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Understanding Sustainable Infrastructure

Accelerating Our Journey To Net Zero
BY Infrastructure Asia


  • Scaling sustainable infrastructure is a whole-of-society effort which requires participation from all segments of industry, and partnership between the public and private sectors.
  • As stewards of their organisation’s finances, accountants play an important role in shaping sustainable infrastructure and accelerating Singapore towards a net-zero future.
  • A recent survey shows that corporate agendas are beginning to reflect risk identification, assessment, and mitigation as priority areas as companies look to quantify risks of climate change-driven impacts on assets and businesses.

Sustainable infrastructure development has emerged as an important pillar in the effort to support Singapore’s push to become a greener city. Creating sustainable infrastructure requires a whole-of-society effort and, with the right knowledge, accountants, too, can make a significant impact.

In September 2022, Singapore further refined its sustainability goals and is now considering a national net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. For city-states like Singapore, sustainable infrastructure will be an essential piece of this decarbonisation puzzle as cities account for 70% of carbon emissions worldwide. This was a hot topic at the Asia Infrastructure Forum 2022 (AIF 2022), where leaders from the public and private sectors called for new ways to rethink how to scale sustainable infrastructure.

Scaling sustainable infrastructure requires participation from all segments of society, says Infrastructure Asia’s Executive Director Lavan Thiru. “Decarbonisation does not happen overnight, and we need to foster a common level of understanding via public-private partnerships so that sustainable infrastructure can be built quickly. We have a lot to do, as infrastructure takes time to be invested in, structured, designed and then built,” says Mr Thiru.

“In a city-state like Singapore, everyone inevitably influences infrastructure, be it the roads we drive on or the healthcare services we receive. Working with policymakers, the private sector has an important role in driving sustainable infrastructure and decarbonisation in their own capacity,” he adds.

As custodians of their organisation’s finances, accountants have a crucial role in this effort. With tools such as business financing and credit analysis, accountants and finance professionals can identify new ways to decarbonise their organisation’s infrastructure including as workspaces, or advise leadership on the environmental costs and benefits of major business decisions.

Singapore’s leaders, such as Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, who is a Fellow Chartered Accountant of Singapore, have called on the accountancy sector to accelerate this effort in 2021. At AIF 2022, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance & National Development Indranee Rajah further highlighted the need for professionals across the ecosystem, such as accountants, to have a “robust knowledge” of sustainability issues to contribute to the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of sustainable infrastructure projects. This allows accountants to better advise companies embarking on their sustainability journey, turning them into powerful actors within their organisations.


‘Environmental, economic, social and governance (ESG)’ is a common term used when discussing sustainability, and it is one which accountants often encounter when reporting on progress or when conducting corporate audits. To understand how to apply ESG principles effectively, it is important to understand the nuances behind the E, S and G.

Accountants need to be aware that achieving sustainability goals goes beyond ensuring that infrastructure, such as buildings or business practices, is climate change-resistant. In their recommendations or checks, accountants should assess that their organisation, as a whole, supports infrastructure that is built holistically and factors in the city’s environmental, economic, social and institutional goals. This has been codified in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Sources: KPMG’s Global Infrastructure and Climate Change Discussion Document (October 2020), United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Infrastructure Australia

With an understanding of ESG, accountants can draw on their skills to introduce meaningful financial recommendations and practices within their organisations. For example, accountants in a traditionally carbon-intensive industry could explore introducing organisational costs of CO2 emissions through internal carbon pricing or demonstrate its costs through climate change projections.

An accountant’s impact can also extend to an organisation’s immediate surroundings. For example, Liaw Chun Huan, Chief Financial Officer of civil engineering firm KTC Group, leveraged his accountancy training to justify a solar panel system for the office, which brought about both sustainable impact and cost savings for the business.


Today, as there are more accountants sitting on companies’ boards, they can play an increasingly influential role in organisations. In addition to advising on strategic costs and benefits to management, they contribute by supporting corporate governance and optimising operations. It is thus essential for accountants to grasp the dynamics and strategies of the ESG ecosystem, so they can produce tangible change in their organisations. These include:

  • Leveraging market sentiment and investors

Accountants and finance professionals can leverage growing market sentiment towards ESG principles to guide and advocate for sustainable finance solutions in their organisations. A 2021 MSCI survey found that 79% of investors in Asia Pacific have increased their ESG investments in response to COVID-19, while 57% of investors expect to have incorporated ESG considerations into their analyses and recommendations by the end of 2021.

  • Building ESG-driven corporate agendas

Accountants can leverage ESG-driven corporate agendas to justify sustainable financial recommendations. According to KPMG’s 2021 CEO Outlook survey, more business leaders are taking more tangible action by embedding ESG principles into their business strategies. The survey also found that 30% of CEOs plan to invest more than 10% of revenue into sustainability efforts. As such, corporate agendas have begun to reflect risk identification, assessment, and mitigation as priority areas as companies look to quantify risks of climate change-driven impacts on assets and businesses.

  • Collaborating with the public sector

The public sector also produces policies to guide ESG investment priorities and sets clear standards on sustainability reporting; these provide valuable resources for accountants and finance professionals to leverage on. For example, governments are widening the availability of ESG grants and subsidies for sustainable projects, which can spur the momentum of sustainable project development by improving access to blended finance. Another example is an upcoming roadmap of sustainability reporting for Singapore-incorporated companies, which will be produced through a joint effort between the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority and Singapore Exchange Regulation.

  • Standardising taxonomies

A common challenge faced today by businesses is the inconsistent criteria on whether a project or financial asset is aligned with ESG principles. To suit their contexts, many institutions worldwide also interpret ESG goals differently, which could impact decision-making, especially with respect to cross-border transactions. This could also reduce investing confidence and assurance. This was raised by Clifford Capital’s Chief Executive Officer Audra Low at AIF 2022, who shared that decisions become more difficult for investors regarding infrastructure projects outside the renewables sector. Close public and private partnerships will be crucial to ensure organisations can find a consensus on a joint sustainability taxonomy.


Accountants have the potential to create a powerful downstream effect on the way we finance and shape infrastructure assets, leading to innovations that can power the cities of the future.

(Photo by Danist Soh on Unsplash) Sustainable infrastructure can take the form of greener and smarter considerations in our built environment, which improves the quality of life for citizens

Some possible manifestations of sustainable city infrastructure that could emerge are:

  • Smart and green cities: This entails citizen-centric infrastructure designs that aim to improve the quality of life for city residents. These cities are also hallmarked by smart and low carbon-emitting technologies in assets like transport systems, healthcare, and utilities, such as water, power, and urban waste management.
  • Sustainable energy technologies: This entails clean energy technologies, including renewable energy-based electricity generation; carbon capture, utilisation and storage; hydrogen; and bioenergy as fuel.
  • Green bonds: This refers to funds raised through public capital and investments by institutions, which will be used to resource projects that produce positive environmental or climate benefits. This ensures a resilient source of funds can be used to support sustainable city projects. For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has recently raised S$2.4 billion through the issuance of Singapore’s first sovereign green bond.


Sustainable infrastructure is more than just climate-friendly buildings and networks. It involves thinking about how to incorporate sustainability into our organisations, practices and even our daily lives while creating innovations and alliances to make it happen.

While closing the distance to a net-zero future might seem like a daunting process, the collective effort of stakeholders in the private and public spheres is already triggering shifts in policies and mindsets. The coordinated efforts between governments, businesses, and individual actors such as accountants will play a critical role in paving the road towards a net-zero future.

This article was written by Infrastructure Asia.

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