Sustainability: The Next Big Shift

Scholarship Guide Sustainability Ice River

Considering that plate tectonic movements create major environmental changes and affect the course of evolution and extinction, the term “Big Shift” is well-suited for this topic.

For quite some time now, we have been learning through the media about inequality issues and the emerging ecological crisis as a result of globalisation, consumerism, industrialisation, and population growth. Studies have been put forward, and committees and special interest groups have been advocating for sustainability causes in every possible way.

Faced with rapidly depleting natural resources on this planet, we are now experiencing the limits and consequences of what we produce, consume, and waste, witnessing how this negatively impacts people and our immediate environment.

Reality hits closer and closer to home every day. How do we continue to pursue economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social development in harmony with the natural world? There have been ambitious answers to big questions; fortunately, innovation is an unlimited resource.

Scholarship Guide Sustainability Green Lake

A Green Global Stage

In 2015, the United Nations approved the 2030 Agenda that outlined 17 interrelated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) committed to ending poverty, fighting inequality, and tackling climate change, requiring the active involvement of individuals, businesses, administrations, and countries around the world.

The 17 SDGs are (1) No Poverty, (2) Zero Hunger, (3) Good Health and Well-being, (4) Quality Education, (5) Gender Equality, (6) Clean Water and Sanitation, (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (9) Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, (10) Reducing Inequality, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, (15) Life On Land, (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (17) Partnerships for the Goals.

Since the agenda’s inception, the sustainable development concept has received thoughtful considerations globally. World leaders are pledging common action. Environmental-sound projects and commerce are rapidly taking shape. Leading companies are setting targets to become carbon neutral or even carbon negative. Businesses and start-ups are leading the way to a circular economy, innovating and upcycling, turning trash into treasure. Sustainable fashion sees growing demand; Artificial Intelligence (AI) regulations and digital human rights are in heated discussions right now; and more countries are mandating gender diversity on corporate boards.

As sustainability takes the global stage, these trends are believed to endure or otherwise become more popular in the next decade.

Scholarship Guide Sustainability Electric Green Car

Following the Digital Predecessor’s Footsteps

The last time we saw such a radical movement was with the digital age. Yet until this day, there are digital laggards who still need to make up significant ground. The common reasons (or excuses) for being slow to react to digital transformation are regulatory complexities, paper-based manual processes, the focus on cutting costs to increase profits instead of winning new customers, and the wait-and-see mindset.

In an article that originally appeared in the World Economic Forum, Bain & Company Chairman Orit Gadiesh warns that no industry is immune to the sustainability revolution. Businesses once built off a 20th-century mass consumption and capital-intensive business models are beginning to struggle and underperform.

Meanwhile, multi-billion-dollar gains are showing up in green commerce across industries. According to Bain analysis, renewable energy capacity, electric car stock, and sustainable debt issuance have grown phenomenally across the globe between 2014 to 2019. Sustainability-linked consumer products now grow nearly six times faster than other brands, and 73% of global consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, according to a 2018 Nielsen study. Even investors are thinking green, with a growing interest in stocks of companies with a sustainability agenda, and banks are being pressured to phase out financing for fossil fuels.

Yet, just as with digital, many companies are moving too slowly.

Gadiesh urges leaders to take heed of the lessons learnt in digital transformation to approach the forthcoming sustainability revolution quickly, boldly, and strategically – reinventing products, rethinking operations, and acknowledging the need to collaborate to achieve speed and scale. Most of all, businesses need to be intrinsically motivated to embrace sustainability at the core of one’s organisational DNA, doing so with consistency and steadfast honesty.

Scholarship Guide Sustainability Singapore Gardens By The Bay

A Green Spark Right at the Heart of Home

Bringing the sustainability focus back home, Singapore’s future already looks greener. The recent 2021 Budget outlined a national movement of green initiatives, which includes:

  • Developing over 130ha of new parks and adding 1000ha of green spaces
  • Ramping up R&D efforts in renewable energy and emerging low-carbon technologies
  • Creating best-in-class energy-efficient green buildings
  • Reducing carbon emissions by going car-lite, encouraging electric vehicle (EV) adoption, and deploying EV-related infrastructures island-wide
  • Expanding rail network and tripling cycling path network
  • Reducing waste volume sent to landfills and bringing down household water consumption
  • Introducing Eco Stewardship Programme to enhance environmental education in schools
  • Funding tech adoption in the agri-food sector
  • Formulating coastal protection plans
  • Launching Enterprise Sustainability Programme to help local enterprises adopt sustainability practices
  • Developing Singapore as a carbon services hub and a leading centre for green finance in Asia and globally

With the Singapore Green Plan 2030 cutting across all sectors of society, we can look forward to having meaningful jobs created across industries. Speaking at a virtual dialogue session in August 2020, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu indicated that climate scientists, engineers, technicians, and food scientists will be in demand as the city-state increases its capabilities in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Today’s global sustainability challenges have brought about opportunities and development. It is possible to achieve personal and professional fulfilment as we work towards creating a better world for us and our future generations. What role will you play in this impending “Big Shift”?

Works Cited
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Accessed Mar 10. 2021.

Gadiesh, Orit, and Jenny Davis-Peccoud. Why sustainability is the new digital. World Economic Forum. Accessed Mar 10. 2021.

Gadiesh, Orit, and Jenny Davis-Peccoud. Why sustainability is the new digital. Bain & Company. Accessed Mar 10. 2021.

Reuters. Shareholders pile pressure on Barclays to cut fossil fuel financing. The Business Times. Jan 8. 2020. Accessed Mar 10.2021.

SG Green Plan. A Singapore Government Agency Website. Accessed Mar 10. 2021.

Mohan, Matthew. Expect more growth, job opportunities in the sustainability sector: Grace Fu. Channel News Asia [Singapore], Aug 18. 2020. Accessed Mar 10. 2021.