Sustainability Key To Prosperity
As the country move towards achieving a high income economy by 2020, it is imperative that its natural resources be preserved with a collective effort from all parties.
According to Shell's Global Social Performance manager Karen Westley, Malaysia's economy to a large extent is built on the sustainability of its resources and would probably be based on it for a very long time.
"Resources such as oil palm and the rainforest has major economic spin-offs and I think it is important to understand that those natural resources has to be preserved in order to keep the economy moving forward," she told Business Times after the Merdeka Award Roundtable talkshow held in here recently.
Hence, Westley opined that sustainability of natural resources also means sustaining the country's economic drive.
"I don't see that as mutually incompatible at all. It is a key part of economic growth," she said.
Elizabeth Cardosa, Executive Director of Badan Warisan Malaysia, concurred and added that natural resources are the backbone of the economy but warned that it is not infinite.
"We must remember that it's a fragile ecosystem and if you ignore one part of it you lose it all. In this whole economic drive towards 2020, you need to have a healthy respect for each other," she said.
Westley noted that the Government has a big role to play in sustainability efforts through policies that would influence behavioral changes.
She acknowledges the plan by Bursa Malaysia to introduce the Sustainability Index for public-listed companies as very positive step.
To be known as the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), the index is expected to be a catalyst to attract more socially responsible investment (SRI) funds into Malaysia.
She said the ESG will drive change namely in behavioral and systems as well as create a level playing field in listed companies.
Another positive is the country's huge advantage in investing big in education .
"The whole population is driven by education and that to me is the strongest cultural and social driver," she said.
Meanwhile, ecologist Dr Engkik Soepadmo noted that at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Malaysia pledged to preserve 50 per cent of its forests which he said is a commitment that needed to be translated into action and education.
"It’s a collective action and we are all responsible," said Dr Soepadmo who was the 2012 Merdeka Awards recipient in the category of Outstanding Contribution to the People of Malaysia.
Westley pointed out two areas that needed immediate action or investment namely in transportation and waste management.
"One area where Malaysia is reaching a tipping point is in the transportation sector. Major government investment is needed in this area to take Malaysia forward," she said.
On the other hand, waste management is a matter of concern because as income rises so would consumption which would eventually lead to more waste.
On another note, Westley wants to see Malaysia maintain its global position as the key bio-diversity and natural resources areas of the world.
"That is one of the most important thing in the country. It’s part of its identity and seen as a heritage that needs to be preserved and there should be a collective contribution or commitment to it," she added.
The 4th Merdeka Award Roundtable featured the topic "Balancing People, Planet and Profit - Partnerships for Sustainable Growth" and was aired on Astro Awani (Channel 501) beginning December 8, 2012.