How Swedish & S’porean firms teamed up to transform this green community

In an unprecedented collaboration, Swedish and Singaporean companies have banded together to outfit a garden in the heartlands with smart and sustainable solutions.

By SGN | 25 Jul 2023

Sustainability is deeply ingrained in Swedish society. “There’s an understanding that we need to take the planet into consideration in everything we do,” says Magnus Gustavsson, a Swede based in Singapore since 2005. “In each household, you have up to 10 different containers for sorting waste.” 

Businesses play a part too. Tetra Pak has recycling programmes for their paper-based carton packaging, while Volvo Group is working towards electrifying its automotive range. At Ikea, the vast majority of materials like wood and cotton are recycled or responsibly sourced. 

While most Singaporeans recognise Ikea and H&M as Swedish brands, dozens more like Electrolux, AstraZeneca, and Atlas Copco have had a presence in the country and the lives of residents for decades. “Companies are attracted to the business environment, strategic location and excellent workforce here,” Magnus says.

Besides working as regional manager at Nojdhs Underwater Technology – a company that operates in submarine electronics – Magnus also sits on the board of directors at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (SwedCham). SwedCham represents 85 Swedish businesses in Singapore, from startups to multinationals, and promotes collaborations between Swedish and Singaporean organisations. 

One such effort, more than four years in the making, has recently been completed under Magnus’s leadership. It is a project that has brought together Swedish and Singaporean innovation to create a positive impact on a community in the heart of western Singapore.

Magnus Gustavsson, Lisa Ferraton and Anna Hedve Landgren of SwedCham.

The search for a sustainable project

In 2019, back when Magnus was chair of SwedCham’s sustainability committee, he sought to spearhead a community project in Singapore that could tap into the resources and expertise of Swedish companies in sustainable practices. 

After linking up with the South West District and considering close to 10 candidate communities, Magnus and his team chose to work with Cosy Garden, a beautifully maintained 10,000 sq ft plot located a five-minute walk from Bukit Batok MRT station. 

Cosy Garden is the largest of three adjacent gardens wedged between HDB housing blocks. While Lush Garden brims with fruit trees and the Culture and Arts Garden showcases sculptural artworks among greenery, the easternmost Cosy Garden bursts to life with fruits, flowers, herb and vegetable patches, a hydroponics shed, and even a koi pond by its entrance.

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Cosy Garden is a beautifully maintained community garden where fruits and vegetables such as chilli, eggplant, tomato, fig, jambu and starfruit are grown.

Richard Ashworth, Cosy Garden’s representative in the SwedCham project, shares that the garden was built in 1994 and revitalised in 2012 when fellow volunteer Lee May La took over the reins. “May is one hardworking and amazing leader. She really puts her heart and soul into the garden. If there’s a bed there, she would sleep there,” he chuckles. 

Over the years, Cosy Garden has been recognised as a shining example of a community garden. It earned a Diamond Award in 2018, the highest honour conferred by the National Parks Community in Bloom Awards. 

More than a source of fresh produce, the garden is a space that binds the community. “Sometimes we harvest vegetables for the needy,” Richard says. “Children from kindergartens nearby come and learn about how vegetables are planted, how they grow, how they are harvested. This is important, because when you ask them, ‘Where do vegetables come from?’ a lot of them say, ‘From the supermarket.’”

May (in blue) looking on as kindergarteners learn about growing plants.

Making a green space even greener

Roping in Swedish and Singaporean companies as partners, Magnus’s plan was to create a Green Innovation Centre at Cosy Garden, introducing smart and sustainable tech solutions that would benefit the community while supporting Singapore’s broader development strategies. It was key to collaborate with local firms with a strong sustainability mission, both to build business connections and to help spotlight their value propositions. 

In line with the Singapore Green Plan to ramp up solar power production to 2 GWp by 2030, local startup 10 Degree Solar supplied solar panels to power the garden’s fans, lights and security system, along with a Bluetti energy storage system with batteries and inverters to store excess energy collected for use during nighttime. The Swedish-Swiss firm ABB provided equipment for electrical safety and smart control of the energy storage system. 

Sustainable features also include a rainwater harvesting system by Singaporean company Hydro Dynamic. New planter boxes, as well as the roofing for an outdoor living room built by Singaporean SME reXstore, were fashioned from polyAl (or polyaluminium), a material derived from recycling Tetra Pak beverage cartons. 

Other solutions align with Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. Swedish firms Securitas and Axis Communications set up a smart access system employing AI facial recognition for security, while pest control company Anticimex installed five intelligent rodent traps that alerts their office when a pest is captured.

Magnus explaining the renewable energy loop to South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling.

Meeting needs of the community

Beyond incorporating nifty new technologies, the design of the Garden Innovation Centre also took into account the needs and concerns of the community, which Richard would voice during meetings with SwedCham and contractors. For instance, because the koi pond pumps had often experienced power failure, they were connected to batteries for backup power. 

When discussing the placement of equipment, safety was a top priority, especially since seniors and children are frequent visitors to the garden. “We also had to consider how we angle the solar panels, whether the reflection will bother the residents in the surrounding blocks,” Richard notes.

At the new therapeutic garden section – built by Singaporean SME Hortherapeutics, with low-carbon concrete for the pathway supplied by local firm Pan-United – seniors with dementia can experience sensory stimulation while mobile planter boxes of varying heights allow children and wheelchair users alike to participate in gardening.

Although the physical size of Green Innovation Centre is relatively modest, its scale of collaboration is unprecedented. With numerous parties involved in the public-private partnership, existing frameworks and processes proved inadequate, and navigating this complexity took time. 

Nevertheless, the process of collaboration on the ground was warm and memorable. “SwedCham and the contractors were very helpful, and we worked well together,” Richard shares. 

Magnus concurs. “Getting to interact with the community, enjoying food and drinks together, has been wonderful,” he says. “And we appreciate how open-minded they have been in coming up with ideas.”

Magnus (2nd from left), Richard (2nd from right) and May (rightmost) at the launch of the Garden Innovation Centre.

The beginning of something bigger

After years of hard work, Green Innovation Centre came to fruition, launching on June 8, 2023. 

“I thought that not many would be interested in a community garden, but to my surprise, so many people turned up,” Richard shares. He was delighted at how impressed and interested visitors were while learning about the sustainability aspects of the garden. 

The community of 20 volunteers are proud to call such a technologically advanced garden their own, and they value the meaningful experience in doing their part to fight climate change. “For the wheelchair-friendly pathway leading to the therapeutic garden, we even collected and reused bricks and concrete from renovation sites,” Richard says. 

As a result of the revamp, the garden is now a cosier, more communal space that is conducive to workshops and gatherings of up to 50 or 60 people – bringing the community even closer together. 

Magnus, too, regards the project with pride. Collectively, the improvements not only showcase the technological capabilities of Swedish and Singaporean companies, but they also demonstrate how a local community can benefit from the adoption of smart and sustainable solutions made accessible to everyone. 

“I feel we have achieved all of our objectives. So many connections have been formed, between companies, and also with the community and various agencies,” he says.

“The Garden Innovation Centre is a small project, but I hope its the beginning of something bigger, both for SwedCham and for Singapore. I hope it will inspire other chambers or companies to come up with something similar or better that benefits Singapore and the environment, so that we can keep on growing together.

About SwedCham

The Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (SwedCham) is a non-profit, non-governmental membership-based organisation representing Swedish businesses in Singapore. As a dynamic and innovative platform for knowledge-sharing, business development and networking that connects over 500 active members from close to 90 companies across numerous industries, SwedCham promotes innovation, technology, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and diversity. 

Learn more at their website.

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