Green urbanites in Singapore

Straits Times 21 Jun 08;

Urban living does not have to be about valuing modern conveniences over environmental sustainability, as these green champions prove.

LIAW WY-CIN & DARYL TAN report.

Professor Leo Tan, 63, winner of the President's Award for the Environment 2007

IF NOT for nature and marine conservationist Leo Tan, Labrador Park could have ended up paved over with concrete and forgotten.

He stepped in to stop it from being cleared for development, and in 2002, succeeded in getting Singapore's only remaining rocky shore and reef declared a protected nature reserve.

Now, the Nanyang Technological University professor, who is also chairman of the Garden City Fund, is crusading for companies and people to plant trees, to compensate for the carbon dioxide they introduce into the environment.

'You can continue to do whatever you want to do - pollute the lakes, cut down the trees, but if the earth dies, you will die too.

'Planting trees is one way we can atone for what we have done...(in emitting carbon) in our daily travel, flights and the rubbish we generate. And it does not require any government to lay down policies; it can be done by individuals,' says Prof Tan.

Professor Peter Ng, 48

When Prof Peter Ng speaks about conservation, it is not just historical buildings and culture he means, but plants and animals unique to Singapore, too.

The director of the National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research is known for his passion for all creatures - big and small.

His views and work have been highlighted in some of the world's top scientific publications.

Singapore's top crab man has also discovered and named numerous crabs new to science, some of which are found only here.

On the challenge of achieving global sustainability, Prof Ng says:

'Conservation is the privilege of the rich. The rich, developed countries have to help the developing ones. And we can't do this by lecturing them, but by working with them.

'If you are an Indonesian student here to learn about crabs and conservation, we don't want you to stay in Singapore. Your job is to learn as much as you can here, then go back to your country and try to use the Singapore model in your country.'

Mrs Rosalind Tan, 67, winner of the National Environment Agency's EcoFriend Award 2007

It is not just medicine that helps soothe the sick at Alexandra Hospital but, thanks to Mrs Rosalind Tan's green thumb, beauty as well.

In 2002, the senior operations executive started a garden of plants, trees and medicinal and aromatic herbs at the hospital, and it has since drawn over 100 species of butterflies.

Not bad, given that only about 280 species have been spotted in Singapore.

Besides butterflies, the garden also draws photographers, students and members of the public, and has trails for them to walk along.

Mrs Tan hopes to repeat the feat at the hospital's new site in Yishun in 2010.

Alexandra is also going further in the green cause - it turns off the lights and air-conditioners at lunchtime every Friday, even if this means a little discomfort for the staff.

'Eventually, they will get the message that we're all just doing our little bit to help...They will slowly get used to it, and it will become a habit,' she said.

Mrs Annie Young Giri, 57, winner of the National Environment Agency's EcoFriend Award 2007

Mrs Annie Young Giri takes her role in the Waterways Watch Society seriously - so much so that her weekends for the last three years have been spent on boat patrols from Kallang River to the Singapore River, picking up rubbish, and alerting the authorities to major litter problems.

She teaches school students about the importance of keeping Singapore's waterways clean, making them understand how junk can ruin the rivers.

She wants to ingrain the instinct of keeping waterways clean among the young, especially as Singapore opens up more of them to the public for recreational activity.

She says: 'The rubbish that gets thrown in, like plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam boxes, can kill marine life.'

As people become more affluent and chase material goods, Mrs Giri hopes they do so with discretion.

'Be conscious of what you buy, think three times before you buy something and think about whether you really need it,' she says.

'A lot of natural resources and energy sources went into producing these material goods.'

Mr Edwin T.F. Khew, 59, chief executive of IUT Global, the sole Singaporean winner of the European Union Parliament's Energy Globe Award 2007

For IUT Global chief executive Edwin Khew, no waste goes to waste - not even rotting food. It can be turned into energy and fertiliser.

Since late last year, his company began using bacteria to convert food waste from some foodcourts and hotels into natural gas, which is then used to power its factory. Some of it is fed back into Singapore's electricity grid.

Today, the factory converts 12.5 tonnes of food waste each hour into 3MW of energy, enough to light 5,000 four-room flats.

By next year, he says, IUT Global aims to establish similar plants in developing countries in the region. It will hire people who scavenge in shanty towns and dump sites to work in these facilities.

Mr Khew, a Nominated MP, feels that Singapore has a big role to play in leading a regional realisation that it is possible to be both economically viable yet socially and environmentally enlightened at the same time.

A business-as-usual approach to the environment is not an option - and people are starting to realise that, he says.

'Up to a few years ago, nobody believed that having bigger cars, bigger condos and air-conditioners would have such a big impact on the environment. But with recent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and very aggressive cyclones which have caused a lot of destruction and misery, more and more people are realising that the impact of global warming is very real,' says Mr Khew.

Mr Wilson Ang, 26, winner of NEA's EcoFriend Award 2007 and the DHL Young Entrepreneurs for Sustainability Award

So impassioned was he for the environmental cause that, two years ago, Mr Wilson Ang, then 24, ended his career with the Republic of Singapore Air Force to devote more time to developing the Environmental Challenge Organisation Singapore (ECO Singapore).

With support from his family, and funding from local ministries and corporations, ECO Singapore, which he started in 2003, has since ballooned to include 120 volunteers.

It reaches out to thousands of young people every year through a range of projects, including the annual National Youth Environment Forum and Earth Hour Singapore in March this year, when 3,500 homes turned out the lights.

Mr Ang says: 'It gives me immense satisfaction to engage youth of the new generation to start thinking and acting like responsible global citizens, taking ownership of their actions and impact...It is heartening to see positive changes, big and small. The world requires everyone to do their part to become a better place.'

Ms November Tan, 26, winner of the Bayer Young Environmentalist Award and HSBC National Youth Achievement Award

Ms November Tan began her love affair with nature when she was a child. She went for hikes with her parents and learnt about the environment she lives in.

Now 26, she is a nature guide on Pulau Ubin, taking groups around the island and teaching them about environmental conservation. She also trains new guides, and authors a blog about the island and its history.

The environmental warrior in her also initiated Toddycats Engage, a group of over 100 volunteers from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, which provides feedback to various government agencies and organisations on environmental issues.

'Every time I hear somebody come up to me saying that they felt inspired to do something for the environment, even if it's as simple as to stop using straws, I feel a sense of fulfilment.'

See November's leafmonkey blog for errata in this article.

Mr Christophe Inglin, 45, managing director of solar firm Phoenix Solar

He may be the boss, but the managing director of Phoenix Solar's choice mode of transport to his office - which is some 6km away from his home - is the bicycle.

The chairman of the Renewable Energy Committee of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, is keeping a close eye on his carbon footprint - or the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases he puts into the air.

Only a meeting requiring him to be in a shirt and tie would compel him to reach for the car keys. He owns a 1.6 litre car, even though his childhood dream was to own a sports convertible.

And instead of hopping on a plane, he opts for phone conferences or e-mail exchanges, says Mr Inglin, who has solar panels in his home to feed electricity back into the power grid.

It sometimes means having to battle the green-eyed monster - but for the planet, it's worth it, he says.

'You look at what other people have and you'll want to have the same thing - the same big car, the same material goods. More consumption of goods means more consumption of energy, because all these goods take energy to make.'



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