Businesses and working professionals in Singapore are saying yes to green offices as the country takes collective action to transition to a low-carbon future
In February this year, as Singapore continues to adjust to the shifting challenges brought about by the pandemic, the government announced a whole-of-the-nation plan to reduce our energy consumption by more than 8 million megawatt hours per year by 2030. That in turn will reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 3 million tonnes per year by 2030.
COP26 may have presented the most recent rallying point for global leaders, but the ubiquity of natural disasters has led to the climate change narrative becoming embedded in vocabularies and echoed across all corners of the planet.
Whatever your stance on the emerging headlines and pledges, we cannot ignore the fact that over a quarter of global CO2 emissions come from buildings, so taking immediate action to reduce the emissions from the property sector is crucial on our race to net zero.
Do we appreciate that this target is as much about the operation of buildings, as well as the construction of new build assets? - and are we thinking about the existing building stock? With almost 80% of commercial office space island wide already certified green as of 3Q2021, Singapore’s real estate office sector is well-placed to take the environment, sustainability, and governance (ESG) agenda further than ever before.
Still, we must recognise that the refurbishment and retrofitting of our current estate that meet higher standards in sustainability outcomes is at the heart of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, designed to change the way people live-work-play over the next decade.
The scale of the challenge requires each of us to challenge our behaviours
Last year, we launched our ISG Power of Place white paper exploring the transformation of attitudes towards workspace. More than half of Singapore employees surveyed indicated that they are more likely to join another business if they offered a better quality and state of the art workplace. While the concept of working from home, for a broad cross section of society, has been normalised, the message is clear that the office still plays an invaluable role in our productivity and the attraction and retention of talent.
Against the backdrop of a national skills crisis, the war for talent is at an all-time high in many industries. So, when occupiers look to the environments they create to nurture their people and attract the brightest minds, they need to think carefully about their offering and what this communicates.
Many businesses have made bold pledges that recognise their role in the ESG agenda, embracing these ideals within their core purpose. When considering the carbon performance of their estate, progressive brands will not only be stating their claims, but also committing to evidencing strategies to tackle these challenges for an increasingly discerning talent and customer base. In ISG’s Power of Place research study, environmental factors such as plenty of fresh air (42%), natural light (36%) and physical workplace's ability to reconfigure to need (39%) led in the list of practices deemed important to Singapore employees.
According to a JLL survey of 550 corporate real estate players, some 70% of firms in Asia Pacific are willing to pay a rental premium to lease sustainability-certified buildings in the future. 40% of corporate occupiers have already adopted net zero targets while another 40% are planning to adopt targets by 2025, heralding broader real estate sustainability developments across the region. The corporate occupiers of today are increasingly differentiating themselves in an environmentally conscious workforce by offering a working environment that embraces a wider sustainable ethos.
Benefits abound in committing to sustainability benchmarks
Earlier this year, the Singapore Green Building Council and the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore have already helped to point to higher benchmarks in energy performance to be certified green, and heavier emphasis on creating a healthier environment for building occupants and designing for maintainability under the newly refreshed Green Mark scheme, the green building rating system designed to evaluate a building’s environmental impact and performance
A year-long study by Squire Mech (jointly with RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, Building System & Diagnostics and Arcadis Singapore) found that Green Mark Buildings in Singapore reap greater energy and water savings in their lifetime, and these savings outweigh the initial investment cost. In fact, when comparing buildings which achieved the Green Mark ratings of Gold, Gold Plus and Platinum, research findings revealed that the greener the buildings, the higher the resulting cost savings.
Minimising embodied carbon, typically 30% of a building’s lifetime emission according to the Singapore Green Building Council, is essential for developers looking to avoid ending up with ‘stranded assets’ on their hands, but operational carbon, the remaining 70%, fluctuates as it is realised in the running of a building. This percentage is also influenced by many different market players: owners, occupiers, contractors, interior designers, lawyers managing agents, facilities managers, maintenance engineers and most importantly control engineers, to name but a few.
Collaboration is crucial to achieving intended sustainability outcomes and cost savings in the long term. Working together as an industry, that has typically evolved to operate under the mantra of competition over collaboration, is the only way to succeed. It’s important to stress that a building designed and delivered to achieve net zero performance, can only ever achieve this target if it is maintained and operated with an absolute focus on this goal. Human behaviour is always the variable in the equation.
Only through quantifying where we are on the journey to net zero globally, can we effectively target solutions and benchmark our progress
To help demystify where we are on the race to carbon neutrality, ISG’s Sustainable Buildings Monitor provides data on the international variations in the carbon emissions and energy consumption due to the operation of commercial buildings across 18 countries including Singapore.
The report revealed that Singapore has the highest intensity of energy consumption by commercial buildings followed by South Korea, Malaysia and Japan, with almost all electricity (97%) generated from fossil fuel.
The ubiquitous nature of the office across Singapore suggests that transforming our property assets to perform better is a matter of priority. However, we should increasingly look at rejuvenating existing commercial buildings.
Urgent action is required to reduce energy demand through smart retrofit solutions as well as exemplar new build schemes, alongside enhanced maintenance regimes to optimise operational efficiencies and bringing renewable energy supplies on stream.
In this vein, we welcome Singapore’s recent move to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance, an international coalition of countries, cities, regions and businesses that promotes the transition from coal to clean energy. Singapore is the first country in Asia to join the alliance, committing to phasing out the use of unabated coal in its electricity mix by 2050, and to restrict direct government finance of unabated coal power internationally.
We all have a role to play - everyone with a stake in Singapore’s built environment - it must be a team effort, with landlords and tenants approaching these conversations together.
Despite the scale of the challenge, the awareness and desire is there. As an industry we should continue to drive ahead of legislation and keep challenging ourselves to accelerate change, together.