Sustainability is fast rising on the agendas of governments and corporates around the world.
Earlier this month, world leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers gathered for COP25, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid. A key priority was the move towards fully operationalising the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015 that saw all participating nations acceding to the common goal of combating climate change, as well as accelerating and intensifying the actions needed for environmental sustainability.
Globally, environmental sustainability efforts have kept up largely due to the efforts of international non-profit organisations, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Climate Change Group (CCG). The former runs a global disclosure system for investors, businesses and cities to manage their environmental impacts, while the latter seeks to accelerate climate action by bringing together businesses and governments.
To further inspire businesses towards environmental sustainability, CDP and CCG teamed up and, in 2014, rolled out RE100 — a global corporate leadership initiative that brings together influential businesses that are committed to 100 per cent renewable energy, and which seeks to make a compelling case for renewables to other businesses, policymakers and key decision-makers. Since RE100’s launch, more than 190 companies across the world have come on board.
Internationally, many other corporates are also to be lauded for their sustainability efforts, such as using only sustainable materials in manufacturing, actively cutting back on toxic substances and reducing waste, or coming up with recycling programmes, green building strategies and zero waste initiatives.
Singapore’s approach to environmental sustainability
Locally, as crown-holder of “Asia’s greenest city”, Singapore has the impetus to set environmental targets and come up with innovative approaches to achieving them.
Speaking at COP25, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli reiterated Singapore’s pledge to continue doing its part to fight climate change: The Republic will work towards further reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
He also reported that the nation has been ramping up its efforts at greening the land transport sector, with the aim of having nine in 10 peak-period journeys by 2040 made via walking, cycling or rides on public and shared transport. Singapore has also increased its use of solar energy, with the number of solar installations climbing from 30 to over 3,000 in the past decade. The current 2020 solar target of 350 megawatt-peak of solar energy is due to be raised by more than five times by 2030.
With the government taking a strong stand where green initiatives are concerned, there is a need for businesses to follow suit and uplift their sustainability game. Building a sustainable economy is no one-man show, and the green efforts of businesses are key to the overall sustainable growth of the country.
Going green makes business sense
Many companies here have already worked environmental sustainability into their business by coming up with policies for water efficiency, waste management and reducing emissions.
The reason they do so is multi-fold. Firstly, it benefits their bottom line, as reduction in water, energy and consumption can result in significant savings. Secondly, businesses that recycle and reuse resources also stand themselves in good stead where meeting compliance requirements — such as the BCA Green Mark Scheme — are concerned. Thirdly, when a business is viewed as environmentally sensitive, it is perceived both in the industry and in the eyes of consumers to be a firm that cares.
This is important because consumers today — especially millennials — have an increasing preference for doing business with, or purchasing from, socially responsible corporations and sustainable brands, and would not mind paying more for green products.
However, one major hurdle that businesses face is that of bridging the action-intention gap.
According to a recent report by financial markets data and infrastructure provider Refinitiv, which studied and compared eight Asian markets’ environmental performance metrics, Singapore’s largest companies came in second last for their commitment towards environmental sustainability.
One reason for this was due to the clear gap between intent and action, where more Singapore companies have policies on reducing emissions, waste management and water efficiency, but stop short of setting actual targets for improvement. For instance, for resource and waste management, while 80 per cent of Singaporean companies were said to be adopting waste reduction policies, only 28 per cent had specific targets to execute their policies.
Putting sustainability into practice
To go beyond paying lip service requires intentional collaboration among the business leaders, their employees and vendors.
Some strategies include having sustainability policies and procedures with regard to water, electricity and equipment usage; sourcing for and purchasing only energy-efficient products from vendors with sustainable business practices; and making the effort to educate employees about the environmental efforts of the business, while also viewing their workforce as internal partners who can contribute valuable green ideas.
Businesses looking to pursue a sustainability strategy in a holistic manner can look for business providers who are able to offer a comprehensive suite of services geared towards meeting their company-specific sustainability targets.
As an integrated energy and urban solutions player, Sembcorp Industries is a key player in Singapore that can offer businesses customised solutions to boost their green efforts and help meet defined sustainability targets.
In a green partnership announcement with SATS in October 2019, Sembcorp pledged to help the leading provider of food solutions and gateway services reduce its carbon footprint by 80 per cent by 2030. Initiatives under this partnership include the installation and operation of solar energy systems to power some of SATS’ onsite operations, as well as exploring the trucking of liquefied natural gas — a cleaner alternative to diesel, with 24 per cent lower carbon dioxide emissions — and re-gasifying it to power boilers in SATS’ inflight catering centres at Changi.
Another partnership in the pipeline is with Mandai Park Holdings, where Sembcorp is exploring collaborations to green up the operations of its wildlife parks through introducing renewable energy and waste-to-resource solutions.
Sembcorp’s own multi-utilities operations on Jurong Island further display its integrated capabilities, as well as its continuous efforts to practise environmental sustainability. For example, its existing operations contribute to 415,000 metric tonnes of carbon emissions abatement a year — equivalent to taking more than 91,000 cars off the roads. Currently, Sembcorp is one of only five Singapore companies in the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index, and is also in the FTSE4Good and SGX Sustainability Leaders Indices.
There is no denying that the responsibility on corporates to integrate sustainability into their business is increasing. Besides making a positive impact on the environment, sustainability can also be an effective business driver.
When companies sit up and start looking into taking their sustainability efforts to the next level, they not only benefit themselves. They are also stamping their green footprint upon the nation and contributing towards Singapore’s success and sustainability journey.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on December 20, 2019.