Getting Singapore’s smart and sustainable vision right: a nexus of people, environment and technology

2015-07-21 - Senior business and government leaders make recommendations for a smart, sustainable Singapore

Mr Johan de Villiers, Managing Director of ABB Singapore with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

Singapore, 14 July 2015 – Improving the quality of life of citizens and meeting the needs of the people should be the key drivers of Singapore’s vision to be the world’s leading smart and sustainable city, said government, business and civil society leaders at the inaugural Smarter Cities Roundtable earlier today.

This requires political leaders to make the right decisions even though it is not always what the market dictates, said ABB Singapore & South East Asia managing director, Johan de Villiers. He cited the extensive electric vehicle infrastructure in the Netherlands as a result not of market economics, but a result of what people desired.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation vision noted that in the 1950s when Singapore’s first Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew made the decision not to power the country with coal-fired plants but gas instead, as he “instinctively knew” the value of clear, blue skies for the people – even if it was not the cheapest option.

The government also plays a key role in creating the right environment for businesses to innovate without taking on too much risk, by providing incentives and removing administrative barriers.
Some other recommendations made by senior leaders included equipping the workforce with the right capabilities and skills to prepare for the digital age, especially in areas such as engineering and computer science, infused with principles of sustainability.

Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) managing director Jacqueline Poh cited the government’s support for Singapore’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem as one example of encouraging innovation and creating an adequate talent pool for Singapore’s growing smart nation industry.

Examples of smart city initiatives shared by Roundtable participants that are helping improve lives for citizens and raise the level of sustainability include – enabling the elderly to receive medical care at home; alerting trained members of the public via an app to deliver emergency first-aid; and improving the energy efficiency of buildings through intelligent building control systems.

Last November, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out two visions for Singapore. One was the Smart Nation plan to deploy the latest technologies to improve the city-state’s resource efficiency, raise the quality of life and create new business opportunities. The second was the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines a $1.5 billion effort for Singapore to become an eco-friendly city with a ‘zero-waste’ culture and a flourishing green economy by 2030.

Dr Balakrishnan also noted: “There is actually a tight nexus between a sustainable environment, an entrepreneurial dynamic economy, and a smart nation. If we can get this balance right, Singapore will have enormous opportunities to develop potential solutions to global challenges like climate change, economic restructuring and a cohesive society in the midst of great diversity.”

For example, Singapore’s sustainability blueprint focuses on five key areas, including energy efficient, ‘smart’ residential towns, a car-lite culture, a zero-waste nation, and a green economy.
Dr Balakrishnan noted the importance of technology to achieve these five objectives in a sustainable and economically viable way. He also added that the Smart Nation initiative is not about technology alone, but how we apply it to enhance the quality of life for our citizens.

ABB’s Johan de Villiers said: “Singapore is well placed not only in the region, but the world, to pioneer what is possible. Its efficiency and productivity are a great example to the world, and there is much more to come. Developing solutions for smart and sustainable cities will need the exchange of different views, and people to have a brave and pioneering spirit,” he added.

“It’s been a great opportunity to hear the diverse views of a wide range of senior leaders from Singapore’s smart city and sustainability ecosystems. To deliver on the visions, both governments and businesses will have to adopt systems-level thinking to plan for and execute the complex structures that make a city efficient, sustainable and liveable,” said moderator of the dialogue Jessica Cheam, Editor of Eco-Business. She added: “One key consensus seems to be that technology is only an enabler and a means to an end. Ultimately, it is about improving the lives of citizens. All ‘smart’ initiatives should be guided by these principles: They should be efficient, sustainable, and about people.”

“In Singapore’s drive to be a leading smart, sustainable and liveable city, we are also developing a vibrant green economy comprising the clean technology and urban solutions sectors. Singapore is now regarded as a living lab where companies can leverage our existing infrastructure, to develop, test and commercialise innovative urban solutions in a real-life setting. After using Singapore as the reference site in Asia for new technologies, companies can scale up the urban solutions for regional markets and beyond,” said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, Executive Director, Cleantech, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

The inaugural Roundtable, held in the lush surroundings of The Halia at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracted about 50 participants from a wide range of stakeholders.

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