Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (ST-SUTD) Design Innovation Forum on 15 March 2022
A Sustainable Future by Design: Reimagining our Possibilities
A very good afternoon to
Professor Chong Tow Chong, President of SUTD,
Faculty members and students in the auditorium and online.
1 Today's theme - A More Sustainable and Happier World by Design - brings to mind a recent sharing by Mr Liu Thai Ker, Singapore's former chief planner.
2 Mr Liu believed that cities should be sustainable by design, to meet the growing needs of future generations. And to design such a city, one would need: "a humanist's heart, a scientist's head, and an artist's eye."
3 We may not always have articulated it in such elegant terms, but these elements are reflected in Singapore's national development journey.
4 Sustainability has been a part of Singapore's DNA since our early years of independence. We cleaned up our rivers and invested in water resilience many decades ago. We have consistently pursued sustainable development by balancing economic growth with environmental protection and social inclusion.
5 Why is sustainability an important design feature for Singapore?
6 For one, we are a small city-state. Within our small land space, we need to accommodate not just housing, parks and commercial centres, but also air- and sea-ports, reservoirs and industries.
7 We have a small population, and our demographics are changing rapidly. Our workforce is becoming older and leaner, and we have also been calibrating the inflow of labour from other countries.
8 We also face significant resource constraints. Singapore imports over 90% of our food and about half of our water. We are vulnerable to supply disruptions caused by climate change, market volatilities and virus or disease outbreaks.
9 Increasingly, carbon is becoming a constraint. At last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, or COP26, there was strong international consensus to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To keep this target within reach, the world needs a rapid and drastic reduction in emissions, to attain net zero by 2050. Similarly, at this year's Budget, the Singapore Government announced that we will raise our ambition to achieve net zero by or around mid-century.
10 As a small country with limited land, manpower and resources, our trade-offs are much starker than what most countries face. Reduction in our carbon emissions will require serious work to raise energy efficiency, lower energy needs and importation of low-carbon energy sources.
11 But our experience with sustainability also gives us the confidence to reimagine a greener future. Through careful long-term planning and implementation, enabled by innovations in policy and technology, not only can we break out of these constraints, we will thrive in a low-carbon future.
12 How will innovations in policy and technology enable our transition? I would like to offer four design parameters - product, process, system and society.
DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
13 First, product design.
14 Product design with sustainability in mind reduces waste in production, encourages the right consumer behaviour, and enables end-of life recycling. An example is exhibition panels. As a top global destination for meetings, conventions and exhibitions, there is a high demand for such panels in Singapore. Discarded exhibition panels can generate lots of waste, and take up valuable landfill space.
15 Hence, I was delighted to learn that for SUTD's Open House, the exhibition panels are made entirely from recyclables, and are designed to minimize waste from fabrication. As shown here, they can be seamlessly assembled, stacked and stored without any glue or fastener, to be easily recycled at its end-of-life.
DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE PROCESSES
16 Second, redesigning processes for sustainability.
17 Process redesign enables us to optimize resources and carbon footprint and turn our scarcity into a competitive advantage. One example in the waste treatment sector is Tuas Nexus, an integrated waste treated facility that encompasses a water reclamation plant, materials sorting and recovery plant, an anaerobic facility for food waste and water sludge.
18 The current conventional process is for PUB to treat its wastewater independently, reclaim the water and dispose of its sludge in Semakau landfill.
19 At Tuas Nexus, we will comingle and co-digest the sludge with food waste to triple the yield of biogas, which in turn will generate energy to power the wastewater facility. This enhances energy and resource recovery, and reduces overall carbon emissions. Furthermore, co-locating the facilities will lead to land savings of up to 2.6 hectares – about the size of four football fields – as compared to building the standalone facilities.
20 In the agri-food sector, there are many opportunities to design and deploy innovative technologies. AI and the internet of things could increase farming and resource efficiency. Netatech, a local smart farming company, harnesses cloud computing and automation to drip irrigate its produce. This lowers costs and man hours, while raising crop yields.
21 The Eco-Ark by the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, a closed containment aquaculture production centre, combines water treatment technology, and offshore and marine technology, to maintain quality of its seawater and thus the resilience of its production process.
DESIGNING FOR SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS
22 Third, designing for sustainability at a system level. A systems approach requires us to look beyond an entity, explore the interdependencies between entities, and aim to optimize at a system level.
23 We are putting this into practice through our '30 by 30' strategy – to raise the capability and capacity of our agri-food industry to produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, with just 1% of our land area.
24 We are starting with the development of the infrastructure – master-planning the Lim Chu Kang region into a high-tech agri-food zone, to raise food production in a sustainable and resource-efficient manner. Our six-month stakeholder engagement exercise last year yielded many ideas to enhance the farming eco-system. It has helped to further shape our vision to 'grow more with less' by leveraging technology, and achieving economies of scale via shared facilities for waste management, post-harvest and packaging.
25 Next, we will introduce circular economy principles, where possible, such that the by-product of an entity can become an input of another in the eco-system. For example, soup stock can be made from fish trimmings, while the organic waste of poultry farms can be valorized as fertilizers for the vegetable farms.
26 We will increase the climatic resilience of our food sources, by turning to R&D that reduces carbon footprint and climatic impact. Novel food products such as alternative proteins can potentially help to meet global food demand with a smaller resource footprint – production is climate-resilient, and productive in terms of land and labour.
DESIGNING FOR A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY
27 This brings me to my final point. A sustainable future requires a whole-of nation participation. It will only be realized if we do all the above by re-engineering a whole new way of life.
28 We need to bring the entire society along – to discuss the challenges and trade-offs to be made, and to make the collective decisions that will make the green transition inclusive.
29 That is why we have put together the Singapore Green Plan 2030 – to chart a common vision for a sustainable future, and a roadmap for everyone. Through the Green Plan, sustainability will shape our economy, our infrastructure, our way of life.
30 The pursuit of sustainability will also create opportunities to re-imagine and re-design spaces that enhance both resilience and livability. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park is a demonstration of how we have turned a concrete utilitarian canal into social spaces, with a river flanked by greenery, while retaining its floodwater retention capacity. It has created a green and blue lung for the residents in the community while retaining the park's flood control functions.
31 We aim to do likewise in our coastal protection efforts for our nearly 300km of varied coastlines. We will dovetail engineering solutions with the recreational needs of the community, while preserving natural landmarks. This involves working closely with stakeholders to minimise environmental impact, and to protect existing ecosystems.
32 Most importantly, we hope the Green Plan will spark a national conversation and galvanise action. And to cultivate Sustainable Living, where sustainability habits become a way of life and the social norm. For our individual actions will determine the collective outcome.
33 SUTD has vast potential to steer the course. SUTD remains an ideal place to pursue one's passion in sustainability. The university boasts an extensive track record of putting sustainability into practice. And designing for a better future.
34 The SUTD Sustainability Plan, and SUTD's commitment to devote $10m to sustainability research over the next three to five years, will further empower both faculty and students to pursue R&D and design. SUTD has also been an active contributor to social and urban research. A decade on, the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities continues to deliver impactful, actionable research findings on urban solutions.
35 Let me conclude. Our sustainability blueprint is a work-in-progress, to be designed, to be innovated.
36 Our sustainability journey over the next few decades present immense opportunities for aspiring designers, architects, entrepreneurs, engineers, and policymakers among us. We are witnessing a global shift towards alternative sources of energy, circular economy, and a sustainable lifestyle.
37 We need innovation in products, processes, systems and our society. It is up to the humanist, scientist, and artist within us to make our vision for a better future a reality.
38 Thank you.