Emerging Trends in Sustainable Development
By Jovin Hurry
Held on October 31 at the Resorts World Sentosa, the Asia Pacific Sustainability Leadership Forum 2013 focused on the regional pursuits and the latest development that help uncover business opportunities in the sustainability space. Organised by the Singapore Business Federation, its thought provoking and interactive panel discussions attracted influential senior management executives, including government representatives and key players interested in sustainable development.
In his opening address, the Guest of Honour, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Singapore, said that the idea of not having to pay for externalities and living off the rent is not viable anymore for profit-making companies. He cautioned us on the ramifications of powerful economics on our decisions.
He invited the leaders to take a long-term enlightened self-interest, to look at how to add value and not be caught up in short-term wishes: “Don’t take short-cuts. You can do the right thing and still make money. Consumers vote with their wallets.”
In the special haze focus panel entitled “Environmental Sustainability for the Future: Envisioning a Haze Free ASEAN”, the panelists discussed the recent haze issue and the successful steps towards sustainable development that could be achieved through effective stakeholder engagement.
It was noted that political will correlated with media attention – the lower the media attention, the lower the political will to move things forward. Transparency was a key issue debated. Making information public seemed mandatory. It is important to know the sources of forest fires, and to have the information to know how to lobby the governments to strengthen the laws, and how to incentivise the locals to cut rather than burn.
The discussion then moved to how consumers are slowly asking for transparent labelling of palm oil products. David Kiu, VP Communications & Sustainability, Unilever talked about the Unilever 2020 traceable palm oil target. He acknowledged the current difficulties in tracing back the oil used to particular palm oil fields.
Other speakers shared how unknowingly money is going to support open burning; that selling certified oil may not work as markets, being price-driven are not prepared to pay a premium; that the dots of accountability must be joined upstream and downstream; and that the issues need to be looked at in a broader context.
The panel ended by affirming the importance of good agricultural practices, acknowledging the demanding practicalities on the ground and highlighting the economic viability of the sustainability initiatives to be put in place.
The Asia Pacific Sustainability Leadership Forum 2013 was also an occasion for the Singapore Business Federation to recognise 14 organisations for innovative and exemplary sustainable business practices. The winners were judged on their sustainability excellence and innovation by an independent panel of judges.
Top Honours went to ECO Special Waste Pte Ltd (SME Category, Sustainable Business Award); Keppel Land Ltd (Large Enterprises Category, Sustainable Business Award); Greenpac Pte Ltd (SME Category, Green Technology Award) and Panasonic Asia Pte Ltd (Large Enterprises Category, Green Technology Award).
The afternoon panel on “The Sustainability Advantage – Taking Action for Profitability” quickly had the panelists agree on how sustainability is emerging as a market driver that presents various opportunities for value creation and profit. Tactfully moderated by Ynse de Boer, Managing Director – Strategy & Sustainability (ASEAN), Accenture, the discussion informed the audience how the transformations are stemming from a shift to resource-efficient and low-carbon economy with the gradual changing mindsets of senior management worldwide.
On changing mindset, a suggestion was thrown at seeing sustainability from a risk perspective, as not taking care of the issues now would make everyone pay a much higher price later, given the interconnectedness and urgency of issues. The shared value moving forward should be beyond the money, e.g. include legislation, incentives, promotions and outreach.
The idea of sharing was elaborated in its various forms. Companies want customers to be involved in a two-way communication. Customers have the power to get companies take a particular strategic course. More open source applications and open communities are popping up, with the latter pushing for how companies can also look at the social fabric and get them engaged socially and responsibly.
The subsequent panel on “Ideas for More Resilient Cities to Tackle Urban Issues” examined existing urban issues and key performance indicators of smart cities. Smart cities are predicted to be nuclei of economic growth that will drive the financial progress of any country. With the world population increasing, countries ought to be ready with new development and plans for sustainable and intelligent cities. The panelists discussed solutions in smart city building, addressed stakeholder management issues and potential problems in implementing a future city, one based on technology.
Now, technology has been touted as the double-edge sword that does not guarantee success every time. The next panel focused on new ideas and case studies surrounding commercialisation and end-user adoption. “Will Technology Innovation Alone be Sufficient to Solve the Shift to Cleantech Infrastructure?” gave an assessment on emerging clean technologies. The panelists talked about the producers’ responsibility; the need to create an avenue for people to give away their e-waste to give products a new lease of life; and to future proof concepts using technology as an enabler.
The final panel of the day on “Revolutionising for a New Era of Power” highlighted that more economic demonstrations are required to prove that renewables are most cost effective than coal or nuclear energy. This session highlighted the future development of energy systems, provided insights into the characteristics of future energy demand and supply. Panelists agreed that a good understanding of energy demand, emissions and management is pertinent in solving environmental issues.
After this high level discussion among the leaders on the sustainable business outlook for the future, how they intend to address challenges in sustainability and technology commercialisation and tap onto the emerging greentech solutions and opportunities from the region, one can only hope that the effort will bear fruits both in the short and long term, and these fruits will benefit both the masses and the environment.