analysis to identify the origin of the wood.

The residual materials from the construction of the SSA will be channelled into the 6th CDL Singapore Sculpture Award and, in the hands of participating sculptors and students, turned into works of art.

Rooted in the belief that sustainability goals can be better achieved with more players on board the ecosystem, CDL rallied 11 like-minded organisations to offer their expertise in developing the project, much like what the company did also for its earlier 3P initiatives - the CDL Green Gallery at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum, and the world’s first green library for children, My Tree House, at the Central Public Library - which were both opened in 2013.

Grant Kelley, CDL’s chief executive officer, said: “CDL has always firmly believed in sustainability which creates value for our business, investors, customers, and the community. As part of our commitment to sustainability for over two decades now, CDL has also continued to promote eco-friendly practices and green solutions among stakeholders. The SSA will further engage more stakeholders for greater impact in building a sustainable future.”

Since the conception of the SSA and the passing of CDL’s Kwek, CDL and SEAS have made great strides.

Speaking at the press launch of the SSA, Khew gave tribute to his former comrade in sustainability.

“My only regret is that (Kwek) is not here with us today to see the fruit of what he started. As such, I would like to sincerely thank the top management of CDL and Leng Joo’s family, for his legacy that he has left in creating the sustainability academy for Singapore.”


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