We speak to Hari V Krishnan, Chief Executive Officer of PropertyGuru Group, on sustainable urban living and how communities and technology can help facilitate an increasingly sustainable future.
Q: Now, I know you are a huge advocate of sustainable urban city solutions. Tell us a little bit about what that means, give us an example and also, how are you driving this as the CEO of PropertyGuru?
A: Sure. So I think more and more people are choosing to live in cities, and cities are the most efficient way to get to things, whether it be healthcare or education or jobs, et cetera. And therefore, the question becomes: "Are we building cities for tomorrow, or are we just replicating the cities of yesterday?"
Particularly in this part of the world in Asia, where we're still growing and developing our cities; should we just replicate cities from hundreds of years ago or should we look at building the future?
And I think when you think about urban living, it's — I sort of look at it at three levels: there's within the house, there's within your community or neighbourhood or estate or whatever and then there's at the city or country level. There are three layers to it and I think the way we have started at PropertyGuru, we run surveys regularly at our— In Singapore, for instance, our most recent survey, which was at the end of the first half of 2021, essentially, we found 82% of Singaporeans were willing to actually pay more to live in a sustainably built home. And so, they are beginning to value that, they're understanding if we don't make these choices, the world's going to get worse. More flooding, more plastic waste, more unbreathable air. So I think there's not much of a choice, frankly.
Q: And it's good that kind of — you're also being driven by that consumer demand as well in that sense, right?
A: Yeah. No, I think we really see ourselves as working in partnership with a community so we see ourselves as industry leaders for property technology. So we feel we need to lead the way in some ways. But that is a partnership with a community, so with consumers, with property developers, agents, et cetera. And I think when it comes to urban living, for sure, I think the consumer interest is gonna drive the future because the developers will build homes the consumers will want to buy. Intermediaries like us will help educate consumers so they can make intelligent choices. So I think that's one starting point.
Q: When we talk about electric cars, electric vehicles in that sense, I mean especially even if you talk about it in Singapore, like by 2040, we're intending to not to have any petrol or combustible engines in Singapore. By, in fact, I think newly-registered cars from 2030, right? What do you think is the impact electric cars will have on a sustainable city in the future?
A: I think it's very interesting 'cause I think — you know, there are multiple levels to it. There's the car itself. There is the electricity that's generated to actually power the car eventually and I think when we think about electric cars as, I would say, city dwellers, we need to think about it holistically, all the way from when the minerals are arranged to actually generate the battery for the car.
Q: It's like well-to-wheel, right? The entire process.
A: That's correct. That's correct. So I think — I mean the obvious changes obviously will be more breathable air. Then in Singapore, we are blessed. We have very good checks on carbon efficiency, et cetera. But you just have to step out of our city to any other city in the world and you will find tremendous emissions coming from automobiles.
So I think removing that is an immediate win. But I think then, we need to be much more deliberate about thinking about battery technology, how is that evolving? Are we sure that we are not gonna create more biowaste and ecological waste in the future? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and then the final part is where is the electricity actually being generated? Are we using carbon fuels or is it some other form of renewable energy, whether it be solar or geothermal, hydro, et cetera?
Q: So we are sitting in this amazing car. Obviously, it's 100% — this MINI Electric is 100% electric. It's also packed with tech, as you can see. How else do you think we can harness technology for a more sustainable future?
A: So I think technology, we were talking about it earlier, but I think that technology first and foremost is a mentality. The tech mentality is pervasive now. Our children, whether they become technologists or not, are going to have this mentality from their youth and the mentality is around problem-solving. You look at a problem. You look at a cause and the effect and you start thinking: "What are the causes that I can put in there that would have a positive effect?" So that's the first thing.
The second thing is if you think about technology, any technology or whatever kind, has always focused on efficiency. How do you make things more efficient? So I think the technologies that exist, which are powerful, are the ones that sort of fade into the background but make our lives easier, make them more efficient. I think technology, when it's powerful, is not evident. It is just — everything just works.
Q: Speaking of Singapore, we're accelerating our efforts in terms of sustainability. I mean, you could see it with our Green Plan and also towns like Tengah are coming out. I mean, we're talking about central cooling, saving a lot of energy. What would you like to see happen as well as we start gearing up towards a more sustainable future?
A: I think first and foremost, is this ownership from every citizen. Every citizen must think about this city and this planet as theirs and they have a role to play in it. So we can't sort of just say "Okay, the government needs to take care of us or private enterprise." Every individual, every household can make a difference and I think you're already beginning to see that.
