Speech by MOS Zaqy Mohamad at the BCA Breakfast Talk for CEOs

Friday, 7 September 2018

A very good morning. I’m very happy to be here today, amongst leaders of our built environment industry. I am certain that your participation in the Singapore Green Building Week has helped to generate many new ideas on sustainability. 

At the opening session, Minister Lawrence Wong spoke about the importance of building a green-minded community for the long term, and the need for strong partnerships between the government, industry, building owners and public. 

So today, I would like to touch on how we can work together to sustain the momentum for a smarter and greener future, while balancing 3Ps – planet, people, and profitability. I will just make three points, before handing the stage to today’s esteemed presenters and panellists. Firstly, we have to shape the behaviour of building users and tenants towards positive change. Second, on finding niche areas for sustainability solutions. And third, on exporting our expertise to meet the growing regional demand for green buildings.

Greening beyond buildings

Let me now elaborate on the first point on user engagement. When we talk about green buildings, it really goes beyond the physical infrastructure or technology. Building users and tenants typically account for 50% of the total electricity consumption in a typical office or retail building. Hence, individual action and user behaviour are crucial in ensuring positive outcomes for green buildings.

In this regard, BCA, in collaboration with the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), launched the Behavioural Change Pilot Programme last year. This Programme aims to drive behavioural change in building occupants and end-users by getting them to consciously adopt sustainable behaviour. Six organisations are participating in the two-year pilot programme, of which several have already achieved significant energy savings.

One example is Swissotel Merchant Court. Over the past year, employees across all departments of Swissotel came together to implement more than 30 changes at the workplace. For instance, the laundry department would operate the washing machines at full load, instead of the usual half load. Employees also took the stairs more often, and in the process got to meet and interact more with their colleagues. At the management level, the company’s Chief Engineer, Mr Nicholas Lee, undertook training to acquire skills for driving behavioural change, to support his building management role. 

This alignment in vision between senior management and individual employees was key to sparking the positive cultural change. As a result, Swissotel managed to save more than 100 megawatt-hours of energy over the campaign period!

Another positive example is GIC. Through encouraging simple green behaviour such as switching off office equipment when not in use, GIC achieved 20% energy savings during the campaign period, and more importantly, they have managed to sustain this till now. 

But it does not stop here – the company is now looking at other behavioural changes that can drive environmental sustainability. You will hear a presentation on this by GIC’s Chief Operating Officer later, so I’ll let him share more details.

I am heartened to see trailblazers like Swissotel and GIC leading the way for change. We wish to see more following their footpaths, and we will do our part to support. So as a next step, BCA will work with SGBC to gather the learning points from this pilot Programme, and develop standardised toolkits for others who wish to step up their game. I hope that this will encourage more of you to come on-board, and catalyse positive change in your organisations.

A Green Mark for health and well-being

The second point I want to make is that we should be proactive in seeking sustainability solutions in niche areas, especially within our own domains. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as every sector has different needs.

We recognised this early on, and have progressively launched a slate of different Green Mark schemes since 2005, to cater to different infrastructure types and users. The latest addition is the joint BCA-Health Promotion Board (HPB) Green Mark Scheme for Healthier Workplaces. 

It is no surprise that the design of interior spaces, such as ventilation and lighting systems, has a notable impact on energy use. There is also a growing body of research on the impact of interior design on occupant health and well-being. So when we look at the design of our work places, it makes sense to dovetail the two objectives, to create environmentally friendly and at the same time, healthy office spaces. This was the impetus behind this new scheme, which encourages companies to consider both environmental sustainability and employees’ well-being when designing interior fit-outs, provisions for their offices, and workplace policies. 

Since the launch of the pilot this year, 10 progressive organisations have stepped forward, of which six have completed the certification. One of them is Facility Link, an SME interior fit-out specialist firm. Beyond upgrading their office to be more energy-efficient, Facility Link also took steps to ensure that the renovation process was environmentally-friendly. For instance, leftover materials were salvaged and recycled to be creatively repurposed as office furniture and décor.

In addition, Facility Link hosts periodic health screenings and structured workout sessions, such as Zumba classes, to promote a healthy lifestyle. As a result of their efforts, Facility Link achieved the Platinum award in the pilot of the Green Mark Scheme for Healthier Workplaces.  I just want to congratulate Facility Link for this achievement. 

