Green Talks #10 – Singapore – sustainable urban destination – “a City in the Nature”

Over the decades Singapore has earned a global reputation for delivering high quality events. With its strategic location, innovative business environment and vibrant multinational culture Singapore stands out as a leading Asia destination for MICE and business events.

Strategically positioned in a rapidly growing region, this modern metropolis has excellent infrastructure and known as a “City in Nature”.

Grażyna Grot-Duziak  talks to Cedric Zhou,  Area Director, Central, Southern & Eastern Europe, Singapore Tourism Board.

GGD:  When did you realise that sustainability is necessary in order to achieve success in MICE events in this urban and unique location?

Cedric Zhou: The Singapore Green Plan 2030 (SGP30), announced in 2021, is a whole-of-nation movement to advance Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development. The plan has charted Singapore’s ambitions and targets over the next 10 years, strengthening Singapore’s commitments under the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Paris Agreement, including the goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is aligned with this vision and under the MICE Sustainability Roadmap launched in December last year, we aim to promote green practices and raise sustainability standards across tourism industries including the MICE industry.

The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of sustainability to meeting organisers. An increasing number of business travellers are now more aware of their carbon footprint and consumption impact when they travel. Singapore must therefore ensure that it is well-positioned to cater to the growing demand for sustainable events, and we need to constantly incorporate our sustainability vision into our tourism offerings.

Businesses also need to think about how sustainability makes business sense for them, and how it fits into their own business processes and models. For example, investments in sustainability solutions, such as food waste management or sustainable building management systems, will also benefit their bottom line in the longer run through better resource management.

There is a strong business case for the MICE industry to tap on sustainability as an engine of growth.

GGD: Who actually decided that initiatives are needed for success?  What were the initiatives?

Recognised worldwide as the “City in a Garden”, Singapore has sustainability as a central priority in its development journey. In 2009, the first Sustainable Singapore Plan was launched preparing ground for the green footprint strategy to be achieved by 2030.

Green measures are now embedded in the infrastructure of the economy, with an emphasis on reducing waste and increasing the use of renewable energy sources. Companies are also rewarded for sustainable business practices as a whole new green economy with green jobs created. Singapore is also committed to sustainably produce 30% of the nation’s nutritional needs locally by 2030.  Lush urban green spaces are the result of sustained efforts in Singapore, and the business events industry is no exception to the rule.

In October 2021, STB joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) as a member. Over the next few years, STB aims to develop Singapore into a sustainable urban destination. To achieve this, STB will ensure that development efforts in the tourism and travel-related sectors contribute to national-level sustainability goals.

To drive long-term growth and foster a more environmentally sustainable MICE industry, STB is putting in place targets and standards, alongside green initiatives, incentives, and certification programmes.

In October 2022, STB signed a global MICE sustainability alliance with six MICE stakeholders to explore new solutions for green events. In December 2022, STB and Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) launched the MICE Sustainability Roadmap to raise sustainability standards across Singapore’s MICE industry over the next few years.

We have also encouraged tourism stakeholders to incorporate elements of sustainability into their experiences, so MICE planners can integrate eco-friendly experiences into the MICE delegate journey.

To support our tourism businesses in their sustainability efforts, STB launched the Tourism Sustainability Programme (TSP) to provide tourism businesses with resources at all stages of their sustainability journey. We also refreshed our Singapore MICE Advantage Programme (SMAP) which will be given in more details later to enable delegates and event organisers to meet sustainably through green transport options, environmentally conscious tours, and discounted public transportation.

GGD: I understand that this required, and still requires, close cooperation not only from the government, but also from private entrepreneurs?

