What to do with Singapore's throw away cultureBY LARISSA MURPHY
The disposable age, as we know it, gathered momentum in the 1950’s and 1960’s along with the rise of convenience as a lifestyle benefit, with TV dinners, disposable diapers, disposable cutlery, plates, and just about anything that could be used once and thrown away rather than reused became desirable for the sake of convenience.
We are reaping the errors of our ways, with even kids’ movies such as ‘Wall-E’ showing our potential destiny if our love of disposability continues.
We now appear to have entered the age of reuse, re-adaptation and recycling with buzz words such as Green and Sustainable carrying so much kudos that even the manufacturers of disposable products want to sign up for green accreditation schemes.
In Singapore the BCA have brought in GreenMark an accreditation scheme for the construction industry, but how much impact is that really having? Up to 50% of all landfill comes from the construction and demolition of buildings and our view towards commercial office space is still clearly that it is disposable, use once and then throw away to move somewhere new. Is this sustainable and does GreenMark go anywhere near far enough in addressing this?
The main problem in Singapore is that when it comes to commercial office space we are still living in the disposable age. Most leases in Singapore are for three years some are for up to five and very few are for ten or more. That means that almost every office space in the ‘Singapore cycle’ gets entirely ripped out and replaced every three years consuming endless raw materials and generating tonnes of landfill waste.
To compound matters the standard office space in Singapore comes speculatively fitted out with raised floor, ceiling, lighting and AC to a generic layout. When a tenant takes on the space they need to reconfigure it to suit their needs which can mean ceilings, lighting and AC equipment all gets stripped out and replaced generating landfill waste.
When the three year lease is up the landlord insists on reinstatement which means that the tenant has to strip out all their ceilings, lighting and AC equipment with this again going to landfill while they purchase yet more new materials to reinstate the landlord’s original generic layout which in turn will be ripped out and sent to landfill by the next tenant a perpetual cycle of waste creation in comparatively short time frames.
Property is the second highest cost after staff salaries for most organisations, yet most companies do not take their property strategy nearly seriously enough.
After all when a lease is only for three years does it matter if they get it wrong? If landlords increased the length of leases maybe more companies would think longer and harder about their decisions in relation to property? Tenants could then see the value of investing more time and money up front working on the strategy and a suitable design that would enable them to confidently make long term commitments that not only save money but also the planet?
It would also make more sense for the landlord to offer the space as a shell so the tenant can fit it out to their requirements, generating virtually no waste and returning it to a shell at the end of a lease or leaving the fit out for the use of the next tenant to modify as required.
This could reduce the amount of landfill from office fit out by in excess of 50%. It would also make the provision of office space cheaper for landlords and as such they could offer improved incentives to tenants so everyone wins. Has the BCA considered incentivising this?
Cigarettes come with health warnings, Singapore was one of the first to introduce this with other countries following their lead, maybe the BCA should introduce sustainability warnings for leases, with short term leases for speculatively fitted out space coming with the most serious warning.
Coming from an Architect and Designer this may all seem like madness, a desire to do our profession out of business but from a personal viewpoint and that of a sustainable design house I would far rather be paid by our clients to assist them to formulate long term strategies and designs that stand the test of time.
As designers we should face the challenge of producing designs that offer enough flexibility to accommodate a clients unforseen changing needs and embrace assisting clients to accommodate these changes as they happen rather than looking forward to redesigning new space for them every three years with the associated tonnes of landfill created in the process.
Larissa Murphy, Director, HBO+EMTB