Are We Outsourcing Our Social Responsibility?

A couple of weeks back I was invited to speak on a panel discussing a Clean & Green Singapore. I said agreed because I had always wanted to meet Sivasothi, one of Singapore’s leading environmentalists. We’ve known of each other since the term “blog” was invented, but for reasons uninvestigated, we had never actually met.

The discussion panel took its predicted path down governmental measures lane and civic mindedness alley and it was only when Siva spoke about what he did to the students he taught at NUS that I really began listening (sorry NEA, rest of panel – it was one of those days I was triple-booked).

Siva, who later shared my regret that we weren’t as entertaining and fiery as we should have been, has this fabulous requirement of his students. They are required to put their chairs back in place after a lecture has concluded. And – this will blow your socks off if you weren’t wearing slippers like the sloppy Singaporean you are – he makes his students find out the name of the cleaner who cleans the areas in and around the lecture theatres!

Then I started thinking about what had been spoken earlier in the discussion: that Singapore is not a clean city – it is a cleaned city. We don’t see, and neglect to care about the dusk to dawn army of cleaning workers who pick up our garbage in the streets and parks at night.

I’ve mentioned how we delegate our personal responsibilities to so many people that we’ve forgotten we have these responsibilities. Not only do we not know who takes away our trash, we don’t even take out our own trash.

Earlier in the week, I left for work at the same time the guy from the cleaning company was mopping the floor at our lift lobby. I said good morning and he jumped out of his skin. I decided not to startle him further, and will ask for his name next time we meet.

At a meeting a fortnight ago, a bunch of young entrepreneurs was telling us about the disparity between the cleaning company’s contract fee and the actual salary of the person actually doing the job. Yes, there are cleaners who are getting paid $800 a month or less.

It’s a lot more complicated than just saying ‘yes, we need to pay the cleaners more’,  and the tyranny of modern economic conveniences will mean that business owners will still want to engage a cleaning company than to employ a cleaner directly.

It follows that something needs to be done about the people who are directly employing the cleaners. And apparently, something that will pay them more than a mandatory minimum wage, like the progressive wage model I wrote about earlier will come into being next year. Here’s hoping it works out well.

But as I was saying on that panel that evening, if you want a more caring, compassionate society, you have to start thinking of the consequences of every action. There are things within your means you can do to help low wage workers like cleaners.

You want to care about the cleaners who are paid little? Make their job easier. Pick up after yourselves, return your tray, push your chair back after you get up.

I sit on the management council of the condo we live in, and I went on a little power trip at a meeting last week. The security guard company we hire had requested for a fee increase. I voted ok as long as we know that the two guards, who look after our premises and make sure no idiots anyhowly park in our car park, have a commensurate pay increase as well. We even voted on a little thing – making sure there’s enough mosquito repellent in the guard house so they don’t kenah dengue.

I’ve just found out that what we were doing was this thing called “best-sourcing”, which is gahmen-speak for outsourcing in a conscious, conscientious and socially responsible way. And like many things about this fine country, there’s even a monetary incentive to do so.

But as we become increasingly out-sourcery, we must not let ourselves or our corporations outsource our social responsibilities.

I think it’s time I called another council meeting.

We will make our own snacks

One of our resolutions was to cut down on junk and outside-bought food, and so far, apart from the ton of snacks we brought back from China (yah, I know, right?) we’ve kept to our word.

Of course, it helps when you’ve got this, a Christmas present we gave ourselves, not least because we share the same sentiment as Mark Bittman:

By becoming a cook, you can leave processed foods behind, creating more healthful, less expensive and better-tasting food that requires less energy, water and land per calorie and reduces our carbon footprint. Not a bad result for us — or the planet.

Our first batch of dried apple snacks

Would you like fries with that?

a green

Hopefully I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that the current regime to encourage the use of less harmful fuels either isn’t working, or doesn’t exist at all. Just look at the number of CNG refueling stations on the island. The NEA’s job seems to be to just “hope to create the critical mass of CNG vehicles needed for the CNG refueling infrastructure to be put in place early.”

