Moving from decarbonisation pledges to pathways

There is a consistent gap between intent and action when it comes to decarbonisation, which behoves organisations to think deeply about the challenges and opportunities in the area of net zero transformation.

As part of Ecosperity Week 2022, a panel came together to address the issues faced by sustainability leaders who aspire to move from planning to execution in their decarbonisation journey. Themed “From intent to action: Understanding the decarbonisation levers for your net zero transformation”, the discussion was part of a deep dive session organised by sustainability consultancy ENGIE Impact.

Speaking at the panel, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, who also chairs the University Sustainability and Climate Action Council, reflected that “sustainability has to be at the core of our decision-making”. He shared how the University has been working on organisational sustainability issues on campus for many years now, with its latest plan for 2030 comprising three main components – to be carbon neutral, to cool NUS, and to achieve a zero-waste campus.

At NUS, interventions for carbon neutrality include changing the mindset of individuals to achieve an overall reduction in carbon footprint, which is the most challenging. Equally important are maximising the photovoltaic coverage on campus, consolidating district cooling plants to improve energy efficiency for air-conditioning, and raising the thermostat temperature for air conditioning.

Opportunities over compliance

Providing her observations at the recent World Economic Forum Meeting held in Davos, fellow panellist Ms Jessica Cheam, Managing Director of media and business intelligence company Eco-Business, shared that it is encouraging that we are transitioning from roadmaps to an era of overdue, actual action. Companies are forming coalitions to decarbonise industries, and governments are forming partnerships to create the market signal and market demand to transition to green technologies.

Scaling it down to the company level, Ms Cheam highlighted the Science Based Target initiative as one of several mechanisms that companies can use to set net zero targets. “And rather than view Environmental, Social and Governance and sustainability from a compliance and disclosure lens, we need to think about this more from the opportunity lens, because it creates resilience and generates new business lines,” Ms Cheam underscored.

Role of the ecosystem

Ultimately, a strong ecosystem is critical to support the adoption of innovative solutions for the decarbonisation journey. Concerted effort has to be put in to incubate or originate ideas, and this requires the participation of stakeholders such as the National Research Foundation, research universities such as NUS, laboratories, and corporate venture teams.

Prof Tan shared that NUS has seen strong efforts by its professors and researchers in their research on sustainability. NUS Enterprise forms part of the ecosystem to push ideas in the early stages of innovation as close to the market as possible, by facilitating collaborations with companies and Small and Medium Enterprises.

As a microcosm of society, NUS uses its campus, with its more than 250 buildings, as a living lab. One outstanding innovation example is SDE4, a zero-energy building which has been recently named one of the six most beautiful and sustainable buildings in the world. The building incorporates deep engineering inspired by many tropical elements, including a larger roof to lower temperatures and shade the building from direct sunlight, and the use of large ceiling fans to cool the building for its occupants’ comfort.

“These are some examples of using ‘traditional wisdoms’, and they are low-hanging fruit, especially for retrofitting existing buildings to minimise their carbon footprint,” Prof Tan elaborated.

The NUS Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, which looks at optimising photovoltaics, is also studying the possibility of incorporating solar cells on building facades in addition to roofs.

“We welcome collaborations. Whatever the innovation, we will put it in one of our buildings, test it, pilot it, and if it works, we will scale it to more buildings,” explained Prof Tan.

By University Sustainability and Climate Action Council Secretariat