On Sustainability and Karma

The 2016 MDBC Sustainability Awards took place last 6 October at the beautiful Westin Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. This yearly Award Contest is organized by the Malaysian Dutch Business Council (MDBC) and is becoming more of an attraction each year, and a big platform for likeminded companies and individuals to discuss their efforts in creating both sustainable and profitable business solutions. This year's theme of the Awards was Circular Economy. Prizes were to be won in the Elite category for best Overall Drive and Greenhorn category for best Initiative or Project. The audience witnessed three presentations in each category. The jury was chaired by the new Dutch Ambassador in Malaysia, Mrs Karin Mossenlechner, who proved to be an excellent MC as well.

The Elite Award was won by Teleplan, a Dutch / Malaysian company which repairs, refurbishes and recycles computers and mobile phones. Their business model promises to be truly circular in every sense of the word, with computer parts being stripped to the tiniest bits and reused in several circles, before being melted and made into entirely new items for the production cycle. The audience was shown an inspiring video of Teleplan's team both in the Netherlands and Penang, Malaysia, of truly committed environmentally and engineering driven people.

The Greenhorn Award was won by a Rotterdam based company named Energy Transformers. They are part of the family company Transmare Group. They transform residuals of agricultural activities into energy. They procure, produce and provide Solid Biofuel and BioChar, manufactured out of waste from palmoil plantations. This waste therefore does not have to be burned; the Energy Transformers process turns it into a soil enhancing product. 

Energy Transformers' pitch particularly hit home with the KL audience, as it appeals to the problem of slashing and burning related to palmoil plantations. Besides destroying the rainforest and the natural habitat of many animals most notoriously the orang utans, this practice causes "haze", which makes the air that you breathe feel and smell like you are standing next to a BBQ and the wind is blowing in your direction. Many villages in Borneo and Sumatra have become unlivable because of this. In the period of September - November 2015 the wind was blowing north/westward from Sumatra and Borneo, which meant Singapore and Malaysia got a strong "taste" of this haze for a suffocating period of almost three months. That woke many people up, and the awareness it raised has led many to see the seriousness of the problem and to want to do something about it. Energy Transformers claim to have part of the solution, which attracted the interest of some big Malaysian players such as Sime Darby. The latter also presented their efforts at the Awards and brought forward a sustainable plan of utilizing their land and property, giving back part of the land to nature and to citizens. It would be wonderful to see the talks progress between these and other big influencers (for example Unilever was mentioned several times as one of the parties who has raised the bar and the sustainability standards applied in the food industry).

Besides unconventional initiatives on reforming the clothing industry and the shrimping business, the 2016 Sustainability Awards brought additional presentations by Shell, KPMG and KLM. All of these companies express a commitment to "making the world a better place", in terms of sustainable use of natural resources but also in terms of how their businesses are run and how their employees and stakeholders are treated. A lot of talk and actually also some tangible examples of how this is practically done. The biggest challenge, and I mean this in a positive way, is to identify win-win situations where steps in a sustainable direction can be made while at the same time achieving business benefits. Identifying business benefits mostly still comes down to cost-savings. But, as equally desirable business benefits, why don't we give a good reputation and karma a chance?

As the kickoff to the Award Night, MDBC's team gave a vibrant Macarena dance performance (a big hit from 1996, MDBC's birth year), which marked the atmosphere of the Award Night; it was a promising and unifying event, uplifted by the presence of many decision makers, enjoying each others' company, the delicious menu and a number of impressive musical intermezzos. If karma has it, the 2017 Sustainability Awards will be an even greater success.