Greening Singapore’s Urban Landscape

Since the launch of the first Green Building Masterplan in 2006, Singapore has made significant progress towards its vision of becoming a green and sustainable city-state. We look at the path the Republic has taken to get there and the milestones which have been achieved.  
Shaping a Green and Sustainable City 


 

In the 50 years since its independence, Singapore has swiftly transformed from a trading outpost into one of the major business and financial hubs of Asia. Accompanying the economic progress, there has been a rapid urbanisation of the Republic’s landscape, with residential, commercial and industrial buildings sprouting up to meet the needs of its people and businesses. 
 
In recent times, the Singapore government has taken the lead in promoting sustainability of the built environment. Spearheaded by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), the Republic has embarked on numerous green building initiatives to realise its vision of a green metropolis. 

Success Starts with a Plan 

Singapore’s green building journey started in 2005 with the launch of the BCA Green Mark Scheme. Intended as a benchmarking scheme to encourage sustainability in the built environment and to raise environmental awareness amongst builders and developers, the BCA Green Mark Scheme has since emerged as the leading green building rating system for the tropics and sub-tropics today.
 
Following on this, the BCA launched the first Green Building Masterplan in 2006. The Masterplan comprised of several major initiatives, including the S$20 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme, which encouraged developers to achieve a higher green building rate through direct monetary incentives. Further to that, the Ministry of National Development (MND) also launched a S$50 million Research Fund to encourage the Research and Development (R&D) of green building technologies and solutions. 
 
On the legislative front, the Building Control Act was amended in 2008 to impose minimum standards of environmental sustainability for buildings, and to bring standards for all new buildings to the Green Mark Certified standard. All in all, the first Masterplan was instrumental in laying down the foundation for Singapore’s green building push, as well as setting the scene for further developments down the line.  

Making the Buildings Greener 

Building on the groundwork laid by the first Masterplan, the BCA launched the Second Green Building Masterplan in 2009. Based on consultations with the industry and experts, the Masterplan championed a sustainable built environment for Singapore, by promoting a strong business case for green buildings. The Masterplan also set an ambitious target for Singapore’s built environment, which was to have at least 80 per cent of the buildings in Singapore attain the BCA Green Mark Certified rating by 2030. 
 
To achieve this lofty goal, the Masterplan laid out a multi-pronged approach, of which one strategic thrust was to have the public sector take the lead. This meant that all new public sector buildings would need to achieve Green Mark Platinum rating, while existing public sector buildings would also need to achieve Green Mark GoldPlus Standard by 2020.
 
Meanwhile, another strategy was to look at incentives to spur the private sector in this area. Measures under this category include the Green Market Gross Floor Area (GM GFA) Incentive Scheme – which awards additional gross floor area to developers that earn higher-tier Green Mark Awards – and a S$100 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings (GMIS-EB), which provided financial incentives for owners of existing buildings to retrofit.

Widening the Conversation

The first two Green Building Masterplans were largely successful, generating much momentum in Singapore’s green building journey. By 2014, more than 25 per cent of Singapore’s buildings had already been greened. Against this backdrop, the Third Green Building Masterplan was launched, with the focus shifting from building developers to building owners, tenants and occupants, and getting them to reduce their energy consumption. 
 
Underlying this push is the S$50 Million Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings and Premises (GMIS-EBP), which provides incentives to building owners, occupants and tenants to undertake and adopt energy efficiency improvements and measures within their buildings and premises. Specifically, the scheme will fund up to half of the retrofitting costs of energy-efficient improvements to buildings and premises, capped at S$3 million for building owners and S$20,000 for occupants and tenants.
 
Within the Third Green Building Masterplan, the BCA has outlined several initiatives strengthening its leadership position in the local green building movement. Based on the national R&D roadmap on building energy efficiency, BCA will spearhead the S$52 Million Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC), which will research, develop and bring to market new technologies and solutions for the sector. BCA will also take the lead in providing a holistic training framework, for developing talent and specialists in the design, maintenance and management of green buildings.

Public Sector Leading the Way 

That Singapore’s green building movement has been able to take off in the relatively short span of a decade is in no small part due to the support of the government and the concerted efforts of public agencies. Chiefly amongst them is the BCA. The public has agency has also gained international recognition for major achievements such as setting up the Centre for Sustainable Buildings with the United Nations Environment Programme, and being the first government agency outside of America and Europe to receive the International Star Award from the US-based Alliance to Save Energy.
 
Another important player in the green building movement is the Housing & Development Board (HDB), which is the key agency for the development of public housing flats in Singapore. Amongst its notable initiatives include the HDB Greenprint, which is a comprehensive and integrated framework of goals and strategies to guide greener HDB town development, and create sustainable homes.
 
The HDB Greenprint is being piloted at Yuhua estate in Jurong, where 38 blocks of flats will be transformed into a “Green Neighbourhood”. Findings from this pilot project – scheduled to be completed by end 2015 – will be used to refine the HDB Greenprint model before it is rolled out to other HDB towns. If successful, residents can look forward to more sustainable and green initiatives such as solar panels, sensor-controlled LED lightings in the near future. 

Industry Role in Green Building Journey

Beyond the public sector, the industry as a collective is also contributing to the green building movement. The Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), an industry association – with prominent members such as real estate heavyweights CapitaLand and City Developments, and public corporations HDB and BCA – is also working to promote green building design, practices and technologies here.
 
In December 2015, the World Green Building Council, together with green building councils around the world – including the SGBC - launched a new campaign #BetterBuildGreen – in support of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). The campaign looks to promote the role green buildings can play in reducing carbon emissions, as well as benefits to society and the economy. 
 
In additional, SGBC made several key pledges, such as working with private and public partners to base procurement decisions on sustainability-centred principles. SGBC is also looking to encourage the adoption of Singapore Green Building Product certified products and materials in the built environment. These pledges are on top of its existing commitment to partner the government in efforts to have 80 per cent of buildings in Singapore achieve Green Mark standards by 2030. 

The Future is Green   

With growing awareness of the importance of green buildings, there has been a corresponding increase in demand for such spaces too. Research has shown that green residential and commercial buildings tend to command a pricing premium, thus further reinforcing the case to go green for developers. Such positive momentum, coupled with the public sector’s green building push, means that the future for green buildings in Singapore looks bright indeed.  

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