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China appears to be most socially responsible

Sustainability is taking off in Asia, Pamela Mar, a fellow at the Fung Global Institute, said recently.

In her introductory remarks at the Asia-Global Dialogue, Mar, whose research covers Asia's sustainable development, said progress is visible especially in China, which is sacrificing growth for a better environmental outcome.

Things are moving ahead in the areas of emissions, taxes for environment protection, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate governance, and investment in new technology for the environment.

It will take years to produce results but they are far-reaching measures under a new paradigm.

"If [China] succeeds it will affect all developing countries," she said.

Companies are taking sustainability more seriously. They are not just operating CSR departments but rethinking business operations and value.

"The benchmark for progress is changing."

These two major trends were echoed by Anita George, director for infrastructure and natural resources in Asia-Pacific at the International Finance Corp. She pointed out that growth and the environment are not a trade-off if examined across generations. IFC is extending about US$100 million in such areas.

There is now a growing business in green technology, she said.

The world is moving towards global green standards. For example, 72 banks have signed off on green banking regulations. Asia may be slow in coming but banks in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are interested.

Venture capital is also taking off in wastewater recycling in places like China. Standards have been formed and mobilised in the textile industry, for example.

Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment at HKSAR, lamented about whether Hong Kong is doing enough to battle air pollution.

"We are in constant discussions on whether we are doing enough and fast enough."

She hopes that the private sector could do more R&D and highlighted that Hong Kong will be the first territory outside the US and Europe to draw up a green plan for ocean liners.

In another sustainability session, K K Chua, president for Asia-Pacific at Mary Kay, recounted how his company went back to the purpose of its existence.

For sustainability, "all our efforts link back to culture".

Mary Kay looks at sustainability from all angles as value to all stakeholders and from all levels of staff. The company believes that its customers can detect a spiritual vacuum that leads to brand loyalty.

As a consequence of this corporate culture, which evolved through a number of dimensions, when there was an earthquake in China, the branch there responded with a series of activities including deducting a percentage of sales for donations, without having to ask headquarters.

"It's back to the core why you set up the company," he said.

Carl Ganter, co-founder of Circle of Blue, highlighted three issues that are in focus on sustainable development - water crisis, governance and value.

On the water crisis, companies such as Coca-Cola are now looking at climate change, which is increasingly a threat to their supply chains.

He called for a level playing field on governance standards, citing the case of Rio Tinto in Mongolia, which has to undertake proper environmental operations but faces undue competition from Russian or Chinese firms working under much lower and cheaper standards, if any.

On value, companies are now rethinking their relations with communities under the "shared value" concept, which is practised for one by Nestle.

Stanley Szeto, chairman of Lever Style, cited the need to move environmental products to the mainstream from the niche market, as in the case of the electric car. Environmental sustainability must also be financially sustainable to consumers.


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