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Sustainable development innovations on show

The Straits Times by NOEL LOW

Mushroom roots could one day form the structure of your house.

The agricultural waste can be converted into a low-cost building material that is "stronger than concrete", Indonesia-based company Mycotech demonstrated at the Temasek Ecosperity Conference yesterday.

It was one of many innovations showcased at the conference, held at Suntec Convention Centre in conjunction with the United Nations World Environment Day.

Co-founder Ronaldiaz Hartantyo told The Straits Times that the company is collaborating with ETH Zurich's laboratory in Singapore to bring the innovation here.

The one-day conference brought together 600 delegates from 23 countries to discuss sustainable development.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told the conference that there are physical dimensions to sustainability, such as water, energy, urban design and food, and also non-physical ones, including healthcare, social integration and education.

He added that Singapore can "master our destiny" if it manages its resources well.

A report launched at last year's conference said that there are US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) worth of economic opportunities in the area of sustainable development in Asia alone.

This year's conference aims to unlock more of these opportunities through the sharing of ideas.

Mr Fraser Thompson, director of consultancy firm Alphabeta which was commissioned to write the conference reports, told The Straits Times that the stereotype of Asian businesses being unreceptive to change has been proved wrong.

He said: "Businesses care, but there is a lack of scale for the innovations to take off."

The Ecosperity Conversations Report observed that fundamental change is needed to ensure sustainability across many industries.

Temasek Holdings chairman Mr Lim Boon Heng said that "taking a business-as-usual approach will not work". Food was one of the key focuses cited. He said we need to re-examine how food is produced and consumed, as "a third of the food produced worldwide doesn't even reach our plates".

Mr Chan added that we must harness technology to optimise food production and find "new ways to grow high quality, premium food".

The conference also turned to young people, with almost 1,000 of them sharing their ideas at a global innovation workshop.

Projects funded by Temasek Foundation Ecosperity were also on display. They included a "smart dustbin", which is equipped with image-recognition technology to track the types of food thrown away and provide data for businesses to adjust their purchasing decisions in order to cut waste. The foundation has pumped $17 million into 18 projects.