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SUTD sets aside $10 million for sustainability research over next few years

21 Feb 2022

 Straits Times, 21 Feb 2022, SUTD sets aside $10 million for sustainability research over next few years

 The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) will be committing $10 million over the next three to five years to research and education in sustainability, said its president. 

Speaking to The Straits Times, Professor Chong Tow Chong said this injection of seed funding is part of a larger plan to find sustainable solutions for the world through better design. 

SUTD will also be delving into research to understand how people behave and what might nudge them to adopt sustainable ways of living, he said. 

“Design can mean different things to different people, but at SUTD, our design is human-centric,” said Prof Chong. 

“Because if you just say we must have a more sustainable world, it can be making life difficult for people. But for us, when we design a sustainable world, we also want to make sure that we take into account the happiness of humans,” he added. 

SUTD launched a wide-ranging sustainability plan in December last year, with the aim of tapping its strengths in technology and design to solve challenges. 

To this end, a new DesignZ research centre by the university will work on projects in areas such as a circular economy, or to maximise the life cycle of all products, and lowering carbon emissions. 

SUTD is also working with SingHealth to create smart, low carbon campuses at Changi General Hospital and its upcoming integrated general and community hospital in Bedok North. 

Prof Chong said SUTD will open up its own 150,000 sq m campus in Changi as a test bed for sustainable and smart living ideas. It will be open to faculty, students and industry partners who need space for their projects. 

“It’s almost like a sandbox for people to try new things... Here we hope we can also make use of big data, collect data and apply certain artificial intelligence to understand a lot of things,” he said, adding that such studies could be on electricity usage or waste management. 

Another major part of SUTD’s efforts is education, and it has infused concepts of sustainability into the curriculum.

In 2021, it introduced a module called science for a sustainable world for freshmen. 

This year, 34 students are in the first batch to take up a new major in design and artificial intelligence starting in January. 

Prof Chong said the course aims to train students to be “designers who also have knowledge of technology, especially artificial intelligence” and who can develop solutions with the needs of humans in mind. 

SUTD is also opening up avenues for more student research through a new Undergraduate Sustainability Opportunities Programme, starting in the middle of the year. Students can work on projects across disciplines, including architecture, healthcare and transport. 

The university, in partnership with The Straits Times, is holding its Design Innovation Forum on March 15. The virtual event, in its second edition, will discuss how design can help to achieve a more sustainable and happier world. 

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, will give an opening address at the forum. Other keynote speakers are Prof Chong, Mr Patrik Schumacher, principal of Zaha Hadid Architects, and Mr Topher White, founder and chief executive of non-profit technology start-up Rainforest Connection.

Professor Tai Lee Siang, SUTD’s head of the architecture and sustainable design pillar and centre director of DesignZ, will be moderating the session. 

Said Prof Chong: “With climate change threatening our world, countries and individuals are increasingly investing in sustainability efforts to mitigate the adverse effects. 

“As sustainability challenges are multi-faceted and complex, we need innovative and holistic approaches to develop practical and lasting sustainable solutions.” 

You can register to attend the forum here str.sg/SUTDForum22.