Archive for environment

See our forest land in Google Earth

Last October, I adopted 8 sqm of forest land in Indonesia at the Qi Global Conference in Singapore.

A few days ago, the certificate finally arrived:

Reforestation certificate

(click above for full size image)

The coolest thing is that I know the exact geo co-ordinates of the piece of land I adopted. I could even view it in Google Earth and monitor its progress over time.

Adopting a piece of land is kind of like adopting a child for schools in remote villages. The financial contribution is one thing, I also feel a stronger sense of ownership.

This piece of forest land is under my care, and at the same time, belongs to us all.

Reforestation is a painstakingly long-term effort. Primary rainforests, once lost, could never be reclaimed fully. We can only hope for a rough approximation of the beauty that used to exist.

Prevention is better than cure. Instead of using wooden products, why not consider other eco-friendly alternatives such as bamboo?

This is the only truly sustainable way for our future.


Sustainable Singapore

Have you ever had an idea for make Singapore a greener place, but don’t know who to tell?

Well, the government announced in July the setting up of a web site to garner suggestions from Singaporeans on how to create an eco-friendly Singapore.

The Sustainable Singapore web site isn’t exactly user-friendly, but click on the Live/Play, Work, and Commute tabs at the top, and you’ll access a wealth of information.

The Straits Times reported today over 700 suggestions from the public have been received. Among those are calls to build dedicated bicycle lanes, and install solar panels on HDB housing estates.

If you want to submit your suggestions, don’t wait too long as closing date is end of October.

A quick search on the Internet also unearthed a couple of gems:

1) Green Business Times, an online resource to help Singapore companies go green, published a document with 20 wide-ranging suggestions.

2) The Online Citizen carried a piece by former NTUC Income CEO, Mr Tan Kin Lian, who focused on reducing the need for commuting. This can be achieved by making it easy and practical for people to:

  • Work from home
  • Work near the home
  • Move their homes to be nearer their workplace

Let me just share my thoughts on the above:

Dedicated bicycle lanes

I bought a folding bicycle recently, and have been using it instead of driving my car for short commutes around the neighbourhood.

Last Friday, I even joined a cycling group for some night-cycling. The original plan was to go to Tuas but we decided to head to Fullerton Hotel to catch the fireworks. It was spectacular!

Most of us were wearing helmets, and all bicycles had at least two blinking lights. Some kiasu ones had up to four lights. Unfortunately, most cyclists don’t have lights when cycling at night. They are practically invisible to the typical driver.

There’s been a significant surge in numbers of bicycles on the road in recent years, probably due to their popularity with foreign workers, especially those in the construction sector.

There were a couple of times when vehicles (especially taxis) got a bit too close for comfort, but cycling on the roads is generally OK.

Dedicated bicycle lanes would make riding a much more safer and viable alternative to driving and public transport. This suggestion gets my two thumbs up!

Reduce commuting

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

I used to work in the CBD, and it took me about 45 minutes to get to work. It takes me another 45 minutes to get home, so 1.5 hours per day is spent on simply getting around.

People say that Singapore is a small country, it shouldn’t matter where you work.

The problem is not the distance but the terrible congestion during peak hours. On days with rain or traffic accidents, the commuting time easily stretches up to 1 hour per trip.

Now my office is about 10 minutes away, going up to 15 minutes on bad days. I save more than an hour every day, and the reduction in traffic-induced stress is incredible.

By working near my home, my quality of life has improved significantly.

Not everyone will find it to be a feasible idea, but if possible, reduce your commuting.

Green Drinks event on 28 Aug 2008

OK, a plug for Green Drinks! Come get together and chat about your burning green issues in a cosy, relaxed cafe. It takes place on the last Thursday of every month, so the next one is just 3 days away.

This time, we’ll be talking about the Sustainable Singapore initiative. Come join us, you can check our Facebook page for more information.

See you there!

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Top 3 reasons for going green

Hi hope you have enjoyed the Chinese New Year festivities.

The building and construction industry here is still on an extended break, with many companies re-opening later this week, but I thought I’d kick off the Year of the Rat earlier.

Came across this fascinating article which pretty much confirms what we have been witnessing: green is most definitely in, and not just a passing fad.

Thanks very much, Mr Al Gore.

The green movement gathered steam in 2006, exploded into public consciousness in 2007, and will just keep growing in 2008.

So what’re the top 3 reasons for going green?

  1. Save money, especially when oil and electricity prices are hitting record highs.
  2. Creating a healthier home environment, by using chemical-free or low-emission products (like our zero-formaldehyde bamboo flooring).
  3. Feel good about yourself, simply because you’re doing the right thing!

