Case study: Singapore

by Patricia Mansfield-Devine

[Published in: Ethical Performance]

The Republic of Singapore is a highly urbanised state and much of its original vegetation has disappeared, though it still harbours a wide range of biodiversity. So, to preserve and improve its ecological heritage, over the past three years, the island has set out on a greening programme called Singapore City in a Garden. Close to 10 per cent of the nation’s land has now been set aside for parks and nature reserves.

An important part of the green initiative is the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1859. Covering 74 hectares, the gardens act as a key civic and community space in Singapore, attracting over 4.4 million visitors per year. The gardens also house a number of historic buildings such as Ridley Hall and is an important institution for tropical botanical and horticultural research, education and conservation.

In May 2013, the city undertook to build the Singapore Botanic Gardens Museum and CDL Green Gallery inside the gardens, with CDL (City Developments Ltd), an international property and hotel conglomerate based in Singapore, endowing and constructing the building. The firm has a long track record in ecological building projects and has been involved in green building innovations since the 1990s, creating Singapore’s first Eco-Condo, first Eco-Mall and also the first Carbon-Neutral development in the Asia Pacific region.

“In the 1990s, the building industry was considered to have caused a negative impact on the environment,” says Esther An, chief sustainability officer at CDL.

Besides being perceived as ‘destroying before constructing’, the building sector accounts for about 40 per cent of total energy use and 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. And in Singapore, the building sector is the third-largest contributor of carbon emissions.

“There is a real need for our industry to undertake greater environmental responsibility and mitigate the impact of our activities on the environment,” says An.

But building high-quality and sustainable developments requires more than having a few eco-friendly features within a property. As a major developer and landlord in Singapore, CDL saw the Green Gallery project as an opportunity to help shape the practices of the real estate industry and encourage greater environmental and social responsibility.

“‘Conserving as we construct,’ became our ethos,” says An.

The firm adopts a holistic approach towards sustainability in building – from design, construction and procurement practices to maintenance and user engagement.

“This approach forms an important part of our corporate DNA and provides the anchor in all aspects of our business,” says An.

CDL’s concept for the Green Gallery, which is an extension of the garden’s Heritage Museum, included making it Singapore’s first zero-energy gallery. To achieve this, the roof was clad in photovoltaic panels which harvest over 31,000 kWh of energy per year – more than the energy required for the whole of the building’s operations, while the design was also conceived to cause minimal disruption by introducing two new features to Singapore – the material known as Hempcrete and a prefabricated modular system.

Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp core (shiv), lime binders and water, and was used for the external wall cladding. This high thermal material is ideal for Singapore’s humid climate, says CDL, because it creates good indoor air quality, and it is also durable and naturally resistant to pests, mould, mildew and fire. In the Green Gallery, there was also an aesthetic consideration as each feature wall was mixed and layered in different proportions in order to achieve natural-looking variations, a technique that CDL hopes one day to implement in larger-scale developments.

The Hempcrete was also installed using an innovation that CDL introduced to the island – precasting it into sections at an external site using a prefabricated modular system and then bringing the completed panels to the construction area. This meant that installation took only 24 hours, eliminating the massive wet works usually required in building developments, and resulting in lower impact on the environment. Because the panels are modular they can also be broken down and re-used at a later date if required.

The East and West façades of the building also have an eco-feature in that they have been clad with green walls composed of butterfly-attracting plant species in order to encourage biodiversity, while a green roof composed of a selection of drought-resistant plant species was incorporated in order to lower the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect around the building, where a metropolitan area becomes significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.

To finish off, inside, the gallery was fitted with energy-efficient LED lights and air-conditioning systems.

The end result was that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore accorded the Gallery BCA Green Mark Platinum status – the highest tier applicable to green buildings in Singapore.

CDL celebrated 50 years in business in 2013 and the Green Gallery was one of its gifts to the nation as part of its jubilee celebrations. The Gallery will now feature botanical- or greening-related exhibits, which will be changed every six to nine months, and the first exhibition has showcased Singapore’s greening journey.

However, there is another part of the gift – My Tree House, jointly conceived by CDL and Singapore’s National Libraries Board (NLB). Billed as the world’s ‘first green library for kids’, this was opened in the summer of 2013 in the children’s section of Singapore’s Central Public Library in the city’s Civic District.

“The aim is to cultivate children’s interest in environmental conservation through reading, discovering, and engagement in green activities, and nurture them to be environmentally-conscious adults,” says An.

A tree house built from recyclable materials forms the centrepiece of the structure but the whole building was steered by green principles from start to finish. It includes energy-efficient LED lighting, refurbished bookshelves and carpets with green properties, while the canopy was created from over 3,000 recycled plastic bottles.

At My Tree House, children can interact with The Knowledge Tree, a shadow play wall, to learn about the environment and energy conservation, while the live Weather Stump tells them about the state’s temperature, rainfall and wind speed by charting real-time weather information provided by Singapore’s Meteorological Service.

Around 30 per cent of the library’s 45,000 books focus on green topics such as animals, plants, water and recycling, while fiction books, including fairytales related to the theme of the enchanted forest, will make up the other 70 per cent. Interactive eReading kiosks enable children to read green-themed eBooks and play educational games, and there are also green-themed activities such as storytelling sessions and workshops on creating games and craft-making. Singapore’s National Library Board will also be organising tailored library tours for schools for environmental education and outreach.

CDL, of course, does not work alone and it encourages every company in its supply chain to deploy sustainable practices. All of its contractors undergo quarterly Environment, Health and Safety inspections in areas such as energy, water, waste management, safety, noise and public health management, and many of the firm’s builders and consultants have begun to champion the green cause within their own organisations, helping to raise the bar for the entire industry.

Moving forward, in addition to new developments, CDL is now in the vanguard of ‘greening’ existing buildings and in fact out of the 11 Green Mark Platinum Awards it has received in 2014 [check with client – is it 2013?], seven are for existing buildings.

The firm sees ecology as both the future of building and a business benefit. “My Tree House and the Green Gallery both showcase our cutting-edge innovations in green development,” says An.

“This is good for our brand and our reputation as an industry leader in innovation and product quality, which may appeal to an increasingly large number of stakeholders, particularly those who are environmentally conscious and those who want to enjoy greater energy and water efficiencies in the future.”



City Developments Limited (CDL) has been a Singapore property pioneer since 1963. A listed international property and hotel conglomerate, the firm has been involved in real estate development and investment, hotel ownership and management, and facilities management, as well as the provision of hospitality solutions for the past five decades. In its 50-plus years of existence, it has built over 34,000 quality homes across diverse market segments

CDL has a long track record in ecological construction and is the first Singapore company to be listed on three of the world’s sustainability benchmarks: the FTSE4Good Index Series since 2002, Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World since 2010 and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices since 2011. It is also a founding member of Singapore Compact for CSR, and one of the pioneer Singapore signatories of the United Nations Global Compact to lend support to the advancement of responsible corporate citizenship in Singapore.