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How the pandemic has reimagined a sustainable future for Singapore

Written by Sherman Tham Published on     5 mins read

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We hear from several Singapore-based social entrepreneurs from different industries on their insights to moving forward on rebuilding a circular economy.

In less than 10 years from now, we would have supposedly reached the milestone of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global development framework adopted by World Leaders at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. It applies to all countries in mobilising international efforts to end poverty, tackle inequalities and climate change.  

But as with most large-scale global initiatives, there are always the ever-present shortcomings of bureaucracy. Evidently, the present circumstances are fraught with ambiguity as nations around the world struggle with the global pandemic crisis as well as a crippling economic outlook.

Setting a new direction for climate action

Lately, the talk centred on climate change has taken a renewed direction as countries around the world strive to rebuild a more resilient future, one that is heralded by the coexistence of sustainable development and economic growth. The observance of clear skies and returning wildlife amid the pandemic gives heightened visibility of the environmental repercussions that have resulted from pollution-heavy economic activities globally. 

The observance of clear skies amid the pandemic has given heightened visibility of the environmental repercussions caused.
The observance of clear skies amid the pandemic has given heightened visibility of the environmental repercussions caused. Photo by Alexa Soh on Unsplash

More than ever, it echoes a pressing concern for us to slow down and reimagine a future — where all businesses can achieve profits in a sustainable manner without leaving a deleterious carbon footprint on the environment. 

With sustainability being the cornerstone of a post-pandemic economy, I thought it would be timely to hear from several Singapore-based social entrepreneurs from different industries as they share with us their insights on how to connect the dots — moving forward on rebuilding a circular economy. 

Why is it so important? Simply because the current take-make-waste economic system is unsustainable in the face of limited planetary bounds. Hence, a circular economy is a better alternative given that it can conceive positive societal benefits whilst mitigating long-term environmental detriment.

Small steps needed to create a larger impact on the environment

I first spoke with Marlene Johler, Founder of Nature Leaf, (a social enterprise that manufactures sustainable, nutritional supplements) on her take on some of the trends that emerged out of this current crisis.

She shared that while there have been numerous challenges, none were quite as harmful as the skyrocket in single-use items usage by 40%. Not only do single-use masks leave huge pollution on earth, but BYO (bring-your-own) initiatives suspended due to COVID-induced hygiene standards have also caused an increase in usage of takeaway plastic boxes as well. 

The usage of single-use masks during COVID-19 is leaving a huge pollution on earth.
The usage of single-use masks during COVID-19 is leaving a huge pollution on earth. Photo by De an Sun on Unsplash

In spite of the doom and gloom, Marlene still feels that the pandemic has given us one last silver lining — time. It has given people a newfound opportunity to reflect on what really matters, and as a result, there was an increased awareness of climate change and its repercussions. 

It is no surprise that the same sentiment was shared by Mathilda, the founder of a sustainability-driven startup Ocean Purpose Project, who states that ‘people are generally more concerned and conscious of climate change and their individual carbon footprint.’

As a sustainability-consultancy outfit, one of Ocean Purpose Project’s main objectives is to promote mass participation in its efforts to tackle the ever-present crisis of ocean plastic pollution. One of which is their recent Project White Sands, a ground-up initiative aimed at cultivating eco-behaviour habits in the community through monthly beach clean-ups. 

They have since received tremendous support from residents in the community, having over 50 participants from all walks of life joined them in their previous clean-up session.

‘It was definitely heartwarming to see a community come together on a Saturday morning to impact our beaches and play a part in sustainability,’ she added.

Considering everything, it seems that not all is lost

When asked how Singaporeans could contribute to the growing sustainability movement, April, the founder of Dolce Vita, suggested the notable impact of collective action had on effecting positive change. She added that ‘even a few small incremental steps could amount to a significant overall impact on the environment’ when rallying the community towards a common, long-term climate goal.

Mitigating food insecurity and wastage through the community

Student and startup co-founder of Savour!, Katrina Lee, shared that there has been a noticeable rise in conscious consumerism, given that more people are adopting environmentally sustainable habits and being more mindful in their purchases. 

However, during the height of Singapore’s circuit breaker measures, there was an episode that saw panic buying and increased food insecurity among households. As such, some parts of the community chose to purchase discounted, near-blemished food or collect free groceries from various food-distribution groups.

Amongst which is B2B-B2C procurement platform, Savour! who has been greatly involved in connecting buyers and sellers through their Community Telegram Group, in bid to help households tide through during this period of hardship.

The Community-driven initiative by Savour! was started to help households tide through the pandemic period.
The Community-driven initiative by Savour! was started to help households tide through the pandemic period. Image courtesy of Savour!

As expected, this community-driven initiative was well received by many. What was more surprising yet heartening were the self-initiated discussions among its members to support future procurement efforts.

Noting COVID-19 hygiene concerns alongside stiff competition from prominent food delivery platforms like GrabFood, Deliveroo and Foodpanda, I was rather surprised to discover there was (indeed) a growing vertical for such a niche food procurement service, as told by Katrina that there were a sizeable group of consumers requesting this service. 

She shared that their F&B merchants offer individually packed, relatively lower-priced bento boxes to customers — which includes companies, charities and school clubs who are exploring no-frills, affordable food options for their corporate events.

Embracing a Green New Future

As long as free-market capitalism continues to influence profit-motivated behaviour that privileges the individual, at the direct expense of the collective social welfare — it is quite unthinkable that people would spontaneously subscribe to the idea of purchasing sustainable premiums.

We need to address the many social mechanisms underpinning capitalism before we can even bring forth a coherent narrative to cultivate an eco-centric behaviour within the community. 

As I was penning my concluding thoughts for this piece, it dawned on me that (understandably) not everyone is to drastically change their lifestyle for the sake of ‘sustainability’. However, as we edge towards a period of recovery, we can only hope to inspire the greater collective good in embracing a green new economy.

As aptly opined by April, ‘We don’t need very few people who are trying to be perfect, we need more people who are making small steps towards being sustainable.’

Unlike before, 2020 is one defined by uncertainty and disruptions. Perhaps this is the much-needed inflexion point for all of us to take a bolder change towards climate action — for a greener future that works for all.


Sherman Tham is the Founder and Managing Editor of CarbonCents, a media archive-platform for all things green and sustainable. He currently researches and writes stories centred on climate action, environmental culture and social entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. Through words, he endeavours to reframe conversations on sustainability within the broader community. Reach out to him to help reframe conversations on Sustainability.

Disclaimer: All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

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Sherman Tham

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