Reimagining the Future at International Built Environment Week 2021

4th Quarter 2021

Reimagining the Future at International Built Environment Week 2021

December 14, 2021

As we enter the final quarter of 2021, in the current process of overcoming health and other issues caused by the ongoing pandemic, global efforts that accelerate medical and information technology systems have been tremendous. Many industries, including the built environment sector, have now begun to cautiously look ahead to the future by examining best practices for resiliency—leaving behind what no longer serves the greater good, strengthening those that bring maximum impact and testing new innovations.

It is in this spirit that the International Built Environment Week (IBEW) 2021 asked us: How can we use imagination to achieve sustainability targets? And what do we need to challenge in our current situation in order to get there? The event that ran from 7–10 September 2021 saw a fully virtual audience from all over the world attend the seminars and trade show (held in partnership with Reed Exhibitions Singapore), which was supported by 12 trade associations and chambers. The speakers at the conference drew our attention to the climate impacts in their respective fields, outlined their sustainability strategies and posited their ideas for the way forward.

Singapore to raise the bar

As the host country, the event was opened by Desmond Lee, Singapore’s Minister for National Development, who announced a relaunched Green Mark standard that seeks to broaden the measurement of sustainability for Singapore’s buildings. This will further account for and reduce embodied carbon in a building’s whole life cycle; consider a building’s maintainability; use smart technologies; and aim for an outcome of climate resilience by encouraging strategies such as food waste processing to generate biofuel. He stated that 80 per cent of new developments in Singapore will aim to be Super Low Energy (SLE) buildings by 2030. In addition, the scheme will incorporate the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) principles of the Health and Wellbeing Framework that are aligned with United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The global acceleration

Placing these goals in a global context, Victoria Kate Burrows, Director of Advancing Net Zero, WorldGBC, summarised the whole carbon vision for the planet: a total decarbonisation of operational and embodied carbon. “Between now and 2060, the ‘building stock’ will grow in different rates throughout the world, especially in developing countries. So, we need to make sure that we build better.” She highlighted especially that in Asia Pacific, the challenges include the high upfront cost; achieving a mindset and behavioural change; a lack of appealing business models; as well as limited access to renewable energy and carbon offset technologies. As such, the top to-do list for the region is to clearly define net zero; benchmark and adopt target-setting tools; and set national carbon emission targets and roadmaps. These are part of WorldGBC’s Net Zero Readiness Framework.

Love as main driver

As we attempt to imagine a way forward that is better for our planet, we also need to be fully grounded in the day-to-day experiences and recognise its urgencies. “Welcome to the coldest summer of the rest of your life,” said Jason F. McLennan, founder of International Living Future Institute, highlighting how climate change already affects us. This moment is a point of urgent action to think—and feel—differently about our motivation for building.

We need to foster a sense of optimism and love, “to create a built environment that is truly good instead of merely ‘less bad’. We can turn everything around; we already have the know-how and the technology. Now building Green is much more affordable, and the economics are really strong.” McLennan shared pilot projects from around the world that have achieved this, such as the Bullitt Center, the Climate Pledge Arena Seattle and the Zero Energy Life Sciences Building.

‘Half Earth’

The cornerstone discussion on the theme of imagination was most thoroughly explored in a session titled Blue Sky ITM (Industry Transformation Map), where Wong Mun Summ, Co-founding Director of WOHA, began by presenting a vision for Singapore in the year 2200 titled 50/50 City. This is a concept that builds from Edward O. Wilson’s book Half Earth, where he proposes committing half of the planet’s surface to nature in order to save the immensity of life forms that composes it.

A framework to reach the dream

Wong and WOHA felt that to reach the ‘blue sky’ targets, it is necessary to create a positive vision that optimistically sees humans as part of nature. He also proposed to reframe the way we see value: our thinking is too related to finances, and we should move away from wealth creation towards having an outlook to achieve holistic wellness for all life forms.

Dr Nirmal Kishnani, Associate Professor at National University of Singapore, appreciated WOHA’s video for debunking the idea that we need to give up something in the name of sustainability, or that building Green is about sacrifice. Instead, sustainability gives us something better in exchange—a win-win future that is generous and compassionate, not just for humans but to all life forms.

Since the building sector still makes up 40 per cent of all emissions globally, there is much room to act, and urgently. In a closing plenary session, questions were asked of the speakers: What beliefs are they going to be challenging the audience today? And what is one thing we can do right now to make the imagined future come true?

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