Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Greener Mindset

Greetings readers! The past few weeks of blogging experience has been extremely fun and fruitful for me. Being an Environmental Studies student, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Env1101 module, more so than any other mods as this is the only environmental mod I have this semester. In fact, I will only be taking Env1202 next year due to English bridging (yes, I got D for GP).

You can infer from my English bridging that my language is subpar compared to many other students. Writing has always been a chore to me, and something I usually struggle with. The research essay and field trip report assignments were hell for me, and I often take hours to construct a simple blog post. However, I feel that writing is starting to come more naturally for me now, and something which I hope to hone even more throughout my time in NUS.

Throughout this blogging journey, I got to read various news articles, research articles, and my friends' blog posts which has given me much insight on the environmental issues in today's world. My views on environmental issues have definitely strengthened. In addition, this has rekindled my passion for blogging - a thing of the past. I will probably create a new personal blog (with a better design!) in the near future to air my views on environmental issues. Do look out for it!

Thank you for taking the time and effort to read and review my blog posts. I do hope that like me, you would also have gained a greener mindset. Till then!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Environmentalism's place in the World - My stand

The rise of mankind and technology has taken a toll on the Earth. Exponential population growth and skyrocketing demands for resources has led to the exploitation of the environment to provide resources, while also being conveniently used as a dumping ground. This is fueled by each country's desire for development and prosperity.

Conservation of the environment has largely been an action-reaction approach. Only when problems arise, will there be corrective actions. The Kyoto Protocol was implemented as a result of increasing emissions contributing to global warming; Ganga Action Plan came about due to heavy pollution in the Ganges River; and efforts to protect the Amazon Rainforest arose due to rapid deforestation. The conflict between growth and environmental protection is ever-present due to the urge to employ quicker and more convenient methods in both production and consumption which are usually more harmful to the environment.

Awareness of the need to conserve the environment has greatly risen due to wider media coverage, access to internet, increase in education and a more polluted environment. However, each country's goals remain the same - development, prosperity, and a higher standard of living. The pursuit of these goals does not coincide with environmental conservation. In addition, every country has problems and priorities which are deemed more pressing than environmental issues: sovereignty, civil unrest, poverty, hunger, and political power are a few possible problems.

The importance of sovereignty can be seen from the presence of military in almost every nation, consuming massive amounts of resources on military equipment and causing pollution through exercises. Even in peacetime, there is a need for deterrence measures, as sovereignty enables a nation to rule itself. Countries that face problems such as civil unrest, poverty, and hunger will not have the resources or the priority to focus on environmental issues. Ruling parties in nations will always contest to stay in power, and they do so by focusing on demographic issues and welfare. Usually, attention to environmental issues will only be given when people's welfare are jeopardised by environmental problems.

The individual plays a significant part in environmentalism. While authorities tend to focus on "more pressing" natters, individuals can remind them the importance of environmental issues. Non-government organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are examples of how individuals can assert their influence. In fact, sometimes NGOs are invited to environmental conferences alongside nations to express their views.

In view of a greater awareness on environmental issues, a shift from corrective actions to preventive actions in addressing environmental issues will be easier. Individuals have to play even more active roles to influence and persuade the authorities in taking a "greener" stance. With less fundamental problems, developed countries should lead the way to promote environmentalism. Although environmentalism does not yet play a big enough role for the environmental issues caused, the future remains optimistic.

Voluntary Pollution Reductions - Why firms bother

Voluntary Pollution Reduction (VPR) is the act of firms voluntarily opting to reduce emissions beyond the limits set by laws. An example of a VPR program is US Environmental Protection Agency's 33/50 program, whereby firms can pledge to reduce emissions of 17 key toxic pollutants.

At first glance, it is ironic how firms will want to volunteer for VPR programs as they appear to contradict with the goal of all firms - profits; because reduction of emissions tend to incur costs in the form of R&D and installation of new systems. However, it appears that firms have their motives for participating in VPR programs, as seen from the hypotheses gathered by Innes and Sam (2008) from various articles. For example, firms are able to attract "green consumers" who are willing to pay more for "greener goods", deter lobbying by environmental groups for tighter regulatory standards, and reduce scrutiny of environmental authorities.

Despite firms not embarking on VPR programs for the primary sake of the environment, the study by Innes and Sam (2008) found improvements in firms' contribution to pollution reductions. VPR programs can help to cut down governments' regulation and enforcement costs, with more autonomy granted to firms. Coupled with proper incentives for firms to participate in the programs, both sides will stand to gain.

Innes, R., & Sam, A. G. (2008). Voluntary pollution reductions and the enforcement of environmental law: An empirical study of the 33/50 program.Journal of Law and Economics51(2), 271-296. Doi: 10.1086/589659

Friday, October 23, 2015

NEA launches new database

I came across this news that NEA has launched a new database that allows firms to compare the packaging weight of their products against the benchmarks of similar products sold here in Singapore. It was launched just yesterday at the 3R Packaging Awards ceremony, where 16 firms, including Nestle, Coca-Cola and Subway, were presented awards in recognition for their packaging-reducing efforts.
(Obtained from NEA 3R Packaging Awards 2015 booklet)

Last year, domestic waste made up 57% of the waste disposed of in Singapore, and a third was due to packaging waste. This shows the significance of product packaging in contributing to our waste. This database enables firms to know where they currently stand in green efforts compared to other firms, and can be a gauge for them to improve. The database currently contains only packaging benchmarks of six products - beer, carbonated beverages, chilled juice, fresh milk, non-chilled beverages and water - but more products will be gradually added in future. The benchmarks are quite representative of local products as over 400 of these products in the six categories were measured. 