The sustainability journey will be a two-way conversation between Government and industry, to understand challenges, align on key focus areas etc. More businesses are incorporating sustainability in product development to make it meaningful for their bottom lines in the long run. These efforts add to our attractiveness and reputation globally as a sustainable, responsible travel destination. Some examples include:

  • Sentosa launched the Sustainable Sentosa strategic roadmap outlining their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, and become a globally recognised, certified sustainable tourism destination.
  • Last year, Resorts World Sentosa’s sustainable management practices were recognised and certified according to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council – for Destinations (GSTC-D) criteria. Their Eco-MICE packages includes a complimentary EZ-Link card with stored value, to encourage the use of public transport and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has imbued sustainability into the heart of its experiences and recognises that it contributes to their top line. Since 2012, MBS has reduced its carbon footprint by over 30% through investments in an Intelligent Building Management System, Building AI data analytics, and other carbon tech efficiency measures. MBS is also home to the first MICE facility in Southeast Asia to obtain the ISO 20121 Sustainable Events Management System certification and one of the single largest buildings in Singapore to be conferred the Green Mark Platinum Award by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
  • Gardens by the Bay Opened in 2012, Gardens by the Bay (GBTB) is the living embodiment of the “City in a Garden” by providing visitors a unique MICE experience with an urban oasis in the heart of the city as it houses over 1.5 million plants in the Gardens (which helps to offset CO2 in the city). GBTB is also an advocate of sustainability principles, as horticultural waste from the Gardens and around Singapore is turned into energy to power the chillers of Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. The Super Trees function as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories, absorbing and dispersing heat while eleven are fitted with solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into energy. Education programs for local schools on sustainability and nature are also frequently held. GBTB has renewed its commitment to being part of Singapore’s sustainability story and achieving best practices in sustainable tourism, by benchmarking against GSTC-recognised international standards as they marked their 10th anniversary in 2022. This also demonstrates their support for the Singapore Green Plan 2030, as they deepen efforts to embed sustainability in their DNA.
  • Singapore EXPO, managed by Constellar, was the first MICE facility in Singapore to receive the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Platinum Standard certification for its meeting rooms wing. The certification, obtained in 2011, recognised Singapore EXPO for its eco-friendly design and abundant use of natural light and greenery. The venue is also certified with SACEOS’ MICE Sustainability Certification. Sustainability is at the core of its processes and practices, such as the implementation of a systematic energy efficiency plan, and water consumption management initiatives including the use of NEWater in place of fresh water to dispel heat from the air conditioning cooling towers. As part of its elevated event experiences, Singapore EXPO advocates waste management initiatives such as reducing single-use plastics, sourcing from local partners and deploying sustainable and environmentally friendly meal packaging and water bottles at function areas.

GGD: Do you clearly feel that the introduction of sustainability has helped the development of tourism? Is this being measured in any way?

Reducing the environmental impact of tourism is a continuous process.  Our tourism industry comprising local tourism businesses and partners from various industries including hotels, cruise, attractions and MICE, have already begun incorporating sustainable practices into their products and experiences, and we must forge ahead with supporting them in becoming more environmentally sustainable.

To ensure that each industry successfully contributes to national-level sustainability goals, STB will work closely with industry associations and stakeholders on creating attainable and relevant KPIs. For example, together with the Singapore Hotel Association and SACEOS, we launched the Hotel Sustainability Roadmap in March and the MICE Sustainability Roadmap in December last year.

The sustainability journey will continue to be a two-way conversation between government and industry, to understand challenges and align on key focus areas. We also need to take into account the distinct characteristics of the various tourism industries, which may be at different stages in their sustainability journeys. This will ensure that KPIs are tailored to specific industries and tracked at appropriate milestones aligned to national efforts, such as the Singapore Green Plan 2030.

GGD: In 2021 Singapore has launched Singapore Green Plan 2030, what are the key pillars of this plan?

Does this plan have a significant impact on MICE events? Do you think this plan can give Singapore an edge over other cities and win events? Are planners, agencies and corporations asking for solutions, or certifications, in terms of sustainability?

