The missing piece in Singapore’s green building puzzle

Singapore aims to green 80 per cent of its building stock by 2030, but experts say it is behind schedule. What’s holding the city-state’s green building sector back, and how can it overcome these obstacles?

beautiful singapore
The Singapore government has been actively greening its cityscape, but challenges remain in the form of lack of awareness and cooperation on green buildings projects on the part of green building technology suppliers and building developers. Image: Pixabay.

Singapore is ranked second among global cities for green buildings, but it can do more to promote the uptake of green building projects by facilitating conversation among building developers, designers and operators. 

This was the consensus among international industry experts at a recent event on energy efficiency held on June 5 at the Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore. The Energy Efficiency Award Challenge—organised by the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce within the German Energy Solutions Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy—aimed to identify the most energy-efficient and innovative German technologies implemented in Singaporean buildings.

The three winning German firms—building shell and construction products manufacturer Hoesch Bausysteme, paints and coatings maker SICC Coatings and electrical infrastructure firm OBO Bettermann—said that a deeper conversation on green buildings in Singapore is needed to improve awareness about the benefits of green building technology, and promote cooperation among technology suppliers.

At the gala dinner, Eco-Business spoke to Steven Iau Yang, former regional manager of Hoesch Bausysteme, who said that one way to accelerate progress on green buildings is for building owners to consider energy savings from the outset of the project and plan the construction and design in a way that maximises these savings.

“Most builders or owners are used to traditional building methods and do not know about the maintenance savings that can come from having good structural foundations,” said Iau Yang, who has since left Hoesch Bausysteme. “They build first, and then they think of a solution to save energy. They should have a more long-term perspective.”

Hoesch Bausysteme was lauded by the Singapore-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce for its project featuring sandwich panels that serve as insulation padding for walls and roofs, reducing the amount of energy required to maintain the internal temperature of a building. 

Sinyee Wong, regional sales manager Southeast Asia, added that building developers might also be missing out on energy efficiency solutions due to a tendency to ignore or immediately dismiss small, independent firms who pitch their solutions to them. 

“Singapore could have more conferences, seminars, where [people] get together and share ideas, and these have to be initiated by the authorities,” said Wong. 

Singapore has an ambition to have 80 per cent of its buildings certified as sustainable under its Green Mark scheme by 2030. But as of 2017, only 30 per cent of buildings in Singapore qualified as green, according to a report by Research and Markets. This means that Singapore will need to green another 50 per cent of its buildings within 12 years to achieve its target.

A key component of sustainable buildings, energy efficiency is a major opportunity for the green building industry to pursue, said experts at the event. Possible solutions in this space include energy-efficient cooling devices, optimisation systems that streamline energy use, and building coatings that save energy.

It was this last technology that helped SICC Coatings clinch the top prize at the challenge. The company was recognised for its ClimateActive paint coating, which has the ability to reflect heat, thereby reducing the building’s need for air conditioning. 

Commenting on the market for energy efficiency products in Singapore, Ryan Lai, executive director at the Singapore branch of SICC Coatings, said that building developers must look beyond box-ticking to achieve Green Mark certification, and focus instead on the actual energy saving potential of the products installed. 

“People think that energy savings only come from [air-conditioning] usage and that [as long as the] air-conditioning model has five ticks they are saving energy, but they do not know that the paint coatings, building materials and how they utilise the products could also bring about energy savings,” said Lai. Five ticks indicates the highest level of energy efficiency for household appliances such as air conditionerss and refrigerators under the Mandatory Energy Labelling scheme by the National Environment Agency, which allows consumers to identify and make more energy-efficient purchases.

The 2014 report by Building and Construction Authority (BCA) backed the sentiments of the industry experts at the event, listing a lack of knowledge and awareness among Operations, Monitoring and Maintenance (OM&M) personnel about how to run a building in the most energy efficient way as one of the key challenges facing the industry.

One way to overcome knowledge gaps in the industry and foster collaboration between companies working towards common goals is to organise more workshops and events on building energy efficiency, said Conrad de Lange, chief executive officer of OBO Bettermann.

Such events would not only facilitate the exchange of technology and ideas among solutions providers, it would also promote healthy competition among suppliers to deliver better solutions—which would ultimately be good for end customers, he said. 

De Lange added that a platform for suppliers to connect with one another would also address the perennial tug-of-war of competing priorities during the construction phase of a building. 

“Arguments often arise between different suppliers, such as sanitary teams, electricians, plumbers and contractors, leading to inefficiency,” de Lange noted.

“We cannot have conflict between different companies, because when the goal is to save time, save energy, and have fast and organised installations, [suppliers] should work together.”

[Building developers] build first, and then they think of a solution to save energy cost. They should have a more long-term perspective.

Steven Iau Yang, regional manager, Hoesch Bausysteme.

On its part, the government and the Singapore Green Building Council organise events to bring various groups in Singapore’s green building sector together. 

According to a BCA spokesperson, monthly seminars organised by Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), the annual SGBC Leadership Conversations networking forum and the International Green Building Conference are examples of events that help suppliers connect with one another as well as potential customers. The spokesperson urged “green building technology suppliers to tap on these platforms to reach out to their potential customers”.

In addition to these events, other government efforts to accelerate action on green buildings include regular revisions to the Green Mark criteria, and incentive schemes to support energy efficiency upgrades. Examples of the latter are the Productivity Innovation Project (PIP), which uses subsidies to encourage contractors to use technology to improve efficiency of their operations, and the SGBC-BCA Zero Capital Partnership Scheme which provides expertise and grants for companies interested in implementing energy efficiency retrofit projects.

However, award winners at the event noted that the government’s enthusiasm for green buildings was not shared to the same extent by building developers, consultants, and owners.

For instance, speakers from Housche Bausysteme and SICC Coatings noted that many industry players are not aware of the full range of green building products available in the market. 

Iau Yang also noted that many developers are still unaware of available grants, suggesting a need for greater publicity efforts about the grants.

As de Lange noted: “We have to organise events, where all the suppliers come together and bring concepts [forward]. We have to organise meetings and facilitate conversation in the industry.”

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