For Fatt Seng Lim, Managing Director of Comfort Management, it’s the little changes we make that can do wonders for environmental sustainability.
“To me, that’s something very simple,” Fatt Seng tells The CEO Magazine. “In everything you do, try to do it with less. When you do more with less, it means you don’t use a lot of resources or energy.”
“In everything you do, try to do it with less.”
“About 10 years ago we changed all the lights in our office, even though the price was exorbitant.”
“When we decided to add more space and more people, we tried not to renovate too much. Instead, we tried to make do with what we had.”
“We also encourage everybody to switch off the lights when they leave the office. All these practises must come from the individual. Then we can promote this to our clients.”
With heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems accounting for nearly 60% of a building’s energy costs, Fatt Seng saw an opportunity to help building owners lower energy costs and increase efficiency.
After spending 15 years working for Carrier, a major US air-conditioning company, Fatt Seng crossed over to air-conditioning manufacturer Trane.
Understanding customers needs
At the time, he realised that customers were looking for something extra when it came to their HVAC systems.
“There were more demands for services that did not fall within the business charter of multinational corporations back then,” Fatt Seng explains.
“Those years, what the customer wanted was basically energy efficiency and true comfort; the idea that when you walk into a building, you should already feel comfortable.”
“Unlike before when air-conditioning systems just blasted either very cold or very warm air.”
In 1992, Fatt Seng set out on his own to create a business that would satisfy those customer needs, culminating in the Singapore-based company, Comfort Management.
Evolution of HVAC
“We started with one building, got another, and then eventually grew to what we are today,” he says.
Comfort Management provides solutions to improve the energy efficiency of HVAC systems and has since evolved to address an even bigger issue: environmental sustainability.
“When I first started in the 90s, the focus was small: deliver air-conditioning comfort,” Fatt Seng says.
“Efficiency wasn’t a high priority for companies until around 2002–03 when the energy rate escalated.”
“That was around the time some manufacturers came up with more energy-efficient equipment as well, so we started to use them to help ourselves achieve more.”
“Most of the buildings we have worked on have now saved 30–50% of energy operating costs.”
“When I first started in the 90s, the focus was small: to deliver air-conditioning comfort.”
EPC and concept of environmental sustainability
“As we moved along, the issue of environmental sustainability became a hot topic. It started with climate change by a United Nations conference, then it got down to our government levels.”
“The government became more active in providing incentives for building owners.”
“This included the Green Mark cash incentive to encourage the entire industry to become more energy efficient and sustainable. We gave that idea a big push as well.”
With the concept of sustainability gaining momentum in Singapore, Fatt Seng launched the Energy Performance Contract (EPC), a guideline for business owners to be more energy efficient.
The creation of the EPC stemmed from two factors.
“First, when you are in the business of delivering comfort to buildings by maintaining its systems, over the years you become very competitive,” he says.
“The company cannot sustain itself by keeping a group of good, technical people. So we decided to give energy conservation a big push.”
“By doing so, we are encouraging more building owners to be energy efficient when they might otherwise be preoccupied with things other than sustainability.”
“So then what we do is structure the EPC to encourage them to take an active step towards sustainability.”
“With the EPC, we are trying to minimise the risk for building owners. For example, the risk of investing a sum of money to retrofit the system without realising the savings.”
“However, we guarantee that after you retrofit everything, you will get savings, and the savings will repay the investment over a period of time.”
EPCs have become a huge success. “Later on, the government came up with financial incentives to encourage buildings to retrofit their systems,” Fatt Seng adds.
“So we also used that to tie-in and accelerate the payback for building owners and expand in the market.”
Green Maintenance Program
In a similar vein, Fatt Seng pioneered the Green Maintenance Program. “There is a conventional idea that if you retrofit a system, its efficiency will decline as it gets older,” he says.
“But to us, from an engineering perspective, we believe that whatever equipment you’ve invested in, if you maintain it well, you will preserve its efficiency throughout its lifespan. Whether it’s 15 or 25 years.
“Because you focus on the performance, meaning the system can deal with the cooling capacity while at the same time controlling its energy input, you maintain efficiency throughout the whole building. That is green maintenance.”
Fatt Seng says it’s different from normal maintenance where contractors just do what they have to do and walk away without knowing whether the system is going to be efficient or not.
“We encourage business owners by explaining that after investing so much money, they can protect their investment by having green maintenance,” he says.
“It means having more work done to ensure that the investment continues to perform at the same efficiency as when it was new.”
Comfort Management’s managing director is also heavily involved in promoting environmental sustainability throughout Singapore.
He is on the board of the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) and co-chairs a group together with the government’s Building and Construction Authority to grant accreditation to energy performance contractors.
“There are about 14 accredited energy performance contractors,” Fatt Seng says.
“We also realised that after you retrofit the whole system, you will need facility management companies to embrace sustainability in their practises.”
Comfort Management’s work on the 52-storey AXA Tower in Singapore reduced the building’s energy bills by around S$491,000 per annum without needing to change its chillers.
“So we also developed an accreditation of green facility management companies.”
“Now we want to work on accreditation of air-conditioning companies that maintain these buildings.”
Fatt Seng acknowledges that despite the business operating for 26 years, there is still much to be done when it comes to environmental sustainability.
“In Singapore, the government has a plan to make 80% of the country’s buildings green by 2030,” he says.
“As of now, it has achieved about 34%. So, we still have a long journey ahead over the next 12 years.”