With customary well-scripted attention to detail, Singapore has unveiled the latest version of the island nation-state's blueprint for sustainable development, the so-called Green Building Masterplan. The document is a major upgrade since, in 2005, the Singapore Building and Construction Authority (BCA) launched its first master plan, based on a measurement scheme called Green Mark. The second plan followed in 2009.
The announcement, at the opening session of the 2013 International Green Building Conference, underscores the larger role the tiny country is expected to play in sustainable development as climate change emerges as a dominant global issue.
Tan Tian Chong, group director of BCA's technology development group, says the new master plan will expand data collection and focus more on developers. As new buildings start to show advances in sustainability, retrofits will be next, he adds. Next year, building owners will voluntarily report energy-consumption data to help establish benchmarks over a wide range of categories.
By 2016, reporting will be mandatory. With the second-largest port by tonnage in the world, a business-friendly, free-market economy and single-party rule, Singapore has prospered in the half-century since it gained independence from the United Kingdom. Five million inhabitants enjoy the third-highest per capita GDP in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund's 2012 ranking of the country.
The achievements are all the more impressive because Singapore has no natural-resource base and must import natural gas and oil for power generation. Singaporeans pay about 20¢ per kilowatt-hour for electricity, roughly twice the American rate. "Energy security and improved energy efficiency have always been paramount for us as a country," says John Keung, BCA chief executive officer.
Following the "if you can't measure it, you can't change it" dictum, BCA's Green Mark—the master-plan yardstick that is comparable to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating protocol—measures buildings' energy and water efficiency, green features such as environmental protection and environmental quality, and design innovation.
BCA has made significant progress under the first two master plans. From only 17 green-building projects in 2005, the authority reports there are now 1,650, covering nearly 50 million sq meters of gross floor area, or 21% of the country's total.
Mandatory reporting already is required in Australia, including for residential properties, says Jane Henley, CEO of the World Green Building Council. "We have to make the case that building green is not just the right thing to do—it makes good business sense," she says.
Prashant Kapoor, an analyst with the International Finance Corp., says lenders are slowly starting to realize there is intrinsic value to sustainable design and construction. However, given the population forecasts for 2050, there is no time to waste. India—projected to increase by 25%, to 1.5 billion—"is a time bomb," he says.
Many at the Sept. 11-13 conference feel that Singapore's green model has value for larger countries. Its market-driven aspects would play well in the U.S. but only if Congress accepts scientific consensus on climate change. Top-down mandates also would make sense in one-party China, one official says privately, "but only if they can change the culture of corruption."