Green champions won't let earth go to waste
23 February 2008Straits Times
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
Environment group runs eco-friendly projects in schools, offices, supermarts
MOST people break into a sweat when they see their profits dipping. But for the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), this was good news.
On Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) Days, which now occur once a month, shoppers are charged 10 cents for every plastic bag they use. The money goes to the environmental group to fund its projects.
However, proceeds began to dip recently.
When the campaign was launched in April last year, BYOB Days brought in about $20,000 a month. This fell to about $10,000 by the end of the year.
The slump was viewed as a silver lining by SEC's project executive Joe Lim.
'Either people are becoming more aware, or they are avoiding going to the supermarket on that day,' said Mr Lim, 33. 'Let's be optimistic and think that the environmental message is getting through.'
BYOB Day was organised by the SEC and the National Environment Agency (NEA) in partnership with retailers. But it is limited to the first Wednesday of each month.
'We had been negotiating for the past five years before the supermarkets agreed on the campaign,' said Mr Lim. The environmental charity is currently in talks with supermarkets to either push BYOB Day to a weekend or extend it to two days a month.
BYOB Day is just one of more than 10 projects organised by the SEC.
Established in 1995, the council initially aimed to be just an umbrella organisation for all green groups.
But over time, it has evolved into an active group advocating the protection of the environment.
Its eight employees work towards this by organising exhibitions and activities throughout the year. Most of these are targeted at schools and companies.
For instance, its Project Eco-office, a joint initiative with City Developments, involves distributing materials to workplaces, such as posters that contain green messages and reminder stickers for staff to paste on their computer screens.
There is also an online rating system for offices, which allows them to do a self-audit based on their environmental policies, such as recycling habits and waste-minimisation measures.
The SEC also approaches schools to get students involved in green activities from an early age.
Mr Randy Koo, an SEC volunteer, was so inspired that he started an environment club at Anderson Primary School, where he teaches. Five years on, the club now has 50 more members.
'My students love it when I take them to workshops or get them involved in talks and paper-making crafts,' said Mr Koo, 33.
The club also got its students to attend a nature camp organised by the SEC on Pulau Ubin in 2006, where they were given guided nature walks and tips on recycling.
Although recycling is important, reducing and reusing are the other two Rs that have a more positive environmental impact, said Mr Lim. 'When you recycle anything, you use things like electricity or water, but when you reduce and reuse, you don't really use much else.'
The SEC's operating costs average out at $1 million every year, covered partly by donations from companies and the grants it receives for its various projects from the NEA.
Still, the challenge is for the group to drive home its environmental message to the masses.
'After going to the beach and planting some trees, the benefits are not immediate,' said Mr Lim, who has been with the SEC for five years. 'You don't get the feel-good factor like you do when visiting an old folk's home or orphanage, so people are more reluctant to help.'
The SEC has lined up a slew of activities this year, including the Green Transport Week and the Green Summit, dubbed the 'Green Oscars', where awards will be given out to companies that excel in environmentally friendly workplace measures.
Said Mr Lim on how Singaporeans are doing on the green front: 'A good gauge is seeing how many people take their own bags or are reducing the usage of plastic bags in supermarkets. You can see from there that we still have a long way to go.'
Name: Singapore Environment Council
What it does: It aims to raise environmental awareness among Singaporeans
Whom it helps: It tries to indirectly benefit Singaporeans by teaching them to be environmentally friendly.
How it raises funds: Donations from corporations and foundations, the sale of its publications at events and the fees it charges under the Singapore Green Label Scheme. It also gets project-based funding from the National Environment Agency.
Premises: 1 Cluny Road, House No. 3
How much in the kitty: $267,360 as of Dec 31, 2006
How many staff members: 8
How many volunteers: 2,000 in the database, but only 100 are active
Is it online?: Yes, at www.sec.org.sg [http://www.sec.org.sg]
Are its financial records online?: Yes
Why you should donate: To raise awareness about environmental protection among Singaporeans, especially with global warming being a big concern