Lessons from Lord of the Rings on building a greener future

By Erwin Chong, MD, Group Head of CRESA, DBS

There is no running from climate change. Many of us may spend most of the afternoon cooped up in an air-conditioned office, but once in a while, inevitably, we step out into the unforgiving sun and ask ourselves: “Has it always been this hot?”

Just last month, Singapore recorded its highest ever daily maximum temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius. We can only expect this to go higher, and there has never been a more appropriate time for us to reflect. Would we want a future where it is intolerable to sit in a room without an air-conditioner? Would we want a future where our children walk home from school each day drenched in their own sweat?

It’s easy to point fingers at others whom we deem more responsible for these outcomes. We could argue this is merely the consequence of human and technological progress, or we could look within ourselves and think about how we can help each other do better.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,”
said Galadriel from Lord of the Rings.

This is something that I wholeheartedly believe in—it is the small things that matter, and it is important to put in place practical strategies and systems that will help you succeed.

Well, as someone who is passionate about the workplace environment and sustainability—largely because of my day job which I enjoy very much, this concept of building systems that enable us instead of sabotaging us, is one that we think about a lot at DBS.

When experimenting and looking at ways to design spaces or integrate features that bring our employees on this journey towards a better world with us, we always ask ourselves:

  • What if all our spaces we build/manage make the world better?
  • If so, then, can we make every small decision focused on making the world better by asking:
    • Can we use energy only where and when we need it?
    • Can we waste nothing?
    • Can we optimise use of nature?
    • Can we optimise use of renewables?

These simple questions led us to build impactful, sustainable spaces like DBS Newton Green—Singapore’s first energy self-sufficient bank building, which we officially opened on 18 July 2022. This is one very exciting project that my team has worked hard on to achieve this vision of a sustainable work environment. Instead of tearing down one of our oldest office buildings which would have made us lose the embedded carbon of the original building when the building's life cycle reached maturity, we retrofitted it and turned it into a net zero office building.

DBS Newton Green: By using energy only when and where needed in this retrofitted building, energy consumption has been reduced by as much as 70% to achieve our net zero goals.

Close to 10% of previously air-conditioned spaces have been turned into naturally ventilated spaces

Close to 400 solar panels spanning across 1,000sqm of space generates 100% of the building’s energy requirements onsite

Retrofitting a 30-year-old building came with a whole set of challenges, but it is all worth it when you realise how much wastage you have prevented. What is key in this building is that we only use energy when needed—by deploying demand-controlled systems for our lights and air-conditioners which claws back ‘vampire power’ and helps us to reduce energy by as much as 70%! And just by going about their usual routines in the office, our employees are contributing to the environment and helping to create a better world!

From thinking through materials used in our everyday operations to ensuring that every appliance installed in our workspaces runs on renewable energy where possible, and to retrofitting a net zero office building…there are so many ways a company can embed features and integrate systems that empower employees to be a force for good, easily.

We hope by our example, others will be inspired to make the same small steps. We also hope that this will inspire and encourage our employees to bring the same values in their lives and daily activities. Whether or not a DBS employee is a tree hugger or a full-time sustainability champion—one day, every employee will do their part for the environment because we’ve made it the norm for them.

Sustainability shouldn’t just be an empty word; we can all take steps to make it a reality. And just like in the Lord of the Rings, the smallest deeds can change the world for the better.

Curious to see what DBS Newton Green looks like? Watch the video below for a quick flythrough of the building and its key features to see what makes it net zero!