Lessons for Sustainable Destinations & Events from Singapore- Water and Land

Once a River, now a Reservoir- Courtesy of 50MM Photography

Having lived in Singapore for most of the last 2 months I’ve still much to learn about this fascinating island state but in this relatively short time have already been left impressed by how the government has used sustainability as a catalyst for innovation- providing lessons for any events business.  The conundrum is why has Singapore come on leaps and bounds in some areas of sustainability where other countries are lagging behind?  The answer is fairly simple, resource scarcity is a very real and tangible challenge in Singapore, albeit due to the quirks of international boundaries.  Take water- 50% of Singapore’s water is imported from outside the country so they’ve invested in correcting this imbalance. Water management has had clear support and funding with the result that two thirds of Singapore’s land surface is now a water catchment area with water stored in 17 reservoirs. One of the most impressive is of course, the old Singapore river which used to be tidal. Although instrumental in creating much of the initial fortune of Singapore, shipping here  has long since moved to a larger scale and what was once a muddy and reeking place each day when the tide went out has now been dammed to create Marina Basin, right in the heart of the city. Other great initiatives include NEWater-  wastewater is collected from toilets, sinks and daily use and treated using micro-filtration, reverse-osmosis and UV technology to recycle it into water that’s good enough to drink. This meets 30% of the city’s water needs, a target that will be increased to 50% of future needs by 2060.

Looking at the population of the city, it’s simply boomed over last 25 years, nearly doubling to over five million. Over the same period, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources proudly stated at the recent launch official launch of the new TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) for Business Coalition Headquarters  on the 6th November  that when you arrive by plane- Singapore is visibly 50% green. This has increased from a little more than a third of the city-state’s area to this impressive percentage. Why? Because the Singapore Government has designated it a high priority- and that’s all part of Singapore’s next “green road map,” its 10-year development plan, the country aims to go from being “a garden city” to “a city in a garden.”

Singapore has built it’s success over the years from attracting the best traders, from spices, to opium to the trading of today- stocks, technology and services and Singapore wants to stay at the top of the places people will want to work, play, live, and raise a family. The government intends to increase the country’s National Park space from from about 3,300 hectares today to 4,200 hectares in the next 10-15 years and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 3 such parks on my free weekends already and witnessing live the success of this project relating to biodiversity. One such example for the “twitchers” out there is the reintroduction of the Oriental pied hornbill — the bird’s population has increased from just a pair 16 years ago to about 160 today and here’s one of that small number photographed 2 weeks ago on a simple Iphone.

Oriental Pied Hornbill In Singapore Park- Photo R.Simons

So what are the valuable lessons from Singapore’s national approach for the events business?

  1. Designate sustainability a priority at the very top of the business or organisation and fund appropriately
  2. Understand your supply chain and focus on resource challenges
  3. Recycle whatever you can (including sewage)
  4. Treat your event attendees or employees like you would yourself, provide them with healthy environments, sustenance and lifestyles
  5. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly don’t be afraid to innovate!

Sustainable Events: On strength & Connectedness

Organisations=Organisms

Within any organisation, individual department-based process are interrelated and interdependent.

Random example: The person working reception at a hotel, if they are to be productive and enthusiastic, relies on the successful observation of effective processes in the restaurant.  Poor systems will result in poor service and, eventually, problems for anybody involved in guest service.

What about sustainability.. and sustainble events?

Many organisations disallow themselves the benefits from aligning sustainability with traditionally recognized core business practices.

Random example #2: Marketing includes 2 pages on sustainability in the annual report yet procurement has no policy or practice related to sustainable practices.  The sustainable event planner in this organisation won’t deliver an event which reflects the promises sustainability outlined in the annual report because purchasing-often given influence over event-related expenses—have processes which are not aligned to the organisational sustainability initiative.

Strength through unity

Sustainable events are an expression of an organisations’ successful integration of sustainable business practices.  As part of a strategic approach to building a better business and responding to the widest possible stakeholder group, sustainable events are an extension of the core business initiatives which build the most resilient, innovative and successful companies.

Where to begin?

  •  Understand sustainability.  Check out The Natural Step for business-friendly guidance on identifying the ‘system conditions’ which define sustainability. See this for a brief intro.
  • Establish 2-way communication with stakeholders. Is your event deemed effective and valuable by participants? By the event host community? How do you know? Traditional 1-way communication will not help your organization improve and stay relevant.  Social media platforms, surveys and face to face sessions can provide pathways to needed feedback.
  • Commit to 2 or 3 specific process improvementsin support of sustainability for your next event.  This might mean choosing sustainable suppliers, or measuring waste or creating a safeguards to ensure that the meeting site is accessible to people with disabilities. Regard the tracking and sharing of results as essential to improving the process.
    • Random example #3: In 2008 EWEA set a goal to measure their event waste.  In 2011, they recycled and composted their way to an 89% diversion rate (which included 100% of their exhibition carpet)
  • Participate in the GMICThe Green Meeting Industry Council is focused on this stuff exclusively. (full disclosure: we’re members and active participants!) Ask questions, share best practices, absorb webinars, expand your network and help develop needed solutions.

Thoughts and additions welcome, as always.

Do you have principles for sustainability?

There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability, and many people agree and disagree on what should be included. At the GMIC we follow the “Natural Step” Principles that define 4 conditions for developing sustainability.

 These were develop by an international network of scientists who have unanimously and publically concluded that human society is damaging nature and altering life-supporting natural structures and functions in three fundamental ways. Consequently, they were able to define three basic conditions that must be met if we want to maintain the essential natural resources, structures and functions that sustain human society. Further, acknowledging that human action is the primary cause of the rapid change we see in nature today, they included a fourth system condition that focuses on the social and economic considerations that drive those actions and the capacity of human beings to meet their basic needs . These four principles for sustainability state that: 

To become a sustainable society we must…

1. eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels)
2. eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of chemicals and compounds produced by society (for example, dioxins, PCBs, and DDT )
3. eliminate our contribution to the progressive physical degradation and destruction of nature and natural processes (for example, over harvesting forests and paving over critical wildlife habitat);
4. eliminate our contribution to conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human needs (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).

If you dont follow what i am saying then have a look at this video. In 2 mins our friends at Realeyes have put the theory into a very easy to understand cartoon. Its fun, relevant and simple. This is itself a lesson in how to communicate sustainability. Enjoy

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,591 other followers

%d bloggers like this: