Asia’s Greenest City Leads the Way in Sustainability


Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s 250-acre green development, features solar-powered “supertrees.”

By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. The resulting pressure this places on natural resources can have detrimental effects on the environment, making rapidly expanding cities both unlivable and polluted.

Singapore — an entirely urbanized island with more than 5 million people inhabiting just 270 square miles — is bucking this trend. This Southeast Asian city-state was named Asia’s greenest city in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index in 2016.

Ever since declaring its independence in 1965, Singapore’s strategy has been to create a garden city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment. “By being clean and green, our aim has been to show that our country is well-run,” said Khoo Teng Chye, executive director at the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), a body created by the government to share knowledge with policy makers from other countries about how best to build environmentally friendly cities. “We take the view that environmental protection is not at odds with economic development.”

This commitment is evident in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint’s action plan. Unveiled in 2015, the outline details significant sustainability goals for the next two decades, including the intention of becoming a Zero Waste Nation by harnessing technology to change how the city supplies everything from clean water to fresh air, energy, transportation, and housing.

Singapore’s water strategy alone is enough to make urban communities around the world take note. Despite having scarce water resources, the government recognized that secure and reliable access to water would be integral to growth and economic vitality and lobbied to provide clean water in an innovative way. Subramanyan Kanakasabapathy, regional managing director of Asia Pacific at CH2M, an environmental and engineering consultancy with its infrastructure hub in Singapore, believes that Singapore can be an example from which Southeast Asian cities can “learn and leapfrog.”

Today, up to 40 percent of Singapore’s water demand is met by a process of purifying treated, used water with advanced membrane technologies and UV disinfection. This process and desalinated water is expected to meet up to 85 percent of Singapore’s water demand by 2060. Under the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters program, Singapore’s bodies of water are also being transformed into naturalized rivers and lakes for recreational activities and to help conserve local biodiversity.

While Singapore might be known for its water, it boasts a thriving green canopy as well: The city-state scores top marks on the Green View Index developed by MIT, which measures the number of trees in cities.


The Singapore EXPO theatre is impressive for both its set-ups and sustainability initiatives.

Magnet for Global Sustainability Events

Having established itself as a global leader in sustainability, Singapore has turned into a hub for important international events — such as the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week, Singapore International Energy Week and Green UrbanScape Asia — to bring together thought leaders to tackle critical urban environmental and water issues and to share best practices.

Sustainability guidelines have also been developed by the Singapore Tourism Board to help industry organizers reduce the carbon footprint of events. These include a broad range of options such as recyclable badges, lanyards made from sustainable materials, on-site recycling bins, and using mobile platforms instead of printed materials.

Meeting venues also are raising the bar on sustainability: In 2016, the expansive Singapore EXPO won the Best International Venue Award at the 10th Exhibition News (EN) awards and holds the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum Standard. The Sands Expo® and Convention Centre — one of the largest and most flexible locations in Asia — has pioneered environmentally friendly practices and is the first ISO 20121 certified property in Southeast Asia. It has dedicated staff to help clients create sustainable meetings, offering post-event reporting on energy and water consumption, providing sustainable food, and managing waste.

“Singapore is a center of aspiration for every country in the region,” Kanakasabapathy said. “Other countries look at Singapore and say, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’”

To learn more about Singapore’s sustainability efforts, visit the Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau’s website.

This article was developed for Singapore Tourism Board by Quartz Creative, the in-house branded content arm of Quartz.


Singapore’s NEWater process purifies used water with membrane technologies.

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