There is also this thing called the GVR (Green Vehicle Rebate) which adds to the complexity that is the rocket science of vehicle purchasing.

According to my understanding, if not for the good people at the car dealers’ who’ll do the math for you, you’d have to whip out your calculator when you want to buy a car that is worth, say $10,000 and has an engine capacity of 1.6L:

So you pay:

$10,000 for the car

plus

COE of say $15,000 depending on the mysterious “open” bidding system,

subtotal so far: $25,000

plus

ARF (Additional Registration Fee) (110% x 10,000) = $11,100

subtotal so far: $36,100

plus

RF (Registration Fee) = $140

subtotal so far: $36,240

plus

Excise Duty (20% x 10,000) = $2,000

subtotal so far: $38,240

Got that so far? OK, now, we’re not going to add on road costs like road tax and insurance yet. But say for instance, you wanted to save the earth, and your car is an electric-petrol hybrid, and we know that electric hybrids are roughly 8 to 10% more expensive than their conventional counterparts. So that makes your car worth say, $11,000.

The LTA gives you a whopping discount of 40% off your car’s original value, or OMV, which you can use to offset the ARF payable.

So, if your baby is a green car:

$11,000 + 15,000 + 140 + (12,100 – 4,400 = 7,700) + 2,200 = $36,040.

Hmmm… $2,200 cheaper than a petrol car. Think I’ll go save the earth and buy a hybrid. Oh wait, that’s only less than 6% cheaper. WTF?! I get better deals at the Great Singapore Sale!

A big, big disclaimer here though – as my teachers would attest, my math could very likely be wrong, and I could have misled myself into thinking that it’s not worth the trouble getting a hybrid car and saving the earth. So, please, if you could correct me, let me know. Leave your workings and answers in the comments box.

Or if you prefer, work out a scheme where you get discounted meals at McDonald’s because you’ve used their used cooking oil as fuel.

Renewable entitlement

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I have to admit to enjoying watching Top Gear even though in this day and age, it really is wrong to enjoy fossil-fuel burning and carbon emitting activity but I suppose just watching is ok and if the world ends just blame the organisers.

Having said that, I boldly propose that the organisers of all motor-racing activity have a carbon-emission cap as one of their race rules – so that this 100% electric sports car, the Electric Lightning, can be one of the entrants.

0-60mph in 4 seconds, 700 bhp and 200 miles on a single charge says its something worth considering if you still like your car to be fast and mean while being eco-conscious. Only thing is, electric cars are a lot quieter, and you’ll have to use the “programmable external engine sound generator” to make it sound like a regular carbon emitting sports car.

And I’m also hoping that Top Gear comes round and starts featuring electrics instead of, as this Guardian article reports, “racing a G-Wiz electric car against a table”.

Green neighbourhood. Not.


Here in Singapore, we send our trash overseas – Photo by Where is Clifford The Big Red Dog?

I asked our apartment block’s cleaner where the recycle bins were and he said there weren’t any. Just chuck everything into the big wheelie bin, he said.

What made me sicker was a friend of ours telling me he saw his neighbourhood’s rubbish truck dump everything from their block’s recycle bins into the same truck as the other regular rubbish.

I would like to think that the private company that collects our trash for a monthly fee has some super-duper system at their trash depot that does the sorting for us, but it is hard to give anyone the benefit of doubt these days.

My flu-induced headache was exacerbated by researching “green cars” over the weekend, trying to find out if the carbon footprint of a CNG car was significantly less than that of a conventional one, and how many CNG dispensing stations there were in the country besides the three in very far flung parts of the island which require a CNG car owner to use up a significant amount of gas just to get to.

The flu medication does stave off some of the gluggy feeling, but it doesn’t stop me from being delirious enough to think about such things as the total square footage of all the rooftops of all the HDB blocks in the country, and how many solar panels can be fitted on them.

I think the good people at HDB and NEA would have thought of it already, with or without the flu. Then again