Striving for Sustainability

Scholarship Guide NEW Scholar Tan Wei Hao

Tan Wei Hao has always been passionate about protecting the environment, hence taking up the NEW Scholarship (now known as the Singapore Sustainability Scholarship) is an easy choice.

Tell Us About Your Scholarship & Your Experience in the Course.

I was given the opportunity to study the course of my choice, a Master’s degree in Environmental Management at NUS. As an aspiring environmentalist, it was ­hugely satisfying for me to learn about sustainability from a multitude of perspectives. From a regulatory angle, I learned about ­international and national environmental laws, sustainable urban planning, and environmental economics.

From a ­practitioner’s perspective, I was fortunate to benefit from lecturers with industry ­experience. For instance, the CEO of a leading waste management company shared his business knowledge and skills on areas ranging from the running of environmental businesses to the conduct of environmental impact assessments. Through lessons on environmental science, I also gained a better appreciation of the environment. ­Therefore, where education is concerned, it was certainly a fruitful and enriching course to enrol into.

During the course of study, I have made many international friends from countries such as India, Sweden, the United States and the Philippines. Interacting with them has certainly broadened my perspectives and challenged my pre-existing notions of sustainability and life in general.

Looking back, I really cherished my time in school afforded to me by the scholarship. Apart from acquiring knowledge which I can bring to the workplace, I made fond memories which will last me a lifetime. This, to me, is what school life should be all about and it is something I am truly thankful for.

How Have You Benefited From the Course So Far?

Learning fast, working in groups, ­writing papers and delivering presentations were some of the most useful takeaways from my course. These skills are highly transferable and proved to be very practical in my current post.

What Are Your Responsibilities in NEA? What Is a Typical Workday Like?

Currently, I work in the Waste and Resource Management Department (WRMD) and I hold both operational and planning roles. My main operational responsibility is to assist the Chief Engineer in coordinating and managing the operations and maintenance of waste-to-energy (WtE) plants and Semakau Landfill.

As a start, I was posted to a WtE plant to understand the incineration process and learned how equipment such as boilers and turbine-generators are operated. Through daily access to different parts of the plant and involvement in boiler ­overhauls, I gained an appreciation of the inner workings of a WtE facility – the soot blowing system to clear boiler tubes of ash, the turbine-generator to produce electricity, the electrostatic precipitator that cleans the flue gas etc. Once during an overhaul, I had the chance to be inside the furnace!

For my planning role, I am involved in the formulation of long-term strategies for the sustainable management of solid waste. One such area is the development of environmental guidelines to recycle incineration ash for construction use. In Singapore, all incineration ash, which is the by-product of waste incineration, is disposed of at Semakau Landfill (SL). As a land-scarce nation, it is imperative that we conserve SL, our only landfill, and extend its lifespan as far as possible. If we can recycle incineration ash into construction material, we will significantly prolong the life of SL and move Singapore closer towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation. The development of environmental guidelines thus represents a key strategic endeavour which I am thrilled to play a big part in.

Besides my core work, I have also been assigned responsibilities which support the other objectives of the organisation. One such role is being a member of the organising committee for the 2018 edition of the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS). This is a key environmental event with companies and people participation from all over the world. I am part of the team in charge of planning and organising event conferences, responsible for the scoping and ­development of conference themes as well as the identification and invitation of suitable speakers.

A typical workday requires the judicious management of multiple roles and the accomplishment of tasks according to relative priority at a given point in time. These include attending meetings and discussions, generating and analysing reports, drafting submissions and proposals, preparing and delivering presentations etc. In a technical role which I hold for the development of environmental guidelines, the time has to be set aside for research, self-studying and data analysis. Overall, my day-to-day work in NEA involves a good blend of analysis, written and verbal communication.

How Has Your Work Experience in NEA Been, and What Programmes and ­Activities Have You Participated in So Far?

During my one-and-a-half years in NEA, I had travelled to Europe for work, ­undergone a three-month foundation programme at NEA’s WtE plant, participated in international conferences, enrolled into training courses and attended numerous talks. I have also participated in some of the events organised by NEA such as Family Day, the Vertical Challenge and the various festive celebrations.

Life in NEA has also been greatly ­enhanced by the company of fun-loving colleagues. After work, I would join them in various activities such as football, floorball, badminton, captain ball, cycling, and even laser tag! I am also a member of my department’s welfare committee, where I work with my colleagues to plan and execute ­department events.

So, if you ask me, NEA has been a great place to work. The work has been meaningful, there are ample growth opportunities and I am working with great colleagues who are full of energy.

What Advice Would You Like to Share With Potential Scholars Interested in Your Area of Work?

If you have an opinion on what sustainability should be at a national level, act on it! Architect the future you want to see, for there is no better person to realise it than yourself. When I applied for the scholarship, I did so with the desire to confront the ­issue of space constraints for waste management and landfills in Singapore. Working in NEA with a focus on incineration ash ­recycling, I am doing just that.

At the organisation, adopt a growth mindset, you can never be too wise to stop learning. As you discharge your duties, you as well as your colleagues will discover your strengths and weaknesses. Be open to feedback and be humble enough to change.

Lastly, display grit. In my area of work, issues are multifaceted and complex. In today’s challenging world, grit is a desired trait. We may face obstacles along the way which threaten to derail our progress but we should not be dismayed. It is important to take it in our stride, remind ourselves of the greater goal and persevere. As the adage goes, ‘tough times don’t last, tough men and women, do’.

Singapore Sustainability Scholarship (Previously known as NEW Scholarship)
Attained: MSc in Environmental Management from NUS
Now: Engineer, Environmental Protection Division, Waste & Resource Management Department
From: Anderson JC

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