Interestingly, bamboo was mentioned no less than 4 times, be it bamboo flooring, chopping boards or window blinds.

Lots more helpful tips to get you started below, do check it out.



Singapore is world’s busiest port yet has 32% of world’s corals?

The Straits Times newspaper today quoted Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar citing Singapore as a shining example of balancing business and environmental interests.

Singapore has the “world’s busiest port yet the seawaters here are home to 32% of the world’s corals“.

Hmm, I never realised that our little island has a third of the world’s coral reefs.

On closer reading, the figure actually refered to the number of species. That’s still pretty impressive, as we apparently have more coral species than the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef. Not Singapore.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The visibility in Singapore waters is appalling due to heavy sea traffic and land reclamation works. There was once I went scuba-diving at Pulau Hantu (“Ghost Island’), a small island to the south of mainland Singapore.

It was like diving in mud, I couldn’t see beyond 10cm.

I could only catch a glimpse of the corals if I press my face right next to them and keep completely still. Any movement will kick up the silt on the bed.

The few corals I could find look shrunken, pale, and nothing like the colourful and vibrant structures you see in diving magazines.

There were hardly any marine life around either. A lone clownfish was the find of the day.

About 14 years ago, four of the Southern islands were filled up and combined into Jurong Island which houses a huge petrochemical complex today.

I was involved in the reef rescue operation at one of the islands, Pulau Ayer Chawan, and still have the t-shirt to prove it.

A team of volunteer divers forcibly plucked up the coral reefs and brought them up in baskets. My job was simply to haul them onto the boat.

The plan was to transplant the corals at Sentosa island.

Corals are hugely sensitive organisms. As you can imagine, not many survived the traumatic experience.

Those that did last till today have another problem to contend with. Sentosa Island is now being redeveloped into a casino and theme park.

I don’t know what will happen to the corals now, but you can be sure that in Singapore, economic interests will always trump all others.


A nature resort in Singapore – Does it make sense?

The Singapore newspapers announced a $70 million plan by Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to build “a nature retreat in Mandai, away from the hustle and bustle of the city”.

It will be 30-hectare big, about the size of 42 football fields.

Upon closer reading of the report on ChannelNewsAsia, I realised that the $70 million is the total budget, which also includes rejuvenation of the Night Safari and Mandai Zoo.

So the amount towards the new nature retreat will actually be less than that.

The two key highlights are

i) “a luxurious topical (sic) spa retreat,”, and

ii) “an exotic river-themed development, where visitors can learn about freshwater habitat.”

Nothing new then.

Do we really need another spa in Singapore? And I don’t even realise there’re any rivers in Mandai.

I was also most amused by this statement: “The government believes that if done well, visitors to Mandai can forget that they are actually only minutes away from the city centre.”

Firstly, in Singapore, there are high-rise concrete buildings no matter where you turn.

Secondly, Mandai isn’t exactly near the city centre.

I’m hoping that the government will rethink their plans, and simply preserve whatever little nature we have left.

Sources: Today Online, Straits Times (subscription required)

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The Mystery of 2.5 million Plastic Water Bottles

Update (26/6/07): The Today reporter said she only reported the estimated figure of 2.5m (which was prominently featured in the headlines), as provided by NWDCD, and advised me to contact them for clarification. I have emailed them and will update here if they reply.

I saw this headline in the Singapore papers today: “North West CDC initiates move to recycle 2.5m bottles yearly.”

That’s great news. For a population of 4.5 million people, 2.5 million plastic water bottles is a substantial quantity.

Until I read the article and realised that this plastic waste is created by North West CDC (NWCDC) itself.

OK, some background information for our overseas readers: A CDC is a government organisation which organises community-building programmes for Singapore residents. CDCs are divided according to geographical regions, and there are five in all.

NWCDC formed a Brisk Walking Club (BWC) five years ago to encourage regular walking as a form of exercise. BWC is not a single club, but an umbrella of over 100 separate clubs and 28,000 members. A typical walk is 2.4km long with warm-up exercises at the start.

Singaporeans love freebies. So there are various enticements to get us to participate, such as a complimentary breakfast at the end of the walk.

And a free bottle of water.

Hmm, there are 2 things I don’t get:

First mystery is why go to this trouble of recycling plastic waste that could have been avoided in the first place.

Simply encourage participants to bring their own water bottles. Or they could provide re-usable water bottles, similar to our recent campaign for plastic carrier bags.

What is also puzzling is how the figure of 2.5 million bottles is derived:

Liang Eng Hwa, MP, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, said: “In the case of North West CDC Brisk Walking Club, we have monthly walks.

