An SDG Pioneer for Green Infrastructure and a Low-Carbon Economy
For two decades, Esther An has brandished innovative techniques and creative business practices that are helping the international construction and real estate industry curb its impact on the environment.
As Chief Sustainability Officer of City Developments Limited (CDL), Esther wields her knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to act as an ardent advocate of the environmental, social and governance principles (ESG) underlying sustainable development. She is also helping her company use its base in Singapore, one of the densest cities in the world, to set global benchmarks for green construction and sustainability.
When she joined CDL in 1995, Esther began to shift the company’s business model into “Conserving as We Construct”. This model integrated ESG principles and green building methods into the operations of CDL, a global real estate development, investment and management business. Its real estate portfolio spans residences, offices, hotels, serviced apartments, integrated developments and shopping malls.
Esther was an initiator of sustainability reporting in Singapore a decade ago and moved to align the company’s material ESG issues with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) two years ago. She has also ensured the company’s value-creation model integrates the six so-called capitals — financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and relationship, and natural capital — used by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).
[The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) is a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, standard setters, the accounting profession and NGOs. It promotes communication about value creation as the next step in the evolution of corporate reporting.]
Esther used this integration process to develop a sustainability strategy that encompasses three components: green building leadership, resource-efficiency, and active stakeholder engagement and collaboration for sustainable development. This strategy also complements seven Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), Goal 13 (Climate Action), Goal 15 (Life on Land), and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
Last year, she created the CDL Future Value 2030 sustainability blueprint, an action plan that aligns the company’s long-term ESG goals and targets with ten relevant Global Goals. Using quarterly tracking and reporting, CDL can then mark its progress toward its 2030 goals.
To share her knowledge and expand awareness of green construction and sustainability principles, Esther has been a board or committee member of dozens of international and local sustainability organizations over the years. This includes being a founding and current member of the Business Council for Sustainable Development Singapore; a member of the property working group of the United Nations Environment Programme – Finance Initiative; and serving on the corporate advisory board of the World Green Building Council in London.
Esther has embedded the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into CDL’s sustainability strategy and business. A decade ago she created a cross-department Sustainability Committee and she continues to ensure that all the principles are carried out. For example, the CDL Future Value 2030 blueprint includes goals and targets for zero corruption, fraud, accidents and fatalities across the company’s core operations and supply chain.
CDL has been participating in the Compact since 2005 and it was a founding member of Global Compact Network Singapore in 2005. Esther sits on the local network’s Management Committee and has shared her company’s experience and best practices on corporate sustainability at high level events organized by the industry, such as the annual youth forum and CEO roundtables.
Esther intent is that new generations understand the crucial role the real estate and construction industries play in protecting the planet by crafting sustainable living and working spaces as they help build lives and communities.
Since 2011, Esther has helped nurture more than 1,000 young leaders by developing the Young CSR Leaders Award in collaboration with Global Compact Network Singapore. The programme was renamed CDL-GCNS Young SDG Leaders Award in 2018.