Like to your point, it should be a green towns programme. You're seeing more and more Singaporeans saying "we would love to actually live in those" and I think that's wonderful that the government's thinking that way. I think more recently this year we saw 81% of Singaporeans say: "Save our forests. Save the greenery."
So I think that shows a couple of things. One: It shows that actually, we're building a responsible citizenry, that they understand that they play a role in it and if they say something, the legislators and the people who are running the government will be forced to take action accordingly. And the second is just understanding that by making changes in behaviour within your own household, you could start impacting some of these changes as well. So it's not just choosing where you're gonna live, but then how are you going to live once you get into that home?
Q: So Hari, tell me, what are some of the challenges that we face in urban living?
A: So I think in urban living, as I mentioned, there are three levels to it. There's within the household, within the community and then at the city or country level. And I think first and foremost, we need to start within the home. Within your home, are you making those changes? Are you thinking about sorting your garbage, are you thinking about single-use plastics?
Q: Are you even recycling right or starting to recycle?
A: Correct. And I think that if you look at every action you take, whether it's ordering food or whether it's — your point — when you're disposing of things, how are you thinking about it? You need to make these small changes in behaviour starting at home before you can then impact the community and then eventually obviously, the city.
Q: Right. And that's really important to think about, right? Cause I mean it's not just saying that you want to achieve sustainability, but how are you going about as an individual, as a household, doing it?
A: Correct. I think the socio-civic mentality needs to be there. I think in every city, we need to start again, within the communities, thinking about within your estates or within your condos or whatever. Are you having this conversation? I think that's a great place to start.
Are you discussing it? I mean, what are we gonna do about it? Should we put solar panels on the building? Should we recycle? Rainwater harvesting, should we look at that? Have we created enough — to your point — recycling bins, where it's convenient. Cause I think, people underestimate the impact of convenience. We live in a(n) age of convenience. We're used to everything being convenient. And if you make it convenient, people will change their behaviour very quickly.
Q: We've heard of 3D printing homes. Well, it's not really widely adopted at this point, but you see a lot of companies starting it, people getting a lot of funding for it. Do you think 3D-printed homes are gonna be a sustainable solution for urban living in the future?
A: I think so. I think already there are experiments going on and townships that are getting 3D-printed. You have an efficiency of use of materials, which is one other way which you help the environment. It's very efficiently done.
Q: Cause it's like almost zero waste, right?
A: That's exactly right. A lot of waste, if you look at it, 8% of carbon emissions come from the use of cement in construction. So if you are more efficient in that, then you're already helping the planet. I think beyond that, when you look at cities like Singapore, where you have large towers, modular buildings are also becoming a reality. And the tallest, I don't know if you know this, but the tallest modular building in the world is in Singapore.
Q: Yes, it's coming up soon, right?
A: That's right and the amazing thing with modular buildings is that you don't have to build it on-premise. You can build it off-location, somewhere else so there isn't this general construction site chaos that comes, whether it's the air quality dropping, sound quality and such. And I think it is — you know, you're able to do it in a more efficient way in a location built for just manufacturing these things, then just assemble on-site like lego blocks and I think that's fantastic.
Q: Okay, so we talked about you, your engineering background and also you work in a company that is really leveraging innovation and technology. So how else do you think can we leverage innovation and technology to kind of propel us into a more sustainable future?
A: So I think the way we've approached it at PropertyGuru, we've definitely looked at it as we need to help people make actionable insights or get relevant content. And so one example of that is recently, we launched in Singapore a product called PropertyGuru Green Score and the idea here is if we create more awareness and education around how sustainable is your HDB or your condo, to start with. I mean, those are two kinds of projects that have green scores to it. What we've done is we've gone and mapped every single condo or HDB estate and given it a green score and this is based on empirical data. It's not our opinion. It's based on whether they've got a BCA Green Mark greeting, whether they have won a sustainability award from the PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards, which (is) the largest property awards in the region, and also proximity to public transportation.
So I mean these are just three parameters today, but I think we're clear that we'll keep evolving these parameters and we soft-launched it earlier in the year and in roughly six months, we've seen two million Singaporeans already interact with this product even though we hadn't made a big noise about it. And this begins to tell you that people are looking for it. If they see something like this, they're curious. They want to understand "Okay, this house that I might buy or I might live in, if all things being equal, I'm hopeful that people will choose a more sustainably built home." And I think that's a starting point.
First, have the conversation. Build more awareness and transparency, then you can start making decisions. They're willing to pay more, as I mentioned, for a sustainably built home, but first and foremost, they need help in finding those homes. If I look at two buildings, how do I know which one is better than the other? And I think that's where a number of players including ourselves can play a role in education.
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