The inaugural Singapore EcoFriend Awards night was held last Thursday and the results splashed all over the local media the following day. Organised by the National Environmental Agency (NEA), the EcoFriend Awards honour 15 individuals who have made a difference in our fledgling environmental movement (click here for NEA’s press release).

But one individual deservedly got much of the attention.

This Today write-up (or pdf version with photo) on one of the winners caught my eye. She’s an 66 year old operations executive in Alexandra Hospital (AH), a small public hospital in the west of Singapore, who was the driving force behind its beautiful gardens.

Since 2000, Ms Tan has been transforming 12 hectares of the hospital grounds, bringing in 500 species of trees and shrubs, aromatic flowers, water features – even a butterfly trail that boasts 100 species.

That is more impressive when you realise that 12 hectares is 120,000 square metres (or the size of 1,200 HDB public flats).

Even though AH is just off the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) exit at Alexandra Road, the hospital is shielded by a barrier of mature trees. I have driven past it on many occasions, but only realised how soothing and lush the hospital grounds were when I actually went inside for a medical appointment.

Now, Singapore has a well-deserved reputation as a “garden city”, thanks mainly to the trees and flowering shrubbery that line our roads and expressways. These are created and maintained by an army of workers led by the National Parks statutory board.

On the other hand, Ms Tan is a shining example of what one humble individual could achieve. Consider the odds against her:

  • She’s working in a public hospital (not exactly the best place to find examples of individual initiative)
  • She’s an operational staff (an “executive” is a junior staff in civil service-speak)
  • She’s hitting 60 when she first embarked on this project in 2000 (that’s just 2 years before our official retirement age. She’s now 5 years past retirement age and still going strong.)

Of course, she can’t do this all by herself. She must have had an enlightened and supportive boss, and enthusiastic colleagues who helped fulfil her vision.

Many times we underestimate what one individual could achieve.

So what is your vision for the environment? And what are you doing about it?