Singapore emerges top sustainable city in South-East Asia

Singapore emerges top sustainable city in South-East Asia
  • Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore in global top 10 of Sustainable Cities Index
  • KL comes in 26th, scores lower in terms of equality and literacy

SINGAPORE is the top-ranked South-East Asian city in the inaugural Sustainable Cities Index by Arcadis, a global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm. In the Asia Pacific region, the city-state came in third, behind Seoul and Hong Kong.

Kuala Lumpur ranked second in South-East Asia and seventh in Asia Pacific, with Sydney, Melbourne and Tokyo ranking fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.

The Index, which was conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, explores social (People), environmental (Planet) and economic (Profit) demands to develop an indicative ranking of 50 of the world’s leading cities in 31 countries.

The 2015 report finds that no utopian city exists, with city leaders having to manage a complex balancing act between these three key pillars of sustainability. Frankfurt sits in first place, followed by London and Copenhagen on the ranking, Arcadis said in a statement.

Three advanced Asian cities, Seoul (seventh), Hong Kong (eighth) and Singapore (10th), made the global top 10.

Seoul performed particularly well on the People sub-index which rates transport infrastructure, health, education, income inequality, work-life balance, the dependency ratio and green spaces within cities, reaching second place globally. This was partly due to a strong performing transport infrastructure, which is second only to another city in the continent, Melbourne.

Yet, Arcadis said the Index also shows that high working hours (20% higher than the global average) and a consistently poor work-life balance hold several Asian cities back from performing stronger on its People factors.

Hong Kong excelled on the Profit sub-index. The Profit sub-index examines performance from a business perspective, combining measures of transport infrastructure (rail, air, other public transport and commuting time), ease of doing business, the city’s importance in global economic networks, property and living costs, GDP (gross domestic product) per capita and energy efficiency.

Hong Kong also led the way in university education and life expectancy, and offers its people the highest percentage of green space.

Whilst Singapore is placed in the top 10 in the Sustainable Cities Index, it ranks lower than Hong Kong and Seoul largely due to lower scores for indicators like work-life balance, expensive property prices, low use of renewable energy, and a high cost of doing business.

However, Singapore is the only country in Asia Pacific which made it into the top 10 of the Planet sub-index. The Planet sub-index looks at city energy consumption and renewable energy share, recycling rates, greenhouse gas emissions, natural catastrophe risk, drinking water, sanitation and air pollution.

This demonstrates Singapore’s capability and commitment to green urbanisation and to ensuring that sustainability is at the heart of its overall master plan, Arcadis said.

“Cities in Asia Pacific demonstrate the greatest divergence: Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore all make it into the top 10 of the overall ranking, while New Delhi, Wuhan, Mumbai, Manila and Jakarta sit at the bottom," said Graham Kean, Asia-Pacific Head of Client Solutions at Arcadis. 

"The Sustainable Cities Index highlights the areas of opportunity for cities, to inform future decision-making and hopefully make them more sustainable economically, environmentally and for the welfare of their inhabitants,” he added.

Singapore emerges top sustainable city in South-East Asia

Kuala Lumpur (KL) was 26th worldwide, ranking 23rd, 24th and 22nd in the People, Planet and Profit sub-rankings. Low property costs and good work-life balance were areas where KL performed best. However, the city scored lower in terms of equality and literacy.

"Sustainability and development are closely connected. It is important for KL to transform the city into one of Asia’s new financial hubs," said Girish Ramachandran, corporate development director at Arcadis.

“It will also need to focus on other areas such as people and social welfare. Over the next few decades, KL will face greater stress to improve areas such as health, education and quality of life, as well as developments around the transport networks, water supply and waste collection systems,” he added.

The full rankings can be viewed at

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