Insights from a Green Champion’s CSR Journey

With concerted government and private-sector efforts towards environmental sustainability in Singapore and across the globe, the green sector has grown considerably in prominence and company practices. With this comes various ways of measuring, understanding, and of course recognising efforts by companies which invest considerable effort into this aspect of corporate social responsibility, or CSR.

One example of this is the Singapore Compact CSR Awards, launched in 2010 in various categories for different aspects of CSR. To understand and learn from a local company’s CSR journey, Green Business Singapore spoke to Ms Esther An, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), City Developments Limited (CDL), winner of the inaugural Singapore Compact CSR Green Champion Award.


GBS – Green Business Singapore

Esther – Ms Esther An, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), CDL

GBS: Describe your organisation’s CSR policies and practices.

Esther: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the bedrock of CDL’s business philosophy and an integral part of our corporate vision and mission. Founded on this commitment, we take into consideration the interests of our key stakeholders such as our investors, customers, employees, contractors and suppliers as well as the community at large. Our CSR mission is be a responsible corporate citizen who believes in creating value for stakeholders, conducting sustainable business practices, caring for the community and protecting the environment. We take a triple bottom line approach where our business excellence is measured by our economic, environmental and social performance.

From an overall management perspective, since 2008, CDL established its CSR Committee to strategically integrate our CSR objectives into our business operations. This Committee takes charge of CDL’s CSR KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and targets as well as manages and develops programmes needed to meet our CSR objectives. This Committee is led by senior management of the Company and it reports directly to our Managing Director, Mr Kwek Leng Joo, demonstrating top management’s support for CSR and its importance to the Company.

While CDL has various policies that reach out to different stakeholder groups, one key area as a leading property developer is our advocacy for the development of green buildings in Singapore. Towards this goal, in 2003, we established our Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) policy which sets the strategic direction for all departments to take practical efforts to ensure effective EHS management as well as to create a “Green” culture, conserve resources and prevent pollution. This policy has enabled us to surge forward with our sustainability commitment. Most recently in May, we became the first and only recipient of the BCA Green Mark Platinum Champion Award in recognition of our long-term commitment towards environmental sustainability.

CDL has been voluntarily publishing a dedicated annual sustainability report since 2008, highlighting the Company’s economic, social and environmental activities and tracking its performance. The reports are available online at

GBS: Why did your organisation decide to embrace CSR?

Esther: We embraced CSR because we believe that responsible business practices ensure business excellence and lays the foundation for long-term sustainability. We believe that a successful corporation is not only founded on business achievements, but also by the positive role it can play in the community and towards environmental sustainability. More than a decade ago, we challenged ourselves to change the general perception of developers “destruct before they construct” to one who “conserve while we construct”. As a developer with extensive operations, we knew that everything we do has an impact on our stakeholders, the community and the environment in particular. This led to redefining and integrating CSR into our vision and mission in the mid 1990s, followed by effectively embracing CSR in every area and level of our operations.

We also recognize that what gets measured gets done. Thus, we started incorporating a CSR report in our Annual Report in 2004. With stronger commitment to disclosure and communications, we voluntarily published our first dedicated GRI level C report in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, we published GRI level B+ sustainability reports. To ensure credibility and robustness of our disclosure, we also assured our report by the 3rd party.

GBS: What are the challenges faced by your organisation in the CSR journey?

Esther: There are inevitably many challenges along the long CSR journey. The main challenges include ensuring firm commitment throughout the organization and supply chain, effective strategy in applying CSR to add value to our business and operations, and to ensure our CSR strategies are relevant to the constantly changing business environment and to meet growing stakeholders’ expectations. As Daniel Esty puts it, sustainability is not an endpoint but a journey. We remain committed to a CSR-focused business model as we firmly believe that sustainability is fundamental for business excellence.

GBS: How has your organisation benefited from the CSR efforts?

Esther: For being a green innovator and pioneer for the industry, our humble efforts have allowed us to enjoy first mover advantage and enhanced branding and reputation.

For instance, CDL has been championing the development of green buildings for over a decade. When the BCA Green Mark Scheme was launched in 2005 as a voluntary initiative, CDL was a strong supporter of this programme. We strived towards certifying all our new properties under the Green Mark scheme. This scheme was made mandatory in April 2008. As the Company started early in greening its properties, this new regulation had no business impact on the Company. Instead, we already had numerous Green Mark award buildings. Our environmental commitment has helped us attain many accolades and awards including the recent inaugural BCA Green Mark Platinum Award, and have also won us credibility as an eco-developer and champion for green building in Singapore.

We believe that the credibility earned will make us resilient to risks and uncertainties. We were also ranked top in Real Estate sector of the latest Asian Sustainability Rating (in the region), and internationally, CDL is the only Singapore corporation to be ranked amongst the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations this year. Internally, CSR not only helps us bind staff together, but also helps attract and retain talent.

GBS: Does your organisation have other CSR initiatives over the next few years?

Esther: As we strive to align our CSR practices with the recently launched ISO26000 CSR Guidance Standard, CDL will continue our CSR journey with enhanced stakeholder engagement and innovation according to international standard. We believe that it is equally important, if not more, to sustain and improve our existing initiatives while exploring new ones. We will continue to focus on our material issues whilst enhancing measurability and transparency of our CSR practices. As climate change, water, carbon emission and natural resources remain relevant to our business, CDL will continue to find ways to minimise externalities and to create positive impact in our society.

GBS: What advice would you give to organisations who are interested in CSR?

Esther: Contrary to the perception that CSR is a cost, constraint or a charitable deed, it can help companies find identify opportunities, to innovate and sharpen their competitive edge. CSR is relevant to all organisations regardless of their industry, size and location. Industry norms, local legislations and guidelines often have intrinsic degree of social responsibility. One can start by reviewing existing practices, employee benefit, products and services. This can be followed by identifying key stakeholders and mapping out ways to engage them in achieving your social, environmental and economic objectives. CSR is not about philanthropy. It is about finding best and most sustainable way to grow your business.


So what does it take to be a CSR champion or award winner? Perhaps it comes down to a vision, a well-implemented strategy, and how the company sees corporate social responsibility in relation to their business goals.

It seems clear, then, that CSR must be embedded in the values and core business of a company, to make it both relevant and profitable. Certainly, embarking on CSR is a journey, and not one which is always smooth sailing. Yet there is always space for continual improvement and new opportunities, and certainly the possibility of being a leader in sustainability.

Singapore Compact CSR Awards 2011

The Singapore Compact CSR Awards 2011 are now open for submissions in four categories: Best Workplace, Community Developer, Caring Employer, and Green Champion. Submissions will close on 1st July 2011. Interested organisations can visit for information about the award criteria and submission requirements.

The local focal point for the UN Global Compact, the Singapore Compact is a national society which aims to promote CSR and sustainability among companies and organizations. The awards received good response in its first year, with many worthy contenders and quiet CSR champions.

Images: City Developments Limited; Singapore Compact

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