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Smart cities 02/04/2020

Innovation in SINGAPORE: Green Infrastructure, Architecture and Technology

Can Asia’s most famous city-state become the quintessential smart-city-state? Singapore, the sovereign Southeast Asia island nation of 5.5 million, is already one of the world’s greenest urban areas. 

Dubbed “the Garden City,” Singapore has taken it even farther over the last few years, pushing ahead towards a truly sustainable future through a mix of digital innovation, green architecture and tough regulations on companies’ carbon use, which is attracting the attention of other cities and nations for its novel policies surrounding green infrastructure.

Singapore is regularly cited as both one of the world’s most innovative and environmentally advanced cities. It was recently ranked the best on the Green View Index developed by MIT, which measures the number of trees in different cities, as energy efficiency and reducing waste are regularly built into the design of housing and business developments, with widespread use of atriums, lush walkways, green walls, and sky trellises.  

Much of the original impetus stems from the paradox that innovation in Singapore has bloomed out of necessity, since the densely-populated island is one of the most water-stressed places in the world. How, then, did this tiny city-state, where nearly 100% of its population live in an urban environment, become a global hub of green innovation?

Roots Of Environmental Leadership 

Looking back at the history of modern Singapore, concerns about the environment and natural resources has played a central part ever since the city-state gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, after being under Japan’s occupation during World War II and before that, part of the British Empire.

Before Singapore’s development goals were linked to sustainability, it had largely been expressed as self-sufficiency, as the island country lacked virtually any natural resource of its own. The nation previously imported half of its water supplies from Malaysia, 90% of its food, and all of its fuel for energy. 

Now as Singapore is not only finding solutions to these problems, it is also setting international standards for innovation. Here are 3 ways that innovation is driving the city-state toward sustainable future: 

  • Investing widely in research: The government recently allocated $1 billion to energy research.

  • Transforming the food industry: Singapore recently set new goals to produce 30% of its own food locally after a push in the Agritech sector.

  • Setting international standards for water use: Decades of planning and innovation by the public utilities agency have made it a world leader in water research and it is now considered a model city for integrated water management. Currently, the city receives more than half of its water supply from unorthodox sources, including 20% from rainwater collection, 30% from recycled water and 10% from sea water desalination. 

Incentives & Regulations 

Singapore is also focused on finding innovative methods of combining technology, governance and financial incentives to tackle challenges brought about by rapid urbanisation. Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam urged firms to invest in more green innovations and warned them of possible punitive actions if they did not at last year’s Singapore Sustainability Symposium

Some big take-aways about how green infrastructure in Singapore is not only being encouraged by the government, but also enforced:

  • Companies are urged to invest in innovations that are more energy-efficient and less destructive to the environment. 
  • If industries do not innovate, the government has said it will resort to “very large” punitive actions, such as high carbon taxes and regulatory actions to curb inefficient supply and demand.
  • Companies must strive to create innovations that will provide a real alternative for people in every sphere of life which will reduce being forced to choose between sustainability and growth.
  • One of the most critical necessities for Singapore is to create a sustainable ecosystem of food production and consumption. 

“A sustainable future cannot be left solely to a passionate younger generation in tune with the green movement; those who hold the reins of companies also need to act.” Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies 

Green Architecture 

Since 2005, The BCA Green Mark Scheme was introduced to drive Singapore’s Construction industry towards more environmentally-friendly buildings by rating all buildings by their environmental impact and performance. According to the government website, “it is intended to promote sustainability in the built environment and raise environmental awareness among developers, designers and builders when they start project conceptualisation and design, as well as during construction.” 

  • In September 2019, the built environment sector received a S$20 million boost to go green.
  • The grant provided by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) can be used by companies in the Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC) set up by the Building and Construction Authority.
  • The Green Buildings Innovation Cluster was created to experiment with, exhibit, and exchange knowledge of energy-efficient solutions with stakeholders.
  • So far, the cluster has supported over 32 projects including a six-story, Super Low Energy (SLE) building housing an operations centre at the upcoming Tuas Terminal mega port that is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of next year. 
By the Numbers : Since its launch, the BCA has “greened” about 40% of buildings in Singapore. They say they are on track to meeting their target of 80% green buildings by 2030.

Where Green Meets Business

Singapore hasn’t always been known for its ecology. It was long regarded globally as a financial and commercial giant, with its tall skyscrapers and luxury malls, and its push to become the high-tech hub of Asia. With only ten years left to fulfill the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development goals, the field of innovation and sustainable development, which looks at developing technology solutions to tackle the environmental challenges the world faces, has been booming with other countries and organizations now looking towards Singapore. 

According to Edwin Chow, Enterprise Singapore’s Assistant CEO for Innovation & Enterprise, demand-led open innovation and sustainability are closely linked. In other words, innovation is about creating a product or solution that people are prepared to pay for, and that must now be the priority for confronting climate change and sustainability.


ENGIE’s Asia Pacific hub factory is based in Singapore with the goal of fostering collaboration between startups and ENGIE teams based in Southeast Asia and Australia. Their mission is to accelerate the zero-carbon transition and build new business opportunities with entrepreneurs in order to have the greatest possible impact. 

In concrete terms, there are three different types of collaboration:

  • BUILD: We are busy identifying the projects, teams and ideas that have great impact potential. During the subsequent three-month period of co-creation between ENGIE teams and the entrepreneurs, we identify the problems to be tackled around energy and smart cities and begin to iterate and test commercial solutions at the Factory coworking space. We then incorporate a company, provide the starting capital, and zero in on the market fit of the coming product.

  • SCALE: ENGIE Factory collaborates with high-growth startups to scale their solutions and bring them to a global market. The Factory team works with the startup to design and execute pilot projects to test and validate the solution, measure its financial impact and define any eventual plans to scale.

  • INVEST: Strategic capital investment through ENGIE New Ventures fund is the third channel for collaboration, with minority stakes in technology startups that complement existing activities and resources to spur internal innovation within ENGIE Group. With €110 million of capital across 23 investments worldwide, the aim is to help re-envision existing business models and spark new opportunities in the rapidly changing energy sector. 


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