Sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment 'even when no one is looking': Masagos

Jose Hong Straits Times 1 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - If people are not fined when they litter, and businesses do not get incentives to adopt green practices, will the environment suffer?

The real test for a sustainable Singapore, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, will be "whether we will do the right thing for the environment, even when no one is looking and there is no regulation".

Mr Masagos was speaking at an inaugural forum on Tuesday (Aug 1) that brought together 300 representatives from the voluntary, academic, government and private sectors to discuss environmental collaboration.

The Partners for the Environment forum, held at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre, is organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and online news publication Eco-Business.

While participants did not go so far as saying that green practices would flourish without any support or regulations, they did agree that Singapore has come a long way in such efforts.

Property giant City Developments' (CDL) chief sustainability officer Esther An said that Singapore now has enough environmental regulation.

"Now the devil is in the implementation, and in taking action to do it."

She told The Straits Times that the firm began its conservation drive in 1995, even before initiatives such as the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) Green Mark scheme or the United Nations' (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.

BCA launched its scheme in 2005 while the UN launched the goals in 2015.

Ms An said that CDL's vision of "conserve as we construct" began under the late deputy chairman Kwek Leng Joo, who was addressing the construction industry's negative impact on the environment.

The current vision of "building value for tomorrow, today" has the same foundation, she said.

Participants also emphasised that solving environmental problems, with all its legal, business and social implications, is not a task that can be handled by individual sectors.

Only collaboration between different fields of society would effectively tackle issues such as climate change and pollution.

Individuals can also play their part.

As customers, they can help drive change in business, vice-president of global carpet-making firm Interface Erin Meezan pointed out.

Ms Meezan, who is also the firm's chief sustainability officer, added that with customers demanding more green products and being willing to pay more for them, businesses would adapt. She was speaking about the positive role that businesses play in pushing for environmental change.

Chief executive of non-governmental organisation (NGO) World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, Ms Elaine Tan, told The Straits Times that the event was the largest forum she had attended involving players from the private, public, academic and voluntary sectors.

"Ten years ago you would never see the NGOs being invited to these things."

She added that the NGOs present agreed that the voluntary sector was fragmented, and that they needed to come together before more concrete action could be taken. "They need to find collaborative and synergistic ideas to work together."

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said that while she was pleasantly surprised by the day's turnout, "beyond this there are many, many more companies we need to reach out to".

Eco-Business editor Jessica Cheam said that the forum aimed to inform government policy, and that the results of the day's discussions will be compiled into a report that will be released in the next few weeks.

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