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 was announced in 2021. The five key pillars of the Plan are: City in Nature; Energy Reset; Green Economy; Resilient Future; and Sustainable Living. New initiatives include targets to double electric vehicle charging points, reduce carbon waste by 30% by 2026, and review the carbon tax to facilitate best-in-class carbon-intensive investments in the country. There are also plans to transform Jurong Island into a sustainable energy hub, as well as to place greater emphasis on sustainable tourism, packaging, decarbonisation, waste up-cycling, urban agriculture and water treatment.

In particular, the MICE Sustainability Roadmap, launched last year by STB together with SACEOS, charts clear ambitions and concrete targets for Singapore’s MICE industry. One of the targets in the roadmap includes the MICE industry achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is a feasible target as many MICE venues and event organisers have already begun incorporating sustainability in their product development.

We recognise that there is a large spectrum of waste that the MICE industry needs to tackle, including booth stands, food waste to general waste. The MICE industry will concurrently work towards minimising single-use materials, improve processes and pilot new initiatives in line with National Environment Agency’s 3R guidelines. Additionally, through the formation of the global MICE sustainability alliance, we will be able to tap on the industry’s expertise to implement our waste reduction plans and reduce waste in an impactful manner.

To help address challenges around food waste, Singapore is updating its legislation to require large commercial and industrial food waste generators to segregate their food waste and allocate space for on-site waste treatment from 2024 onwards. This means diverting food waste out of waste streams and converting it into valuable resources such as animal feed, compost, non-potable water, and biogas for energy production. The National Environment Agency (NEA) also launched the Food Resource Valorisation Awards (FVA) in January 2021, which aims to recognise the efforts of companies that align with this collective effort and contribute to a sustainable economy.

MICE events play an integral role in raising awareness and uncovering solutions to the world’s collective climate challenges, hence Singapore’s travel stakeholders have rolled out sustainable initiatives, enabling MICE planners and businesses to incorporate more eco-friendly experiences when planning the MICE delegate journey. For instance, national airline Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its low-cost subsidiary Scoot are doing their part to go green. The first batch of blended sustainable aviation fuel to be used on all Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Scoot flights departing from Changi Airport was loaded into the airport’s fuel system on 7 July 2022. This is part of a one-year pilot announced by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), SIA and GenZero, a Temasek-owned investment platform, last year.

Singapore’s growing array of green venues enables events to be held with minimal environmental impact, reducing their carbon footprint and waste. Sands Expo and Convention Centre at MBS is supporting the country’s green energy goals through investments in Renewable Energy Certificates. Resorts World Sentosa is home to one of the country’s largest solar panel installations, and became the first destination in the world to meet both the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criteria and the Industry Criteria for Hotels.

GGD: Please give some examples that can inspire other cities and encourage Agencies to choose Singapore as a good meeting place or incentive programme.

Our vision is for Singapore to become a sustainable urban destination – a City in Nature where large experiences come with small footprints. Some examples of tourism experiences which epitomize this vision include but are not limited to:

  • MICE organizers and participants alike can be assured of our industry’s commitment to sustainable business events, with various venues introducing sustainability-related meeting packages. For instance:

Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s “Meets Lite, Feels Right” package – Pan Pacific Hotels Group has rolled out its “Meet Lite, Feels Right” eco-centric meeting package. The green meeting package includes sustainable refreshments, a farm-to-table working lunch, and the implementation of eco-friendly practices such as elimination of single use plastics, dedicated stationery “stations” and eco-friendly writing materials.

Hilton Orchard Singapore – Since 2009, Hilton has used LightStay, a corporate responsibility management platform, to measure and manage their environmental and social impact across the hotel and was accredited Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Recognized Standard status in 2019. The hotel features a rooftop herb garden where used coffee grounds within the property is repurposed as fertilizer and is working on urban farming initiatives with local farming organizations.

