Building a Sustainable Sentosa Future Today

By Lee Cheh Hsien, Divisional Director, Planning, Sentosa Development Corporation

Sustainability has become a focal point globally, prompted by the alarming increase in global temperatures, unprecedented extreme climate changes and the COVID-19 impact. It is a wake-up call for businesses, governments and consumers—that we need to prepare for, or come face to face with an impending climate crisis.

For the tourism industry, where so much of what is offered is premised on the preservation of our communities, its culture and environment, we need to do our part to build a sustainable tourism future. The silver lining in the midst of such climate change warnings? Many tourism destinations and organisations are awakening to the need for courageous leadership and collective collaboration across the tourism supply chain, from airlines to hotels, to food and beverage and tour operators.

Building a sustainability roadmap

At Sentosa, sustainability has been a key principle in the island’s developments since our inception as a leisure destination in 1972, from protecting our forest habitats—home to much of our island’s biodiversity—to ensuring developments are sustainable and sensitive to the environment.

We are building on this foundation as we embark on the next phase of the Sustainable Sentosa strategic roadmap. In September 2021, Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) announced our commitment to major goals under the Sustainable Sentosa strategic roadmap and in support of the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Under the roadmap, the Sentosa community aims to achieve our dual goals of carbon neutrality by 2030 and becoming a globally recognised, certified sustainable tourism destination, benchmarked against best-in-class standards in sustainability.

In doing so, we hope to inspire all our guests and partners on the island to take action towards a more sustainable future.

It takes a team to climb a “Carbon Everest”

The tourism industry, pre-COVID-19, was responsible for approximately 8 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. While COVID-19 has had the unintended effect of reducing carbon emissions from travel, these gains will be quickly eroded as travel is expected to return in the longer run.

In the long term, we need collective action as a team. On Sentosa, we believe that SDC, as the destination operator, can play a galvanising role to outline the plan to tackle our Carbon Everest.

We are leading the way by undertaking key initiatives to reduce our own carbon footprint. For example, guests can already enjoy electrified intra-island transportation such as our cable car and beach shuttles. By 2025, we aim to electrify 100 per cent of our on-island public transportation, as well as enable more electric vehicle charging points across our island by 2030. All new SDC-owned buildings will also be constructed to attain Singapore’s Green Mark Platinum Super Low Energy certification.

We are not stopping here. Over the last year and a half, SDC has brought together the diverse business establishments on our island to form the Sentosa Carbon Neutral Network (SCNN). Comprising 17 founding members and accounting for more than 90 per cent of our collective island carbon footprint, the SCNN will leverage on each other’s strengths, networks, and economies of scale to implement sustainability initiatives, such as energy efficient systems, carbon-neutral event packages, the reduction of disposables, and local food sourcing, among other initiatives. Collectively, we will also develop and implement solarisation and other renewable energy initiatives on the island with the potential to generate sufficient energy to power 300,000 hotel room nights annually, and this will see a reduction in Sentosa-wide carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent. In addition, we will continue to support our island’s businesses to advance their understanding of their carbon emissions through data-backed methods, so as to break down the pathway to summit our “Carbon Everest”.

It is also important that we tap on a range of knowledge and technical partners to build momentum for the sustainability journey. For instance, we are partnering Temasek to study sustainable solutions that can reduce the consumption of fossil-based energy, such as solar and waste-to-energy systems, as well as National University of Singapore’s Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions to examine and enhance blue carbon accounting and sequestration through Sentosa’s natural habitats such as seagrasses and mangroves.

Sustainability is mission-critical for the environment and business’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report has highlighted the increasing emphasis that travellers are placing on sustainable travel, with 83 per cent of respondents indicating that sustainable travel is vital and 61 per cent sharing that the pandemic has influenced them to want to travel more sustainably.  This trend is only set to continue, and this means that sustainability is mission-critical—from both an environmental and business perspective.

Already, at Sentosa, we have seen a stronger spotlight on health and wellness needs from guests, as well as an increasing demand for sustainable leisure options. For instance, we see our guests increasingly being drawn to our island’s heritage and nature offerings, to rediscover and forge a deeper connection between themselves and the world surrounding them. The need to reflect and re-connect with our cultural and environmental roots in an authentic manner highlights the need for tourism destinations to carefully balance development with the preservation of nature, culture and heritage.

To celebrate our rich diversity of nature and heritage, and in response to the needs of our guests, Sentosa will be launching a series of new sustainability-themed tours from the end of 2021, enabling guests to explore Sentosa’s hidden gems while appreciating nature conservation, marine life and heritage. We have also launched a new ferry service extending our island experience from Sentosa to neighbouring rustic offshore islands to help guests decompress from urban city living.

We have been honoured to be amongst the 2021 Top 100 Destinations Sustainability Stories by Green Destinations, an award which highlights 100 destinations around the world that are taking promising steps towards a more sustainable tourism industry. As a journey of continuous improvement, we look forward to further benchmarking our practices against best-in-class standards, by becoming a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)-certified destination in 2022, alongside Sentosa’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The time to act is now

As one owner of a business establishment in Sentosa wisely remarked, there is no competition when it comes to sustainability. If there’s anything the pandemic has shown, it is that collaboration is key to growth.

The One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme, under the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), has also called for long-term solutions to protect and strengthen the future of the tourism industry, and this demand for sustainable solutions requires a global collective effort.

As a small island destination, we humbly accept that we can only take a small step in the race against climate change. Nevertheless, it is our hope that with every step we take, we will gather other like-minded journeymen, inspire fence-sitters and even convince sceptics, to come on board this journey to paint a sustainable ending to the story of our future.

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