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Small and steady wins the sustainability race

To make big strides in sustainability efforts, rope in the young and implement a series of small behavioural nudges, said panelists on the final day of the International Green Building Conference.

A new “Back to School” internship programme launched by Singapore’s government on Friday will see the country’s polytechnic students become a key driver of its goal to green at least 80 per cent of its buildings by 2030.

Under the programme, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will equip some of the students with knowledge about green buildings.

The students will then be deployed to their secondary and primary schools to help their alma maters to achieve the BCA’s Green Mark accreditation for environmentally-friendly buildings.

Announcing the initiative during the third and final day of the International Green Building Conference (IGBC), Desmond Lee, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, said that the youths would also mentor their juniors in adopting green habits such as recycling.

“It’s one thing when an authoritative figure or a government campaign tells you to save energy and switch off the lights,” he said. “It’s quite different when your peer or mentor tells you, ‘this is the way to go and this is the right thing to do’.”

“I think that this kind of peer-to-peer, ground-up initiative is a second wave of support to lead a green life,” he added.

A nudge in the right direction

The value of persuading students, employees and other people to embrace small but meaningful actions to help the environment was echoed by panellists at the IGBC’s BCA Breakfast Talk for Chief Executive Officers, where Lee was the guest-of-honour.

Led by moderator Han Fook Kwang, who is Singapore Press Holdings’ editor-at-large, the panellists outlined a variety of ways to nudge building users in different sectors to adopt more sustainable behaviour.

In Britain, for instance, a programme that linked energy-saving measures to patients’ health helped nurses and other staff in some hospitals to become more aware of their use of the buildings, reducing electricity use and costs by about 400,000 pounds (S$720,000) a year.

“The employees weren’t thinking about energy use and environmental issues, because their focus was on how to look after the patients,” said Chris Large, senior partner at environmental charity Global Action Plan UK, which created the programme.

“But after we showed them that turning off lights that are not needed could help patients to sleep better, and having the air-conditioning at the right level could make patients more comfortable, they got it,” he added. 

Office building managers can deploy behavioural nudges too, noted Large.

For example, if employees need to work after office hours, providing fresh fruit or other amenities in one part of the building could encourage them to congregate there, allowing managers to shut down the rest of the property to conserve energy, Large said.

It’s one thing when an authoritative figure or a government campaign tells you to save energy and switch off the lights. It’s quite different when your peer or mentor tells you, ‘this is the way to go and this is the right thing to do’.”

Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Singapore

Tailoring the message

To keep employees invested in sustainability, long term plans should incorporate interim goals, added Professor Ivy Ng, group chief executive of the SingHealth healthcare group in Singapore, which has implemented energy-saving features in its buildings. 

“Even if it’s just a target for the amount of recycling in one month, have the interim goals, make the data available and have celebrations for meeting the goals,” she said. 

Environmental campaigns should also be varied according to their target audience, said Grant Kelley, chief executive of property firm City Developments Limited.

He explained: “The younger generation is generally more idealistic and want to see the world survive and prosper. The older generation wants those things too, but may focus more on the potential for cost reduction.”

“You have to segment the message,” said Kelley.

For Dr John Keung, the BCA’s chief executive, the key to a sustainable future lies in efforts to educate the young. He said: “If you look at what BCA does, we can mandate the hardware, such as minimum standards for green buildings and so forth. But once it comes to behaviour, you can’t mandate that in many ways.”

“We must educate our younger generations. We need to get our proactive youngsters to share their experiences,” he said. “The more of them that we can get on board, the better off we will be in the future.”


Eco-Business is producing a special e-newsletter featuring stories on the proceedings at IGBC 2016, kindly supported by City Developments Ltd and the Building and Construction Authority. Sign up to receive the newsletter here.

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