Sustainable future through the lens of the Green rating system

Updated: Apr 18

Sustainability Outlook, IPCC 6th Assessment Report and Green Mark 2021

Major changes are coming to Singapore #GreenMark (GM). It takes the form of the new and improved Green Mark 2021 framework which demonstrated the government and private sectors' foresight and timely release of the pilot version just a few months before #IPCC's sixth assessment report despite an ongoing government-wide effort tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Green Mark is Singapore's sustainable building certification scheme which has been widely adopted in Singapore and abroad. Though a voluntary scheme for promoting excellence in building sustainability, the requirements typically transit into regulatory requirements as industry adoption increases, also newer, better technology solutions become available.

This article will examine some of the recent developments in the global sustainability scene to provide the context for GM: 2021. We appreciate the alignment between the new Green Mark and the global agendas. We also analyse the difference between previous GM versions and GM: 2021 to support the industry transition towards a more holistic rating system.

It is necessary to know the facts we are dealing with and understand why we are doing it. Almost nobody argues about the effects of climate change (especially in Singapore which is surrounded by the sea and have 25% of her landmass reclaimed from it), but it is different from just knowing climate change is there, to appreciating how bad things could potentially be.

The Background

This global movement starts from the observation and awareness of global warming as shown in the diagram below. Currently, We are about 1-degree celsius from the 1961-1990 average.

Diagram 1: Average Temperature anomaly, Global (interactive chart)

The "zero-line" is the average temperature from 1961 to 1990 (not that there is no global warming during this period but the scientific community has chosen this period as a baseline case). Humanity's industrialization process has been credited as one of the causes of global warming and the industrial revolution began in England in the late 1750s. Hence, by comparing our present-day performance to 1961-1990 averaged levels, we are giving ourselves some leeway and discounted the human-caused temperature increases from before the 1960s.

"So what is so serious about just 1 degree? Our air-conditioning can easily overcome that."

As it turns out, we can't. Because one degree is a global average, the temperature increase is not constant throughout the globe.

temperature anomaly
Diagram 2: Local temperatures in 2019 relative to the average temperature in 1951-1980

As seen above, it is obvious that larger temperature anomalies are concentrated in the polar regions where the ice caps are. Polar ice caps melting is one of the causes of global sea-level rise. But wait, there is more. Comparing sea temperatures and land temperatures, most of the land areas see more significant temperature increases compared to ocean areas. Again, this is not uniform throughout the globe. It is not surprising for North American residents to claim they hardly feel temperature increases because indeed they haven't, in fact, it has cooled a few degrees.

"And so we have established that global warming is indeed happening, some places have it worse than others and the sea levels are rising, but can we be sure that humanity's actions are the cause of this?"

We can! The IPCC report has modelled the temperature scenario due to natural causes only and compared it to observed temperature patterns (with human influence) and it has sharply deviated upwards. It is all too probable that our activities are the cause of it.

Source: IPCC AR6 Working Group 1: Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policy Makers
Diagram 3: Changes in global surface temperature relative to 1850-1900. Source: IPCC AR6 Working Group 1: Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policy Makers

Scientists have identified that Greenhouse Gases, the chief of which carbon dioxide (CO2), is responsible for trapping heat within our atmosphere and is one of the causes of global warming.

Diagram 4: Annual total CO2 emissions by world region

Comparing diagrams 3 and 4, the correlation between CO2 emissions and global temperature increase is obvious.

"So the world is warming up due to human activities, but so what? How is it going to affect me?"

We often describe natural weather phenomenon in terms of 1 in X number of years. A 1 in 10 years 'heavy rainfall' event means in any one year, there is a 10% (1/10) chance of heavy rainfall occurring. Take the example of diagram 5's top-left scenario. In present terms, there is a 28% (2.8/10) chance that we experience a hot temperature extreme in any given year. If we do not curb global warming and edge into the 1.5 degrees scenario, it becomes a 41% chance. At the 4 degrees scenario, it is almost guaranteed that we will experience temperature extremes yearly. The combination of a higher frequency of occurrence and greater severity when extreme weather events occur holds for rainfall and droughts.

Diagram 5: Projected changes in extremes are larger in frequency and intensity with every additional increment of global warming
Source: IPCC AR6 Working Group 1: Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policy Makers

It is worth noting that a lot of existing disaster relief infrastructure was built with the assumption of 1 in 10, or 1 in 50 years return period based on data before climate change became widely adopted and accounted for. We can expect that these resources will be stretched to the limit and in some cases depleted. They simply ain't designed to handle the higher frequency and greater severity emergencies.

We encourage everyone to read the IPCC's 6th assessment report, at least the Summary for Policy Makers, and if possible, the Technical Summary.

"But we are doing something about it right?"

We know from diagram 5 that we want to keep global warming to as little as possible, reversing it would be even better though extremely difficult. Unfortunately, what we are currently doing will result in a warming of about 3 degrees, and with what everyone is promising to do soon, that would still only be 2.4 degrees warming. We need to do better. Much better. (the colour bands represent probability cones where the actual situation will most likely fall somewhere within the cone depending on decisions made)

Diagram 6: Global GHG emissions and warming scenarios
Diagram 6: Global GHG emissions and warming scenarios

"Reducing GHG emissions to achieve the 1.5 degrees pathway is imperative but why should we target the built sector? "

Energy consumption accounts for the majority of the emissions and within that, energy use in buildings contributes 17.5% of total GHG emissions (8.6 billion tonnes CO2, 1 ton is the equivalent weight of 400 bricks, and 1 billion is 1,000,000,000).