This database is an initiative under the Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA). The inception of the SPA in 2007 has led to reduction in 26,000 tonnes of packaging waste and cumulative savings of $58 million. In addition to the benchmarks, the cost savings is another motivation for firms to reduce their packaging.

Many firms embark on green efforts for the sake of displaying their corporate social responsibility (CSR), but do not genuinely care about the environment. Hopefully, this new database will be a step forward in incorporating a green mindset into firms, and encourage genuine green efforts as a norm, not just for show. 

NEA launches database for firms to benchmark packaging against other local products (Channel NewsAsia)

News Releases (NEA Launches Packaging Benchmarking Database to Encourage Businesses to Reduce Waste)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Photovoltaic Technology

Solar energy is a type of renewable energy that has been developed in the bid to reduce reliance on conventional ways of producing energy, such as from coal and natural gas. It is termed as clean energy as it does not pollute the environment, whereas extraction and burning of coal and natural gas release massive amounts of pollutants.

Solar panels on the roof of Choa Chu Kang Waterworks. (Taken from http://www.

Photovoltaic (PV) technology is a type of solar energy which harnesses the light energy from the Sun. Since the development of the first PV cell in 1883, with an efficiency lower than 1%, extensive research and development has been done to improve the efficiency and to reduce the cost of PV technology. However, the potential of PV technology has not been fully discovered, and it still remains more expensive than conventional energy. Although PV technology relies on the non-exhaustive solar energy, it is not totally reliable as energy can only be produced in the day, and the amount of energy depends on the strength of the sunlight. 

Despite its limitations, PV technology has been adopted in many places across the world. Here in Singapore, we can observe PV cells on some street lamps and also on rooftops of certain buildings. The International Space Station primarily uses PV technology to power its systems. Even though PV technology is not at its maximum potential, its implementation is a good stepping stone towards a future of renewable energy. For one, usage of PV technology will raise awareness for the need for renewable energy. In addition, should PV technology improve in the future (which it probably will), further implementation will be made easier due to its existing usage and support given to it. 

Singh, G. K. (2013). Solar power generation by PV (photovoltaic) technology: a review. Energy53, 1-13. Doi: 10.1016/

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Volkswagen cheating

I recently came across the news that Volkswagen vehicles were found to be equipped with defeat devices that allowed them to skew emission data during tests. In fact, the company claimed that up to 11 million of their vehicles were equipped with such devices. Defeat devices are able to detect when the cars are undergoing tests, and switch on pollution controls to meet regulations. On the road however, the pollution controls remain switched off, which boosted the cars' performances and fuel efficiency.

A Volkswagen vehicle. (Taken from
It is worrying to see major firms engaging in practices are detrimental to our environmental. Usually, such practices are due to cost reasons. Perhaps the firm was unable to find a cost-effective way to properly reduce emissions and still maintain the performance of the cars. The Volkswagen cheating is just one of many examples of the ways firms try to meet regulations. In fact, firms are only interested in profits, and most of them will use the most cost-effective methods to meet regulations. When regulations are hard to meet, underhand methods may be used. The same applies for Corporate Social Responsibility, where firms go green for the sake of achieving a certain level of "responsibility".

This is a very real example of how environmental goals are almost always in conflict with economic goals, and it is probably worse in developing countries. Nevertheless, authorities and environmental activists still need to continue their efforts to bridge these two goals together.

91,000 vehicles in Australia affected by VW cheating (Channel NewsAsia)

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal has a long, complicated history

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Payment for Ecosystem Services

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a payment which seeks to decrease pollution and preserve the environment. Incentives are given to landowners or farmers for management of their land, such as paying farmers to adopt less polluting agricultural methods and paying landowners to preserve the land. The payers can be the government, with the interests of the people, or the private sector for their own interests (e.g. companies adopting PES to meet pollution regulations).

Although PES is beneficial to the environment, there are difficulties implementing it. Quantifying the value of an ecosystem is an issue as it is hard to determine how much the ecosystem is actually worth, and different parties view the value differently. Furthermore, it is difficult to ensure guaranteed results due to varying conditions of each ecosystem. In addition, the services provided only last a certain period, thereafter pollution may return, cancelling off any positive effects that PES has brought.

PES is still a viable option for keeping pollution in control. It will be adopted even more in the future alongside greater consumption, production, and the resulting pollution by mankind. Improvements in PES will be required to meet future demands. Cost-savings and effectiveness of the services can be increased with R&D. Occasional checks and enforcement will be needed to ensure the provided services are effective. Long term plans will have to come in play after PES contracts expire to protect the ecosystems.


Wunder, S. (2007). The efficiency of payments for environmental services in tropical conservation. Conservation biology21(1), 48-58. Doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00559.x