28,000 bottles per participant x 12 walks a year = 336,000 bottles per year

Can anybody enlighten me? :)


Dogbert the Green Consultant

Sometimes we take ourselves and the business of saving the earth too seriously. It happens to the best of us.

“No Impact Man” aka Colin Beaven has been getting a lot of media attention for his one-year attempt to “live in NY City without making any net impact on the environment”.

This means cutting down on new purchases during this period. It got to the point where even buying new mounting tape for a family photo became a big no-no. I’m all for eliminating unnecessary consumption, but this seems a tad extreme.

Thankfully he saw the lighter side of it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, black or white. The environmental movement, like all things in life, comes in lovely shades of grey.

Just do whatever we can, every little bit helps.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Dogbert:

Dogbert the green consultant



Have you signed up for Eco Action Day yet?

The Singapore Environment Council is organising an Eco Action Day on 5 June 2007, to raise awareness of environmental issues among companies.

Not much effort is required, just a simple flick of the switch to turn off any unnecessary lighting or office equipment.

I have already signed up Star Bamboo for this programme, to show our support and commitment to reduce energy wastage. The lights for our Singapore warehouse are usually turned on whenever we step into the adjoining office. Now, we will only turn on the lights when we actually retrieve stocks from it.

It’s a simple act, but it will save us 1/3 off our lighting bills. It’s so simple that we will be practising it every day starting right now – why limit yourself to 5 June?

Although this Eco Action Day programme is meant for Singapore companies only, all overseas visitors reading this are welcome to start similar initiatives in your company.

It’s easy, it’s simple, and speaks volumes of your commitment to the environment. If you decide to join in this effort, please drop me an email to tell me all about it. I’m all ears!

OK, better sign up first because the 28 May deadline is just around the corner. Click here to register now!

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Singapore Formula One: It’s Just Business

The big news last weekend in Singapore was the announcement by S Iswaran, Singapore’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry that the F1 carnival is finally coming to our shores.

F1 is the most un-green sport today. Today’s Straits Times newspaper carried an article with some fascinating nuggets of information to show just how polluting it is:

  • Each F1 car burns up to a litre of fuel and releases 1,500g of carbon dioxide per km, which contributes to an estimated 10 tonnes of CO2 per race weekend.
  • The mooted night race format requires an estimated 500 energy-sapping high-intensity light poles.
  • F1 car engines are loud enough to be heard literally half way across Singapore, or shatter glass windows of nearby buildings.

Coincidentally, S Iswaran was also the Guest-of-Honour at the prize-awarding ceremony for the Eco Products International Fair (EPIF) 2006 where Star Bamboo won the Silver Medal for our bamboo flooring:

EPIF 2006 award ceremony

The EPIF and F1 are at opposite ends of the eco-friendliness scale, but there is one common link.

From the outset, the Singapore government has cited commercial reasons for courting F1: tourism receipts, branding of Singapore as a cosmopolitan and glamourous city to 500 million television viewers, and jobs creation.

That is why the Singapore government has committed itself to spending up to S$90m per year for the F1 race. If green businesses were ever to enjoy this level of support, we would have to demonstrate the same kind of ROI.

After all, it’s just business.

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Easier Entry for Green Energy Suppliers? Not in Singapore

This ChannelNewsAsia report caught my eye this morning – “Easier entry for green energy suppliers”.

Unfortunately, reality is not as rosy as the headline.

The electricity market in Singapore is tightly controlled, and previously monopolised by Singapore Power – a corporatised body spun off from a government statutory board.

Liberalisation first started in January 2003, and it has been a slow process. The industry regulator Energy Market Authority (EMA) is doing it in slow, painful phases, beginning with the commercial sector.

The “easier entry” above simply refers to the scrapping of a relatively paltry $5,000 joining fee to join the energy market as an energy provider.

More than 4 years later, the entire domestic market of 1.2 million households in Singapore remain tightly bound to one company – SP Services (which happens to be a subsidiary company of Singapore Power).

It’ll be 2009 before a pilot trial to let the average consumer buy from other electricity providers even begins. Give or take another 2 years for the trial to be completed and analysed, it will easily be 2011 before we begin to see real alternative choices in the electricity market.

Even more astonishingly, the same CNA report above says that Singapore is planning to test by 2009 if renewable energies e.g. solar and wind power, can be fed into our national power grid.

I’m no energy expert, but it sounds like a relatively straightforward task. The Chief Executive of the wholesale market operator, Energy Market Company (EMC), Mr Dave Darlson himself admitted “there are no technical constraints to prevent renewable energy generators from joining the market“.

All these delays are highly unfortunate. The reason is simple – solar power.

Read the rest of this entry »

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