By Jeremy Yew (13A01B), Cara Leong (13A01B) and Jonathan Tan (13A01C)
‘It’s getting hot in here…’
‘I’m melting into a puddle of sweat!’
‘Cannot tank this heat anymore!!’
In January last year, many Rafflesians must have heard the same tormented cries issue from their peers as they streamed into their classes after every morning assembly. From the sheer agony of these lamentations one would have imagined a classroom full of tortured souls, when it was in fact merely a class of flustered students (and a teacher) perspiring profusely.
This was all part of a new eco-friendly initiative that RI tried implementing, in which air-conditioning units in Year 5-6 classrooms were switched off for the first period of the day in order to save electricity. While the initiative received praise for its noble intentions, many students and staff complained vehemently about it not creating a ‘conducive learning environment’, and eventually after a trial period it was silently pulled, to the blessed relief of many. We are, after all, citizens of the Air-Conditioned Nation, and for some, the loss of personal comfort may have been too difficult to get accustomed to, even in the name of a good cause.
To Senior Deputy Principal (SDP) Planning and Resources, Mr Tan Nam Seng, ‘It is about a school culture in which we are too used to comfort. A bit of sacrifice, a change in personal habits, overcoming initial inconvenience, is always necessary if you want to save the environment. You can’t have your cake and eat it too’.
While such an automatically negative knee-jerk reaction to the move was disappointing, the school is not fazed in its green efforts, and has a slew of other environmentally-friendly initiatives and technologies that have been, and are continually in operation. Mr Tan is currently spearheading the Green Management Policy, which adopts a holistic approach to being environmentally friendly.
Such endeavours are especially important given the massive carbon footprint of RI. To give some perspective on just how much energy our school consumes: when the current RI Year 5-6 Bishan campus was built in 2005, it was designed for a maximum capacity of 1,800 students. It now has an enrolment of 2,500. Its facilities include over 80 fully air-conditioned classrooms installed with fans, 6 lecture theatres, seminar rooms, training rooms, science and research laboratories, computer laboratories, a media studio, multiple recording studios, a Leadership Institute, a Performing Arts Centre, dance studios, the ‘Blackbox’ performance theatre, indoor sports halls, tennis and basketball courts, a running track with spotlights, student lounges, staff lounges, staff rooms, a three-storey library, and a standalone four-story Administration Centre. Occupying a sprawling land area of 18 hectares, these facilities are united by a campus-wide sound system and wireless internet access. While we do not have exact figures, we can see that energy-saving in RI is indeed serious business.
Yet, other than the airconditioning policy, which affects our daily lives, most of the school population seems to know little about the other subtle changes that the administration has been incorporating into the school. Hence we present to you the following infographics of the most interesting and recent additions to RI’s Green Management Policy—some of which you may not have even known existed.
So, why the sudden emphasis on going green? Actually, this is nothing new to RI. The school’s continuous ‘green’ journey dates back to 2007; as a school, there was always the understanding that ‘there is a responsibility for RI to lead in modeling the way for our staff and students in achieving a green sustainable campus.’
RI’s pioneering efforts were recognised in 2011 when it became the first recipient of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Award (GoldPlus) under the Existing School Scheme, the highest award given to any school at the time. However, as we know, RI is never one to rest on its laurels; far from being the end of a half-hearted journey, this award was only a milestone in RI’s ongoing green endeavours. As we can see, new technologies and practices are constantly being adopted in order to keep the running of the school energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly.
Indeed, these initiatives are just some of the newest innovations that make up RI’s ‘Green Campus’; they are the culmination of years of steady long-term progress and incremental changes. As Mr Tan explains, there is a need to build up infrastructure and establish a proper system in stages over time. For example, there would be no rainwater collection system without first planning and laying down an extensive drainage system; there would be no energy-usage targets to set without prior knowledge of the actual energy consumption patterns, which are only made possible through the Energy Monitoring System.
But that’s not all. RI’s approach to building a ‘green’ school is a four-pronged holistic philosophy which encompasses ‘Green Campus’, ‘Green Curriculum’, ‘Green Culture’ and ‘Green Community’. Under these other aspects, RI works to ‘encourage a strong sense of ‘green’ practices and values in students and staff’ This manifests itself in the form of discreet but deliberate operational policies such as the Green Procurement Policy, in which products the school purchases or uses must meet certain requirements. For example, the use of biodegradable disposable cutlery when catering as well as in the canteen and Manna Cafe not only minimises wastage but also supports environmentally safe products and vendors.
