He Tāngata

UWCSEA East is one of the most sustainable buildings in Singapore, but is it enough?

“He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.”

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

In the middle of the whirlwind of busy lives in Singapore, standing on the East Region is UWCSEA East Campus –– massive, home to 2,557 students, and surprisingly, with an outstanding level of environmental sustainability.

It’s hard to be sustainable in Singapore. Yet, it’s not very well known that the campus is designed specifically with environmental sustainability in mind. Of course, from an outsider’s perspective, they can see the solar panels lined up neatly on the roof, helping to reduce the energy the school uses to accommodate its size. They will see the gardens when walking through the sky bridge, and the composting program on the first level. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

When you look a little deeper, you will discover that our vast field is made of recycled materials, and under that is an immense space for rainwater collection and storage, where it is then used to water our plants. Walking up the stairs from block to block, you will feel under your fingertips the railings that are all made of recycled materials. Entering the classrooms, you will walk into the relief of a cool breeze from the extremely low-energy fans and energy-efficient air conditioners, just enough to fight off Singapore’s heat.

“Our approach to sustainability is well-being within the means of nature,” Claire Psillides, UWCSEA’s Head of Environmental and Sustainability stated. “Sustainability is embedded in the curriculum at all grade levels, teachers are trained in the sustainability compass.” These values and love for the planet have been rooted in the learning of students at every level, shaping a community that is educated and sustainably aware.

Despite the extraordinary growth towards a more sustainable future, the urgency of climate change raises a question: are we, as a community, doing enough? In the middle of a race with time, shouldn’t we be doing more?

Sometimes it’s the little things with the biggest impact –– the polyester container from the hawkers sitting at the corner of the basketball field, or the guilty GrabFood coming into school during lunchtime. It’s the whispered hush of complaints on Wednesdays when there’s no meat in the campus canteen. We can’t yet talk about carbon footprints from flights when we still fail to make sustainable, responsible choices.

It’s not easy. Even as we try to raise as much awareness as possible about the environment in the school, it’s effortless for people to brush it off in the middle of other calls to action happening all around them. Even as we’re approaching 1.5ºC of global warming and sea levels rising with the possibility of us losing biodiversity and all our resources, the bells still don’t seem to be ringing loud enough.

“We talk about sustainability a lot in class, even in English or Math,” Oscar Landgren, a Grade 11 student, testified. “But for some people, they know about it, but maybe they just don’t feel like it’s urgent enough. Maybe they don’t feel like it’s as immediate as other issues such as refugees and human rights.”

That is not to say that progress has not been made in the past years. In the boarding house alone, plastic has reduced significantly. More people are taking public transport, and deliveries are down by three times compared to the past 2 years. Some of the strongest environmental initiatives, such as Solar for East and Veggie Wednesday, were started by students and continue to be student-led, leading the sustainability scale of the school. People are having conversations about how they can make a less harmful impact on the planet, from K1 students to Grade 12. With the very strong concentration of the students who are very much aware of the climate urgency, the sustainability of the school is being kept alive and strong. If all 2,557 of us can come together, our actions would certainly be more than a drop in the ocean.

The action of the people in the community is the most important part of it all, because just having a building that is built on a base of environmental care, awareness, and sustainability, will never be enough.

It is, after all, the people who matter.

It is the students coming to school with public transport every day. It is the Sodexo staff having meetings on how they can make their service more sustainable, constantly innovating more and more ways to make it eco-friendly. It is the conscious choice of eating plant-based food for lunch instead of beef or not ordering food deliveries. It is the people who take 5 minutes of their week to go to the composting centre. It is the ideas being put on the table during student-led meetings, trying to think of other ways to live more sustainably.

“I’d like to see more and more students pushing other students for change,” Rob Storey, a boarding houseparent, expressed. In the end, it is the youth on the campus who drive the environmental and sustainability aspects of the school. The same with how the climate is going to affect our future the most, it is also us who have to work hand in hand to open each other’s eyes, minds, and hearts.

