Symposium on Futures Sustainability 2017

In the same week as World Water Day, WWF’s Earth Hour and Nparks’ BioBlitz, our BES students held the annual Symposium on Futures Sustainability (SFS 2017), this time in partnership with the Rotary Club of Suntec City. Our distinguished speakers, Ms Farah H. Sanwari (Executive Director of Sustainable Living Lab), Ms Xin-Yi Wong (Sustainability Manager for H&M Southeast Asia) and Professor Michael F. Maniates (Professor in Yale-NUS College) presented on the topic of “Steering Towards A Circular Economy” from different viewpoints, ranging from the public, the corporate to the philosophical-scientific.

Ms Kimmis Pun, President of the Rotary Club of Suntec City, giving the opening address of the Symposium

It was an enriching experience for all, as the speakers presented on the experiences and insights in their respective industries. Gwyneth, the vice Project Director for SFS 2017, agrees: “The Symposium for Futures Sustainability 2017 was a meaningful and educational event. The speakers, moderator and our participants all contributed to an insightful and lively discussion.”

“It’s really rewarding to see our participants enjoy themselves and I felt the topic of circular economy interesting and insightful!”, quips Lijean, the Project Director.

At the end of the day, here are three key points you shouldn’t miss from SFS17:

  • The beginning of things

Professor Michael Maniates from Yale-NUS College was the last speaker of the day but he traced sustainability all the way back to the production stage of consumerism.

Prof. Michael Maniates, Yale-NUS College Professor

To allow for a circular economic process, there are plenty of things to be considered even prior to the production of goods. For example, it is important to make sure that the materials used are non-toxic. Also, moving to modular designs may help to make repairing easier, tying in with Sustainable Living Lab’s “Repair Kopitiam” initiative that Ms. Farah earlier shared about (check that out here!).

  • Road to circular economy

The path to a circular economy is one that’s constantly under development. And one the key stakeholders in this process is private firms.

Ms Xin-Yi Wong, Sustainability Manager for H&M Southeast Asia

Ms Xin-Yi Wong was our second speaker. With the examples from H&M’s Sustainability Report in 2015, she emphasized that businesses’ decisions are indispensable in making sure that the economy stays on track as we move towards a circular economy. There are numerous directions that businesses can venture into as they develop the path, such as promoting a change in consumption behaviour, decoupling growth from resource use and taking the initiative to work with researchers and NGOs.

  • At the end of it all

Our first speaker Ms Farah spoke about the roles of the public. She began the presentation by analyzing the birds’-eye view of how we look at the relationship between the economy, society and environment – we see them as separate and with the economy as the main focus currently. However, to achieve greater sustainability, Ms Farah encouraged us to place the economy within society, and society within environment instead. So at the end of it all, how we manage our economy, and whether we can achieve a circular economy, essentially falls back to what we perceive as important in our daily lives.

Ms Farah H. Sanwari, Executive Director of Sustainable Living Lab

Furthermore, despite the promises a circular economy, Professor Michael Maniates also raised a cautionary point that its environmental benefits can be wiped out if the economy is allowed to grow without limits, much like the world today. This stems from the fact that a circular economy can never really be perfectly circular and waste-free, so even small percentages of waste can add up in absolute numbers if the economy expands. Professor Maniates touched upon an idea of increasing the complexity of the economic system instead of its size, but how that would play out in reality is food for thought.

Even as we reached the Q&A segment of the symposium, many answers from the speakers went back to the modern habit of consumption. Imagine if the road to a circular economy is an actual path: the businesses and professionals develop the best route and lead us to a sustainable economy. However, in order to achieve the goal, the society must be willing to adapt to any new paths uncovered. This begs an answered question – does the government come in here? What part can they play, and what’s the most effective way to connect environmental initiatives from the various stakeholders? At the end of the day, as much as it is oversaid, we do actually need a concerted effort to achieve a sustainable circular economy.

Regardless, a huge kudos to the SFS organizing committee for this very successful symposium. “Planning this event was a good experience for me, although it wouldn’t have been possible without a capable organizing committee. A huge thank you to everyone who made this event possible, and I look forward to the sustainability symposium in 2018!”, says Gwyneth.

Yup, see y’all next year!



5th BES Student Committee

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