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Comment: This Dane goes biking in Singapore

On a Green Campus initiative in Singapore, I found out that local considerations should be taken into account, before opting for bikes

This summer I have been doing an internship at the Office of Environmental Sustainability at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Both the NUS and the University of Copenhagen are members of the IARU alliance (International Alliance of Research Universities). The universities exchange interns from their ‘Green’ offices during the summer, and I was the lucky one who got to go from the University of Copenhagen.

My job tasks involved several different areas of work on sustainability. But from my point of view, as a Dane, one of the most interesting things was the collaboration with the student organisation SAVE (Students Against Violation the Earth) on a biking trial at the campus area and the development of a free biking rental system at NUS.

My work with SAVE taught me the lesson that the right green solutions are not going to be the same in all campuses.

Bike lessons

To a Dane, the idea of biking on campus seems logic and natural. But in reality the concept turned out to be different from anything I could have imagined. See the pictures of the biking initiatiave in this photo gallery here.

The problem of biking in Singapore consisted most of all in a climate very different from what we are use to in Denmark or what other types of climate you would consider as optimal for biking.

First of all, an average temperature on 30 Degrees Celsius and humidity around 70 % means that biking back and forth from class would leave students very warm and sweaty. In addition to this, the campus area is very hilly, which means that you need light bikes with many gears – very different from the ones initially provided.

Buses might actually work better

Last but not least, the infrastructure is build for cars and shuttle busses transporting students around. Changing this shuttle bus system into a more green one seems like a much more efficient way than creating a whole new system of bikes. Not many people are used to bikes. To me it seemed as though that even for the engaged climate active students, biking would be more likely to turn into a fun recreative activity than a means of transportation.

Biking in Singapore is not as I expected. Biking is not an easy and efficient way to do transportation all over the world, nor can it be implemented at all universities in a successful way as we have done in Copenhagen. Actually it turned out to be quite the opposite. The biking tour was an example of how difficult it might be to implement solutions, which we here in Denmark think of as the only way to go, but in other countries are very unhandy.

This highlighted for me that we must focus on local needs and limitations when deciding on which green initiatives to focus on. To be sustainable and green does not mean that we have to go for the same solutions everywhere. We have to accept this fact as a part of the challenge we are facing if we want to change our lifestyle and reduce the CO2 emissions that we are producing.

Working on implementing the bikes at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is of course just a small part of this exchange of ideas, but I feel that the lesson I have learned is something I can bring home with me. Hopefully it can contribute to the work on sustainability both at the National University of Singapore and here at the University of Copenhagen.

See a gallery me taking part in the biking project in Singapore here.

See also my comment on the general issues with comparing sustainability here: Different shades of green

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