Going forward, we want to help more SMEs create green and healthy offices. As such, BCA has extended its Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings and Premises, to cover this new Green Mark scheme for Healthier Workplaces. This means that SME tenants seeking to be certified can receive up to $40,000 in co-funding for energy efficiency enhancements at their premises. 

Similarly, HPB also offers incentive schemes such as the SME Health+, which supports health and fitness initiatives for SMEs and Workplace Alliance for Health (WAH) Scheme for medium to large private companies. I encourage those who are interested to apply for these schemes.

Smart systems for sustainability

In the search for new sustainability solutions, we should also harness the power of data and technology. Smart systems like sensors provide access to new information that can guide and improve decision-making. In this regard, BCA has developed several smart tools to support building owners and managers in their green building efforts. I’ll just highlight two examples.

The first is BCA’s Building Energy Submission System (BESS), which has been enhanced to enable better tracking of building energy performance. Building owners can opt-in to receive information on their building energy performance via customised emails and automated SMSes. Based on the information, they can take timely steps to reduce energy consumption.

The second initiative is BCA’s Chiller Efficiency Smart Portal, which enables remote monitoring of air-conditioning efficiency. It employs data analytics to detect chiller plant performance deviations that may result in energy wastage, and reports such irregularities to building managers via their smart phones. Building managers can also access data dashboards and performance reports, and make informed decisions on corrective and preventive action. 

Following a two-year pilot on 20 commercial and institutional buildings, the portal is now open to all Green Mark buildings. I hope that you would find these tools useful, and feel free to speak to any of our BCA team members here if you want more information.

Future of green buildings

As change-makers in your organisations, you are in a prime position to shape the future of green buildings, and decide what the next big leap will be for the industry. 

For example, some companies overseas have started to treat industrial wastes with carbon dioxide, to produce aggregates that could potentially replace sand and concrete in construction. Such carbon-negative aggregates are expected to generate global revenues of 15 billion USD per year by 2030. 

Game-changing technologies like these always excite me, as they represent new markets and opportunities that we can harness. In time to come, they may even transform our buildings sector from a major source of emissions into a carbon sink!

So let us set our sights far, actively seek out innovative and promising technologies, and strive to develop new sustainability solutions for Singapore and beyond.

Singapore as a beacon of excellence for green buildings in the tropics

This leads me to my third point, which is for Singapore to build exportable expertise in green buildings. Earlier, I spoke to some companies as well and many of you have found it useful, having started in Singapore, undergoing our green standards and using our reputation and brand to expand overseas. 

We have come a long way since the start of our green building journey. Today, there are more than 3,400 green building projects in Singapore, and close to 300 overseas developments in more than 80 cities seeking Green Mark certification. That is commendable progress!

Going forward, as climate change increasingly puts the global spotlight on sustainable development, we can expect worldwide demand for green buildings to grow. 

Hence, we should develop our existing strengths and expertise to meet the growing demand abroad. This also aligns with one of our built environment industry transformation goals – which is for our firms in Singapore to internationalise and go global. I am happy to note that some of you are already doing this.

Take for example Kaer Pte Ltd. Since its founding in 1993, Kaer has been a leader in providing new services and technologies for a wide range of green building projects in Singapore, such as schools, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings.

They offer a unique business model where air-conditioning is offered as a “service” to clients. In this model, users only need to pay for the cool air they consume. Kaer then takes over the building’s entire air-con system, as well as costs related to its operation and maintenance, including the bills for water, electricity, and repairs.

This innovative company brought their green buildings expertise and unique business model overseas in 2010, and since then, they have opened up regional offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. They now export new technologies and services from a test bed in Singapore to these international markets.

I understand that their experience so far has been rewarding, and they are considering expansion into more ASEAN countries, as well as into China and Australia. I wish them every success ahead!

I believe many of you, like Kaer, have accumulated a trove of green building experience under your belts. The next step now is to bring your expertise and your top quality products and services into the international market. This not only makes good business sense, but also contributes to global sustainability solutions. 

Let me end off by putting forth this challenge. As leaders of the built environment industry, dream big, be bold, and transform Singapore into a beacon of excellence for green buildings and products.

With that, I hand the stage over to you. Thank you very much and have a good day at the event.

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