“One simple thing can really shift our thinking,” Ms Psillides solemnly said. “It is our responsibility, as educated and sustainably aware people, to care for our people and the planet.”

So of course, we can continue building sustainable buildings, installing solar panels, and using recycled materials for our houses. We will continue to stand up for what we’re standing on by continuously making creative, innovative decisions without compromising our planet.

But we must remember to go back to the most significant piece of all this; what is the most important thing in the world?

It is people, it is people, it is people.

By Medina Ayasha Nordiawan – 10 FIB

Let’s get started!

Hello from the Solar for East team!

Solar For East is a student led initiative that aims to implement more sustainable energy sources for the East campus of United World College of Southeast Asia (UWCSEA). In early September 2017, fourteen Grade 9 students with a passion for clean energy, as well as the Facilities Department met to discuss the pressing issue of the school’s carbon footprint, as well as the possibility of launching a solar panel initiative on the campus. They then proceeded to create a proposal to share to the Board in November 2017, which was approved.

As part of the UWC mission, this project aims to foster community awareness and spirit on the issues of clean energy and climate change, as well as allows the students involved to experience creating change and to take a lead in making a difference for the planet. The team is now currently working to install 1,130 panels across four different locations over the next few years in order to reduce the school’s dependency on unsustainable energy sources and reduce their impact on the environment.

Right now, the East campus consumes 5975 megawatts per hour of electricity each year. Electricity generation alone emmits 7.65 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, clearly showing that our use of energy is unsustainable and a solution is needed, fast. Energy-related ventures alone account for 86% of all human related greenhouse gases, and this pressing issue has become a lot more apparent in the recent years, from droughts and floods to drowning polar bears. Luckily, many countries including Singapore are heavily contributing to working with renewable energy by funding renewable energy projects as well as the physical installation of solar panels.

As the students did more research, the amount of carbon dioxide produced at their school inspired them to take action. UWCSEA emits approximately 2,480,363.17 Kgs of carbon annually, greatly contributing to the issue of climate change. With this initiative, we hope to save 173,625.4219 Kgs of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere, which will not only reduce the amount of money spent on energy, but also greatly reduce the impact the school is having on the environment and global warming.

But how can you get involved?

Donate toward a solar panel

Buying a solar panel to go on the roof of UWCSEA East Campus would greatly help our impact on the planet, and just one solar panel would save 3,499.17 kg of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. For a gift of $600 you can buy a whole solar panel, or alternatively buy parts of a panel for a lower price. Each dollar donated saves the emission of 5.83 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere, so simply go on to the Solar For East website to make your contribution.

Reduce reliance on air conditioners

The energy used by air conditioners is equivalent to the energy used by 11 fans. By switching to using a fan, you can save $400 every year. Even by letting the AC run for a little while, you can still save about $340 every year by using a fan.

Reduce energy wastage on standby power supplies

We can save around $25 a year just by simply turning off unused power sockets. Use power strips instead and turn off groups of appliances when unneeded.

Practice sustainable consumerism

Rule: The more ticks, the better. You can save $270 a year with a 5 tick air conditioner and $75 a year with a 3 tick refrigerator.

Use appliances effectively

Only wash full loads of dishes and clothes and air dry them if possible. Save around $110 a year by switching off water heaters after use.

Cooking smarter

Use microwaves and toasters to cook or warm leftovers. Keep the oven door closed while cooking as the temperature can drop by 25 degrees each time you open the door.

Following these 5 steps will bring us closer and closer to a cleaner tomorrow, and one step closer to ending global warming.

Our objective has always been to provide clean, sustainable energy solutions to the community of UWCSEA East, and with the help of an initial funding from the board and a lot of hard work, our goal can now be accomplished! We are now working directly on sales, as we set up our crowd-funding system in order to raise funds for panels. Our aim is to sell approximately 100 panels by the end of 6 months. We are working closely with the foundation for the marketing of our campaign, and hope to gain the support from all members of the community, including students, parents, alumni, and parents of alumni.