Keynote Address by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the 2nd Annual RHT RMF GAIL Sustainability Forum on 28 August 2020
Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, Patron of RHT Rajan Menon Foundation
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good afternoon, everyone. I would like to thank the RHT Rajan Menon Foundation, which is supported by RHT Law Asia and the RHT Group of Companies, for inviting me to today’s forum and organising this meaningful event.
Why pursue sustainability
2 This year’s forum takes place amidst a global crisis that has upended life as we know it. Yet, even as we address the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not lose sight of the need to continue to keep sustainability front and centre of everything we do. This is the only way we can hope to mitigate the impact of the even bigger climate crisis confronting us. As we chart our way towards recovery, sustainable development will be an important driver for economic growth, and the transformation of conventional business models. From office design to procurement there are myriad opportunities for us to integrate sustainability as we adapt to a “new normal”.
3 Flexible work arrangements like working from home, staggered working hours and split team arrangements have become the norm and will likely continue post-COVID. Office and building designs will also have to be reviewed to ensure a clean and safe workplace, for instance improving ventilation and air filtering inside buildings, installing contactless features such as sensors and automatic doors. As companies start to rethink the office space, there is an opportunity to incorporate sustainability in the planning and restructuring.
4 One way in which businesses can do this is to include environmental considerations during the procurement process. We in the public sector are taking concrete steps to adopt sustainable practices and initiatives. This is coordinated through the Public Sector Taking the Lead in Environmental Sustainability (PSTLES) initiative, which was introduced in 2006 and updated in 2017. Under the PSTLES initiative, the Government has set green procurement requirements such as procuring green electronics and paper products, and holding events and functions in venues with at least a Green Mark certified rating. Through such policies, the government hopes to encourage corporations to adopt environmentally sustainable practices in their operations.
5 Companies are increasingly realising the benefits of sustainable practices, and that environmental sustainability is complementary to business growth. Resource and operational efficiency reduces wastage, which results in lower spending on transportation, materials and waste disposal. Investment in renewable energy such as solar energy not only reduces carbon emissions, it can ultimately result in lower energy expenditure in the longer term.
6 Other than significant cost savings, going green is also aligned with evolving consumer demand. According to a 2019 study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed indicated that they were willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. Encouragingly, nearly eight in 10 respondents indicated that sustainability was important for them. And for those who ranked it high in importance, more than 70 per cent were willing to pay a premium of 35 per cent, on average, for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Whether a company is environmentally-friendly is now part of the rubric of consumer decision-making in procuring goods and services, and have a bearing on branding and competitiveness.
7 It is important that businesses make the transition towards sustainability to reap these multi-faceted benefits, and mitigate the mounting challenges from climate change and other environmental issues.
How to pursue sustainability
8 Let me share three ways in which companies can pursue sustainable growth. First, businesses can adopt a circular economy approach to resource management. A circular economy approach harnesses waste as a resource that can be used again and again for as long as possible. The by product from a process is used as a raw material for another. Not only will this enhance resource and operational efficiency, and reduce wastage, it will lead to greater cost savings. For instance, local waste management company 800 Super opened its integrated energy and resources recovery facility in Tuas South last year. The facility houses a biomass energy plant, a sludge treatment plant and an industrial laundry. The biomass energy plant generates 2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity monthly, or enough energy to power 5,000 HDB flats a month. Part of this is channeled to power the sludge treatment plant, and the steam from the sludge incinerators will be used to manufacture animal feed. Another example is Grand Hyatt, which recycles food waste through a generator that converts it into pathogen-free organic fertilisers.
9 Second, businesses can enhance their energy efficiency. By improving energy efficiency, energy expenditure will be lowered, which will benefit the company’s bottom line. This is also an opportunity to invest in renewable energy sources such as solar energy, as it will reduce your carbon footprint concurrently. For instance, DBS has committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy for its Singapore operations by 2030. To meet this target, DBS is engaged in operating its own solar energy installation, procuring renewable energy, and driving energy efficiencies across the organisation.
10 Third, businesses can find synergies within and across industries and partner with one another towards sustainable development. For instance, the waste product of one company could be a resource for another, or companies could reap economies of scale by embarking on collective efforts to treat waste. The partnerships forged can also facilitate knowledge sharing and spark new innovations that could improve operations and processes. I am heartened that the F&B Sustainability Council was recently formed to address environmental issues in the industry. The Council held its first meeting earlier this year, where local F&B operators discussed green solutions, including the idea of pooling food waste across different F&B premises for treatment in a central digester.
11 We understand that some businesses might find it challenging to implement environmental solutions to their operations, or need help to make the transition due to the initial costs. The government is ready to partner businesses in their sustainability journey. There are many grants and schemes that companies can tap on to help organisations adopt greener systems.
12 For example, NEA supports companies through its 3R Fund, to implement projects to increase the quantity of waste recycled, or reduce the quantity of waste generated. Projects could include the redesigning of processes to reduce waste at the production stage, or the installation of innovative waste sorting or recycling systems.
13 Another fund that companies can tap on is the Energy Efficiency Fund. The fund supports the efforts of businesses with industrial facilities to increase energy efficiency. Under the fund, the government will provide co-funding support for resource efficient design, energy audits as well as investments in energy efficient equipment and technologies.
14 I would like to encourage businesses to step up and leverage opportunities for sustainable development as we transit towards new norms, and adapt how we produce and consume. Environmental sustainability will be an inherent part of building a future-ready business model. Given the transnational nature of businesses, you have the potential to drive the sustainability agenda and make a positive impact on our environment.
15 I am therefore glad that you are gathered here today to participate in this conversation towards sustainable development. I hope the discussions, exchange of ideas, and sharing of successful case studies will inspire all of you to pursue broader economic opportunities while making positive contributions to the sustainability agenda.
16 Thank you.