  • Sustainable Experiences & Incentives – MICE delegates in Singapore can look forward to a wide range of new and exciting experiences with a sustainability focus, when planning their stay in Singapore and businesses can select these experiences for their employees. For instance:

The Singapore MICE Advantage Programme – To encourage sustainable MICE travel, the Singapore MICE Advantage Programme (SMAP) 3.0 has anew sustainability focus. In partnership with key tourism partners including Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport Group, JetQuay, Sentosa Development Corporation, StarHub, Grab and NETS, the refreshed scheme allows delegates and event organizers to travel sustainably through initiatives such as green transport options, environmentally-conscious tours, and discounted public transportation.

In Singapore Incentives & Rewards (INSPIRE) Global 2.0 – The refreshed INSPIRE Global 2.0 program showcases new and exciting experiences that enhance business meetings in Singapore. Under the program, qualified MICE groups can choose from a selection of close to 80 complimentary experiences – an increase from 54 experiences that were introduced under INSPIRE Global 1.0. Experiences under INSPIRE Global 2.0 that have a sustainable element include dining at 1-Arden (Kaarla & Oumi) which incorporates farm-to-table fresh produce from the world’s highest food forest on level 51 in Capita Spring (CapitaLand’s latest property and fully integrated green building) and sources wild-caught sustainably and ethically-raised produce in a menu that optimizes ingredients to minimize food waste, as well as a  tour by Woopa Travels around our Southern Islands to educate participants about Singapore’s marine conservation efforts.

Last but not least, we would like to further share some leisure experiences to give you more angles of Singapore’s sustainability offerings:

  • Mandai Rejuvenation Project – Mandai Wildlife Reserve is home to Singapore’s wildlife parks that are well known around the world for connecting people from all walks of life to the fascinating world of wildlife. A rejuvenation plan currently underway at the Mandai Wildlife Reserve will integrate five wildlife parks with distinctive nature-based experiences, green public spaces, and an eco-friendly resort to provide visitors with access to a wide range of sustainable and ethical wildlife experiences. This unique and purposeful destination is stewarded by the Mandai Wildlife Group whose mission is to provide meaningful and memorable encounters with animals and nature. The Group champions sustainable living and commits to protecting biodiversity in Singapore and the region by actively contributing to conservation efforts that safeguard wildlife and their habitats.

With a comprehensive Mandai Environmental Sustainability Strategy, the Group is also committed to become a carbon neutral precinct by 2024. For instance, the eco-friendly resort has been accredited with BCA’s Green Mark Platinum award as the first Super Low Energy Resort in Singapore. It will offer guest rooms in treehouses shaped like seedpods and have elevated walkways to allow native flora and fauna to thrive and wildlife to move across the site. The resort’s energy efficiency initiatives will also help it achieve energy savings of more than 40 per cent annually.

  • SailGP–The world’s most cutting-edge sail racing league – SailGP– will be making its Asian debut in Singapore. Kickstarting the three-year partnership at Parkland Green in East Coast Park from 14 – 15 January 2023, the Singapore Sail Grand Prix is set to be part of SailGP’s largest season to date. As the first climate positive sports and entertainment property, SailGP is committed to a future powered by nature by reducing overall carbon footprint and moving towards cleaner, more sustainable practices in each race city.
  • Sentosa Naturalist Night Adventure by The Untamed Paths – a walking tour within Sentosa that brings participants to experience the rich biodiversity within our tropical rainforest system under the cover of darkness. Participants can expect to be immersed in the forest symphony and spot nocturnal invertebrates and amphibians that live in the forest.

Thank you very much for this comprehensive information,

I wish the arrivals in Singapore will quickly reach pre-pandemic numbers.

Grażyna Grot-Duziak , MICE Expert, Site Poland


Cedric Zhou

Cedric joined the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) October in 2015. Since October 2020, he has been heading STB’s Frankfurt-based team as the Area Director Central, Southern & Eastern Europe. He has a degree in business administration from the University of Mannheim and speaks English, Mandarin and German fluently.