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Singapore inspires the world to turn city skylines green

When I first heard of Singapore’s target to green 80 percent of its buildings, old and new, by 2030, I thought it was a great vision and the way to the future. But it is a challenging feat.

Developing a green building from scratch is easy, but we can become a truly green society only when we solve the challenge of making our old buildings green. I believe that innovation, focus on research and development – coupled with favorable policies and economic incentives – will need to be closely aligned in changing the whole building stock of an entire country. It began just over a decade ago with a very strong government initiative in Singapore – the Green Mark Scheme to rate buildings and products. Followed up by several national master plans, the Singapore government committed to an ambitious target in 2009: that by 2030, 80 percent of their building stock would be green.

That target was backed up with supporting infrastructure and tax incentives for developers, contractors and research and development. They have made good progress, with one quarter of Singapore’s buildings already green in 2016. What once seemed like a bold idea is taking shape and proving to be a reality in Singapore.

Going green is a critical issue for the building industry everywhere in the world. Roughly one third of all greenhouse gasses come from buildings. Buildings use about 40 percent of the world’s energy, and a quarter of its water. In a world of limited resources, if we can do something about this particular industry, we will make a significant contribution to global sustainability. So, this week is a momentous one for the entire industry as we discuss the topic of green buildings and try to move the needle in a positive direction.

High profile developers, architects and designers at the forefront of their industry are taking their best practices and quality work from Singapore and implementing them throughout the Asia Pacific region and other parts of the world. With the Green Mark Scheme being used in around 20 countries, Singapore is setting a high standard for the rest of the world as a showcase of green building initiatives that work.

As a consumer, you might be thinking: “It’s the right thing to do, but how does it impact my wallet?” On a high level, it feels good to be in a building that has been designed to have a more positive impact on the planet. But practically speaking, green buildings often have a positive, healthy impact on us and our wallets. Green design features often result in better indoor air quality and more natural light, while energy and water-saving devices lower our energy bills and decrease our water usage.

People around the world and in Singapore, especially millennials, are more interested than ever in the stories behind the products they use in their everyday lives. They want to know where it comes from, what it contains, if it is healthy, whether it has been sustainably sourced and if it is of high quality. So indeed, the conversation about sustainability is growing in our social consciousness, and inspiring people to ask similar questions about the buildings that surround them on a daily basis.

The call to green is getting louder, but it’s still a challenge for cities to overcome, especially for those that don’t build or rebuild at Singapore’s furious pace. Cities are looking to both preserve their heritage buildings and revitalize, and they want to do it sustainably. They are seeing eco-friendly retrofits as smart and cost-effective alternatives to tearing down and rebuilding. By retrofitting, they can retain the embodied energy and carbon in the building, with the added benefit of making the real estate more attractive to renters.

There are many ways to lower a building’s environmental footprint. Passive design, for example, uses the native climate to its advantage in regulating the internal temperature. This can also be done by applying technical coatings to the exterior so that less machinery is required to regulate the building, or products that will increase its lifespan and require less maintenance.

In many countries, using water-based, low VOC paints counts toward green ratings, but products like our own Dulux KeepCool paints can also contribute to energy savings by reflecting heat and keeping interiors cooler in hot climates. Through our Planet Possible sustainability strategy at AkzoNobel, we are focused on paint and coating innovations that improve air quality, save on maintenance and improve durability – all while looking good while they do it.

It’s important for us to combine sustainable features with color to create more uplifting environments, because it's something people will expect on the next frontier of green building. We’re currently working with one of the first zero-energy buildings in Singapore. Zero-energy buildings, in addition to eco-design, use geothermal or solar systems to generate energy and are the next evolution in the building industry.

Going green is within our reach and it starts with making good choices, from the paint you use on your walls to the architect’s latest building design. What’s happening in Singapore as a result of their approach to green building is proof of what could be possible in every country across the world.

Jeremy Rowe
Managing Director, AkzoNobel Decorative Paints South East & South Asia