Sustainable design: the key to unlocking a greener future
Ecological design can create greener spaces, reduce waste and transform businesses as we discovered at TechInnovation 2021.

Glass canopies that let in natural light, solar panels that provide power to the campus and lush rooftop greenery maintained by water-saving drip irrigation—the National Gallery Singapore connects people with art in a sustainably designed space. As we work toward a sustainable future, design has proven integral to reducing waste and providing innovative alternatives to essential resources.

In his opening remarks for the TechInnovation 2021 keynote session on “Designing a sustainable future for our planet”, DesignSingapore Council Executive Director Mark Wee emphasised that sustainability should be addressed on multiple fronts – at city or country levels, at a cultural level and at an organisational level. At each one, enterprises and governments can harness creative and thoughtful design to benefit both profits and the planet.

During the session on 28 September, three experts explained how design can create sustainable spaces, reduce waste and transform businesses.

Starting from the beginning

Throughout its lifetime, the environmental impact of a building is felt most after construction when it is fully operational. This means that reducing a building’s environmental footprint must be addressed by incorporating sustainability at the very beginning of the design process.

With long-term efficiency in mind, Prof Jason Pomeroy, Founder of Pomeroy Studio and Academy, is passionate about building sustainable environments from zero carbon homes to zero carbon cities. “We need to be conscious that the passing of time has been quite unkind to our natural environment,” said Prof Pomeroy. “We’re increasingly seeing the ravages and the cataclysms of climate change affecting our natural and built environment.”

While he believes social, economic and environmental sustainability should be addressed, Prof Pomeroy focuses on culture, space and technology. In the fight against climate change, such considerations can be neglected but must be included as part of the balance to improve the quality of life of residents.

To this end, Prof Pomeroy and his team design retail, residential and office spaces to nurture community, improve business and maintain cultural roots—all while operating sustainably. For example, instead of working towards a zero carbon future, Prof Pomeroy and his team designed Singapore’s first carbon-negative home. With large rooftop solar panels, the house produces more energy than it can consume, promising no energy bills and potentially supplying excess electricity back to the national grid.

By designing to reduce the environmental impact of a building, such projects prove that sustainability begins at the drawing board.

Making a difference with sustainable materials

As we forge ahead to build bigger and better, the annual volume of construction waste generated globally is poised to double to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025. While many “reduce, reuse and recycle” policies are enacted to tackle this growing issue, the Achilles heel of the effort lies in insufficient resources, poor standardisation, slim profit margins and lack of awareness.

Asst Prof Carlos Banon, Director of the Architectural Intelligence Research Lab (AirLab) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), works to reduce construction waste by using sustainable building materials that are environmentally benign. To accomplish this, AirLab implements advanced 3D printing techniques to reduce excess material and upcycles plastic waste into new products.

Asst Prof Banon and his team also ingeniously incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into the 3D printing process to further optimise material usage and evaluate precisely where components are needed to reduce waste.

“With 3D printing, standardised components are no longer relevant. We can print our bespoke components to create complex surfaces by developing scripts that adapt geometry to the singularities,” said Asst Prof Banon.

Using AI to ascertain the most mechanically efficient structure, AirLab designed an ultra-lightweight outdoor structure, dubbed AirMesh. The cloud-shaped pavilion can be effortlessly assembled by combining traditional metallic framing with 3D printed joints which currently stands at Gardens by the Bay.

“AirMesh has set the precedent not just for Singapore, but for the world on the possibilities of 3D printing technologies in our built environment,” said Asst Prof Banon.

Putting humans at the forefront of sustainability

As sustainable design finds its way into public spaces, so too has it gained a hold in consumers’ homes as well. Over time, consumer behaviour has steadily evolved to focus on sustainability. To shift with the market, Senior Vice President of business software providers SAP AppHaus, Andreas Hauser advises that businesses consider a values-driven approach that encapsulates purpose and impact to ensure long-term success.

On top of attracting consumers, Hauser explains that an organisation that does good in the world also tends to attract the best talent. In fact, to ensure their companies remain sought-after by both consumers and talent, up to 48 percent of CEOs implement eco practices in their business operations. Through a human-centred approach, SAP applies sustainability into their business software to provide customers with the freedom to monitor green processes taking place. From developing apps to helping fishermen submit catch data quickly, to streamlining the installation and maintenance of wind turbines, SAP’s software aims to help companies across industries achieve environmental prowess.

“We start with understanding people to find out what the real challenges of the end users are,” said Hauser. “Then we research and study the issues before ideation, design, mock-ups and visualisation. It’s important to deliver and make innovation real for the customer.”

By putting consumers first and creating with sustainability in mind, companies across a variety of industries can harness the power of design thinking to achieve a sustainable future for all.

Are you passionate about the future of sustainable design? Click here to find out more about sustainable technologies featured at TechInnovation 2021.