Diagram 7: Global GHG emissions by sector
Diagram 7: Global GHG emissions by sector

These are just commercial and residential buildings. Our industries are housed in buildings. Aeroplanes need airports, ships need docks, repair facilities and more. Numerous purpose-built structures can contribute to energy efficiency and overall GHG reduction through simple things like requiring less maintenance, more efficient working route planning to reduce movement within the manufacturing facilities or even shorter routes within the supply chain.

Well-designed buildings, which takes into consideration site context, sources of building materials, the construction process and building performance can have far-reaching impacts beyond the mere 17.5% stated in Diagram 7. In our opinion, GM:2021 is positioned to reach across supply chains, engage stakeholders and punch beyond buildings' apparent weight.

"How well is Singapore Green Mark 2021 aligned to global agendas?"

We see alignment on 3 levels: national, sectoral and global. National alignment with the Singapore Green Plan, sectoral alignment with the most recent World Green Building Council strategy and global alignment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

The Alignment

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 #GreenPlan.

The core belief of the plan is sustainable development with the vision to achieve net-zero emissions for Singapore as soon as the island city-state can. We have summarised key targets from the 5 pillars of the plan and their relevance to the built sector:

Table 1: Targets of significance to built sector within the Green Plan


Key Target


City in Nature

  • Every household living within 10 mins walk of a park

  • One million more trees are to be planted by 2030 on streetscapes, gardens, parks, park connectors, nature reserves, among others.

  • Residential building integration with services and connectivity to nature will be emphasised from the concept design stage.

  • Development landscapes might be roped in to contribute as well. Tree removal and building setbacks might become more stringent.

Energy Reset

  • Building's 80-80-80 by 2030 plan

  • Switch to EV

  • Green Energy

  • Almost all new developments will have to achieve at least GM Gold Plus certification.

  • Provision of EV charging and installation of solar PV will be greatly encouraged where feasible.

Green Economy

Green Finance, becoming a leading carbon trading & services hub, RIE 2025

  • Clients are more likely to get financial support/ more favourable terms for sustainable development.

  • Consultants, contractors can keep an eye out for low carbon technologies funded by RIE2025.

Resilient Future

  • Addressing the urban heat island (UHI) effect

  • be able to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030

  • ​Shading devices, cool paint, CFD, environment modelling will become even more prevalent and required.

  • Future mixed-use development may need to provide core & shell suitable for urban farming facilities.

Sustainable Living

  • ​Circular economy

  • 2/3 reduction of net carbon emissions from MOE schools by 2030

  • Recycling infrastructure such as sorting at source, coupled with recycling programmes will be implemented at all building types.

  • If you are working on a MOE project, most likely it is going for the super low energy (SLE) target.

Diagram 8: MND's '80-80-80 by 2030 infographics

Within the 'Energy Reset' pillar, the building sector will contribute based on the 4th Green Building Master plan's '80-80-80 by 2030' goal.

Greening Singapore's GFA means having those constituting buildings certified under the Green Mark scheme. The criteria for achieving super low energy #SLE can be found here.

The World Green Building Council Strategy

The 2020 WGBC Annual Report presented 3 strategic impact areas based on SDGs and climate science recommendations. They are Climate Action (total decarbonisation of the built environment); Health and Wellbeing (delivering healthy, equitable and resilient buildings, communities, cities); Resources and Circularity (supports regeneration of resources and natural systems, provide socio-economic benefits through a thriving circular economy). These strategic areas each target several UN SGDs.

There are several parallels between the WGBC strategy and the Singapore Green Plan. For example, 'Climate Action' can be encompassed by 'Energy Reset', 'Resource & Circularity' share similar objectives as 'Sustainable Living'. 'Health and Wellbeing' can be demonstrated by 'City in Nature'. The Green Plan is broader and has more targets since it extends beyond the built environment.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #SDG

Green Mark 2021 has been crafted with SDGs in mind. The SDGs are a set of 17 integrated and interrelated goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that humanity enjoys peace and prosperity by 2030. It is comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets. Through working to achieve these targets, humanity hopes to (1) end poverty and hunger, (2) protect the planet from degradation, take urgent action on climate change, (3) ensure all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives, (4) foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies and (5) achieve the above with revitalised global partnership for sustainable development.

Diagram 9: Green Mark 2021 sections mapped to UN SDGs
Diagram 9: Green Mark 2021 sections mapped to UN SDGs

In summary, life cycle #Carbon footprint inclusive of operational carbon, expressed in the form of #EnergyEfficiency and #Maintainability, will be the key focus in the coming decade. Health and Wellbeing form another pillar to enhance the functions of buildings and provide social equity. #Resilience acts like insurance policies against climate change while #Intelligence is the support system that enables all other sections.