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Building a sustainable future in Singapore starts with the circular economy 

By Fiona Lee

The last few years have witnessed a sea of change across the environmental landscape. Challenges such as the global pandemic, inflationary pressures and inefficient resource allocation have impacted the environmental landscape. Earth’s natural resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, 1.8 times faster than the planet can replenish them. By 2050, this is expected to reach 2.3 times what is sustainable.

For Singapore, a nation scarce in natural resources, the adoption of a circular economy approach has naturally taken centre stage on the national agenda with the Zero Waste Masterplan and Resource Sustainability Act. From multinational corporations to start-ups, companies in Singapore have a vital role to play in driving the adoption of circularity and paving the way for a sustainable future. 

Opportunities abound in a circular economy 

The truth is that as a highly developed and trade-dependent economy, Singapore is vulnerable to global economic fluctuations and disruptions in supply chains. The circular economy offers opportunities for diversification, innovation, and the development of new industries. By adopting circular business models, Singapore can enhance its economic resilience, create new jobs, and foster sustainable economic growth. 

In an increasingly digitalised world, embracing the circular economy can drive innovation in product design, manufacturing processes, and business models. Singapore, equipped with robust research and development capabilities, technological infrastructure, and a skilled workforce, has the potential to become a hub for circular economy solutions. By nurturing innovation and advocating for circular practices, the country can enhance its global competitiveness and attract investments in sustainable industries.

That being said, the adoption of a circular business model in companies cannot happen overnight and requires a gradual approach with strategies. 

Begin (and end) with the environment in mind

Businesses seeking to embrace circularity can consider several strategies and implement them across different areas such as product circularity, improvements in energy efficiency, and utilising more sustainable materials to help minimise environmental impacts. Circular products are designed with the environment in mind, with their lifecycle considered from cradle to cradle. Sustainable sourcing should be among the earliest priorities, with a focus on ethical practices and ambitious but achievable targets. 

Building on Singapore’s commitment to address climate change and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the country must continue to utilise the circular economy to examine new possibilities to reduce waste generation, promote energy efficiency and transition to renewable resources. 

One key area for businesses in Singapore to prioritise is responsible wastewater management. According to PUB, the country consumes enough water per day to fill up 782 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and this number is expected to nearly double by 2065. With industries such as wafer fabrication, electronics, and biomedical sectors accounting for 17% of current non-domestic water demand in Singapore, they represent huge opportunities for water recycling. 

In addition, wastewater streams from electronics and biomedical plants are relatively clean and require minimal treatment for recycling. By embracing water conservation practices, companies operating in these industries can enjoy cost savings through reduced water bills while simultaneously enhancing resource resilience.

Leveraging innovation to enable circularity 

Businesses can also explore innovative service-based business models that provide ongoing value to customers beyond the initial purchase. This can involve offering subscription-based services, leasing arrangements, or product-as-a-service models, which encourage longer product lifecycles and foster customer loyalty. 

Beyond that, innovation in packaging can also make a difference. 100% compostable chitin-based materials are a recent development, while 3D-printed moulded fibre tooling can drive eco-packaging at scale. Companies at the forefront of redesigning products are transforming their business models to move from single-use plastics to reusable plastic products. 

For products near the end of their service life, businesses can consider reusing or recovering materials through recycling programs or repurposing initiatives. Adopting circularity principles can contribute to a more sustainable economy while potentially creating new revenue streams through recycling or refurbishment activities.

Win over the conscientious consumer

Today’s customers are more environmentally conscious than ever before. As a result, businesses that prioritise circularity can meet these expectations while achieving long-term environmental and commercial benefits. 

According to a 2022 Bain Study, nine in 10 Singaporean shoppers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Although typically requiring initial investment, circularity programs can help reduce overheads, increase efficiency, and find new revenue streams. Providing measurement tools that forecast waste prevention and cost savings can help demonstrate the advantages, further building customer trust and loyalty. 

Working towards a better tomorrow 

There is immense potential to achieve a more regenerative and sustainable future through the circular economy. However, it requires a collective effort across governments, businesses, and other stakeholders. By broadening networks with NGOs, research institutes, and think tanks, businesses that lead the way can reap the greatest rewards. 

Implemented correctly, with responsible sourcing, packaging, materials and products that remain in use longer, it could boost the global economy by $4.5 trillion by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum.

The future is circular, and the responsibility to shape it lies with businesses worldwide. Whether you are just beginning or already on the journey, now is the time to take the next step.
 

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