Keynote Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Enable the Change Sustainability Summit on 6 July 2022
Mr Wilson Teo, President of the Textile and Fashion Federation
1 Thank you for inviting me to join you at your event today. The theme of this Summit, “Enable the change”, is a call to every one of us, whether governments, businesses or individuals, can and shall enable change. We need to come together and take collective action towards sustainable development.
2 Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we will need immediate and deep emission reductions to have a chance at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As a low-lying island-state with limited land, manpower and alternative energy options, Singapore is especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change. We must enable positive change by collectively making a stronger push towards sustainability and to push now.
Enabling the Change
3 Last year, COP-26 saw more countries and businesses pledge to reach net zero by or around mid-century. This is an encouraging development. It marks an important step that will spur a global transition towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient future.
4 Singapore is committed to reducing our carbon emissions. In March this year, we announced our ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by or around mid-century, in line with the Glasgow Climate Pact. Achieving net-zero will help ensure that Singapore remains competitive and relevant globally in a low-carbon future, and ensure a greener and brighter future for Singaporeans by providing a sustainable living environment and good jobs for our people.
5 Driving our sustainability initiatives requires everyone to play their part. Last year, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to tackle climate change. It charts bold and concrete sectoral initiatives and targets that strengthen our efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, and to position Singapore to achieve net-zero.
How the fashion industry can contribute towards sustainable development
6 The Green Plan is a living plan, one that requires individuals, communities, businesses and the Government to work together to build a more sustainable society. Our fashion industry can and should make its own contributions to the Green Plan, by rethinking how fashion items are designed, manufactured, worn and disposed.
7 Globally, the fashion industry is a significant contributor of carbon emissions. It is estimated that it accounts for anywhere between four to 10 per cent of global emissions. Fast fashion and its ever-changing tastes, the proliferation of e-commerce which makes buying new clothing more convenient than ever, the large amount of packaging that goes along with it, and the large amounts of clothing being thrown away leads to waste being generated every step of the way. In a world where we need to think hard about “reduce, reuse and recycle”, we need to re-think and re-work some of these existing practices.
8 In 2019, Singapore launched its first ever Zero Waste Masterplan to lay out our vision and strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient, and climate-resilient nation. This includes adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management, and shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption. Singapore aims to reduce the amount of waste going to our landfill by 30 per cent per capita per day by 2030. Under the Green Plan, we will frontload efforts to achieve a 20 per cent reduction by 2026.
9 Last year, textile and leather waste accounted for about six per cent of the total waste disposed of in Singapore . From 168,000 tonnes in 2019 before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it increased by 13 per cent to 189,000 tonnes in 2021. It does not include the packaging materials that go with the products. Its recycling rate remained low, at just four per cent . We really need to do more to encourage responsible fashion consumption and production, as well as the re-use of clothing that are still in good condition.
Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose
10 I encourage the fashion industry to think hard about decarbonising and incorporating sustainability in its value chain. The Textile and Fashion Federation has identified 5Rs to do this: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recovery and Resource. I note that there is a growing number of eco-conscious fashion businesses in Singapore, such as Refash, which offers consumers the option to sell their pre-loved clothes, and Swapaholic, an online portal that enables subscribers to swap their clothes for other pre-loved ones.
11 I visited the “Fashion The Change” exhibition at Design Orchard earlier. It features many interesting ideas such as creative upcycled garments and innovative zero waste pattern cutting to reduce fabric wastage. For example, students at LASALLE College collaborated with Coldwear to turn defective down jackets into new clothing. One student even turned a children’s jacket into adult size by creatively adding panels. I was delighted to see our youth’s creativity and passion contributing to sustainability. I applaud the industry’s support for our youths.
12 Fashion can also be a means to call for action and inspire behavioral change. I am happy to note that fashion businesses are moving further upstream to incorporate sustainability at the production phase. For example, GINLEE Studio is putting in place a Get-Order-On-Demand initiative to encourage slow fashion, by rewarding customers who are willing to wait with discounts. This allows GINLEE Studio to produce precisely, and reduce wastage at the end of a fashion season. It helps to spread the message on climate action among consumers, and make the industry more sustainable in the long run.
Recovery and Resource
13 There is significant potential for the two Rs of Recovery and Resource. This would include the development of materials recovery and processing technologies, as well as the conversion of textile waste into alternative energy sources. We must continue to pursue innovative solutions and new technologies that will enable us to circularise the fashion industry. For example, I understand that Uniqlo has been using recycled materials in its production. Consumers are encouraged to donate used Uniqlo down products, which the company will recover the down and feathers with an in-house recycling technology and turn them into new products. Other businesses, like local social enterprise La Tierra, turn to natural, biodegradable and sustainably-sourced materials for their products. La Tierra uses natural dyes and azo-free dyes, and its consideration for sustainability goes right down to its packaging, which is made from sustainable materials such as rags and recycled paper, ingrained with leaves and flowers.
14 Let me conclude. The green transition is no longer a good-to-have element of business strategy. It is becoming essential. Increasingly, consumers and investors around the world are looking for sustainable goods and services. A survey commissioned by UOB in 2021 found that about one in three respondents in Singapore are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced goods and services, while 36 per cent replaced their current purchases with more sustainable alternatives. Retail equity investors are also increasingly gravitating towards sustainable and eco-friendly public-listed businesses.
15 The Government is committed to support businesses and workers as we work towards an effective and inclusive transition. I encourage you to tap on the support available to take action early, as well as explore collaborations to help you decarbonise, maximise synergies, and seize opportunities together.
16 The Textile and Fashion Federation launched its fashion sustainability programme in November last year, to advocate sustainable industry practices to help businesses embark on their sustainability journey, upskill their employees in circularity, and drive collaboration within the industry. I applaud the Federation for playing a crucial role in guiding the industry, I look forward to your sharing of the sector report and the roadmap to reduce carbon emissions later.