Other small, subtle changes include the new school venue booking policy— in which school groups or clubs booking locations such as the lecture theatres or the Innovation Centre for after-school usage must fulfil a 50 percent capacity requirement for booking of venues.
Lastly, an awareness of environmental issues and the need to save resources is engendered through education in the form of student-initiated campaigns (e.g. Earth Week, which is organised by the Raffles One Earth CCA) various recycling/sustainability/ biodiversity research projects, an enrichment programme on Eco-Literacy, service learning projects related to the environment, and numerous invitational talks by prominent leaders in the field of environmental studies.
Fundamentally, the role that the school plays is simply to put into place these policies and programmes that help to create a greener environment and culture; it is still crucial for individuals to recognize the need for them to cooperate with the administration. For instance, the three percent energy-consumption reduction target set by the Estate Department a few years ago has not been very successful because many things are outside of their control.
In fact, much wastage stems from poor individual habits and a lack of thoughtfulness that may seem trivial or negligible but, in aggregate, are highly consequential. For example, leaving an air-conditioning unit turned on overnight can waste twice the amount of energy it uses in one day. The wastage caused by such forgetfulness led to a decision to centralise the control of air-conditioning with the Estate Office. Failures to exercise due care can also have significant environmental costs. Mr Tan cites the example of stubborn acrylic or spray paint stains on the floors of areas outside the Council Canteen and the Black Box, which can take up to 300-400 litres of water per square metre to eliminate. Such a huge wastage in water would be unnecessary if students took greater care when painting banners.
Simple changes in mindsets and daily habits can make a world of difference; the best way to encourage such positive action and build individual environmental consciousness would be to have our very own school leaders leading by example. And what better role model than Principal Mrs Lim Lai Cheng herself! Students and staff weren’t alone in their suffering when it came to air-conditioning deprivation—Mrs Lim doesn’t switch the air-conditioning in her personal office on in the mornings and whenever she works late. Instead, she leaves her office doors and windows open to utilise natural ventilation. Mr Tan sums up the roles that the different stakeholders of the school play in the collective effort to go green: ‘If all of us can do our little bit as individuals, it makes a big difference. The Estate Department is just here to give the infrastructural support for students to practice environmentally-conscious habits.’
But why go green at all? Other than for obvious reasons, these new developments in environmental-friendliness do bring benefits to RI. Being a premier institution, RI often plays host to highranking foreign delegates, ambassadors and local visitors from other schools or organisations as well. The fancy high-tech equipment as well as the lush garden settings complement the overall impression that these visitors get of RI, which has earned it many vocal commendations ranging from a remark that the overall ambience ‘evoked the feeling of a premier school’ and others gushing that it was ‘exactly the campus they dreamt of’. This helps build RI’s image and reputation as a world-class institution.
In addition, the consciously-placed greenery (reflecting Singapore’s Garden City image itself in its abundance) has proven psychological benefits; it softens harsh, utilitarian buildings and fills empty, lifeless spaces with natural ambience, creating a more calming and conducive learning environment. And of course, there are the prestigious awards. However, Mr Tan is quick to point out that these efforts are not for the sake of appearances or accolades; ultimately, it is about the welfare and education of students. ‘We’re not doing it for the awards and certificates; if, at the end, out of all the 1,250 students who graduate each year, just a small group turn into environmental champions and leaders of sustainable practices, then it is all worth it,’ emphasises Mr Tan. ‘If we can get the environmental consciousness into both staff and students, then wherever they are in the future, they will know that these things can be done’.
Indeed, with such a promising concentration of potential leaders in the school, it is not hard to imagine that spending their formative years growing up and learning in a school with an emphasis on the environment will have multiplying effects when our students enter their respective private and public roles in the future. Thus, the focus of the school’s green efforts, rather than merely being half-hearted solutions, is instead firmly rooted in influencing individual students’ environmental consciousness in order to magnify the collective positive environmental impact of each batch of Rafflesians. Ultimately, RI going green is all about bringing about a ‘better age’ for current and future generations, in the most practical sense of the word… starting from the small but significant thing