Future focus: Ingenuity sustaining our future

Ingenuity sustaining our future

t is said that the best way to predict the future is to design it. Projections show that by 2050 society will require double the Earth’s available resources. It has never been more important for us to adopt smart, sustainable solutions to ensure that we can continue to enjoy a good quality of life – meeting the needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their own.

Governments, companies, and individuals are being galvanized into action to impact this trajectory – from educating the next generation, to building futuristic, integrated townships, to preserving intrinsic culture and heritage.

But just how do we combine innovation and preservation with forward-thinking ingenuity to redesign our future?

Sustainable Development Can Be Profitable

That is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the world in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. The number is significant because it is a historic high and linked directly to the rise in global average temperatures, resulting in climate change.

Statistics like this invariably lead to the impression that the world has turned its back on sustainable development.

sea levels could RISE by six meters or more

n fact, if the world does not limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius as laid out in the Paris Agreement, sea levels could go up by six meters or more, resulting in entire, populous coastal urban areas being submerged underwater by 2100. The irony is these scenarios are not new to us. Sustainability, as we know it to be, can be traced back to the report The Limits to Growth first presented in 1972. It followed a study done by 17 researchers with a purpose of understanding the limitations of the planet and its implications on mankind.

Since then, sustainability has risen steadily in importance. Much has been written about what exactly it means, how to shift it away from gloom to hope, and how to keep it centre stage in the minds of humanity.

Yet, temperatures continued to rise, environmental pollution persisted, and flora and fauna kept going extinct. Clearly, we were not doing enough.

Leaving no one behind

Fortunately, in 2015, the world woke up to this hard reality. The United Nations (UN) created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that was adopted by member states. Comprised of 17 to-dos, they aim to make the world a better place – from a social, economic and environmental standpoint – by 2030.

Given the high-level nature of this clarion call, it is no surprise that governments around the world have responded. Last year, China announced it is working towards a complete ban of the production and sale of cars powered by fossil fuels.

Which other countries plan to ban fossil-fuel powered vehicles?
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France and the United Kingdom plan to ban fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040

n Singapore, the government-led Sustainable Singapore Blueprint sets out to triple the current 72 hectares of rooftop gardens and green walls by 2030.

While it is largely governments that have led the charge to reach the UN SDGs, the private sector too is trying. Starbucks, for instance, has pledged to eliminate plastic straws in all its more than 28,000 outlets by 2020.

Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP)

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) theme of leaving no one behind, is the the theme of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP), Anchoring Growth on People, key to Malaysia’s future economical, political, social, spiritual, psychological, and cultural development.


n Asia, Malaysian conglomerate Sunway Group has walked the sustainability talk for four decades. It started in the 1970s, when its founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah rehabilitated a barren piece of land that was formerly part of a tin mine in the Klang Valley, and turned it into the thriving township that is Sunway City Kuala Lumpur (KL).

Recognizing that building a company was more than just about making money, Tan Sri Cheah wanted to place equal emphasis on profitability and sustainability. Since then, he has ensured that the latter especially be integrated into every facet of his business.

Case in point: In Sunway City KL, energy is optimized by using a co-generation plant and other initiatives such as regular audits and upgrading to make the equipment more efficient. 


nother example is a US$10 million endowment by the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation to the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network to set up the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at the Sunway University. It will be a regional hub for research on the subject.

Tan Sri Cheah sees such contributions as a way to change current mind-sets, and to educate future generations.

“We are hoping to impart all this good knowledge to the future generations so that the future generation becomes practitioners of sustainable development.”
Founder & Chairman of Sunway Group, Malaysia Tan Sri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah AO

ustainability is a mind-set that has to be ingrained in our way of life. It is a simple wish to ensure tomorrow is better than today, for the sake of posterity. It should be a collective effort by everyone in society, and not just a select few. As the Sunway Group – and many others – has demonstrated, all it needs is foresight and the willpower to take that first step.

The Case for Smart Cities in Southeast Asia

About one third of Southeast Asia’s total population currently resides in its cities, generating more than two-thirds of the region’s GDP. Urbanization is feeding economic growth, yet such developments come with challenges related to housing, infrastructure and services.

Cue the smart city

More than just public WiFi and driver-less trains, smart cities leverage technology to ensure all aspects of a city’s infrastructure connect with each other. Their influence can be felt in seven areas of urban life: economy, mobility, utilities, built environment, community, social infrastructure and security. Ultimately, they work towards making the urban environment more liveable, sustainable, and productive.

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unway City Kuala Lumpur, owned and developed by Malaysian conglomerate Sunway Group, has implemented a wide range of energy-saving and efficiency measures to not only ensure it is a smart city, but a sustainable one of the 21st century.

For instance, water is conserved through a water treatment plant and rainwater harvesting tanks, the township is monitored by more than 3,000 24-hour CCTV cameras, and electric buses run every five minutes on an elevated 5.4km of dedicated track. There are also plans to implement intelligent traffic lights that only turn red when there are vehicles or pedestrians in the vicinity.


he Sunway Group is also keeping a close watch on neighboring Singapore, itself a model city when it comes to these technologies. In 2014, it set up the Smart Nation Program Office under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate strategies and develop standards, policies and platforms.

An outcome is OneService, which is an app that consolidates the back-end architecture and front-end services of 11 partner municipal agencies and 16 town councils. Residents can use this to provide feedback and share their concerns, while the agencies can track and problem-solve more efficiently.


hat next then, for smart cities? Sunway Group’s founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah hopes that those living in them will feel safe, breathe clean air and enjoy its livability. It also means peace of mind to focus on being economically productive, creative and innovative.

It is easy to get caught up in the exciting new digital technologies offered by a smart city solution provider. Yet, it should not be forgotten that as their feasibility is being assessed, the aim should always be to ensure a more efficient urban environment and improved quality of life for the residents of the smart city.

Preservation for Posterity

In the 1980s, Beijing was home to more than 3,600 hutongs – interlocking courtyard houses dating back to the 14th century that remained till the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1908. Following China’s rapid economic development, many were razed to the ground to make way for gleaming skyscrapers. Today, that number has dwindled to around 1,000.


ortunately, the Chinese have awoken to the importance of preserving these age-old structures. To this end, various projects are underway to ensure gentrification and adaptive reuse take place, so that no more hutongs get destroyed.

The tug-of-war between progress and preservation is a familiar one to the real estate ecosystem. As urbanization continues to take place and cities get “smarter”, the tendency to bulldoze the old to make way for the new is increasing.

The case for preservation is a strong one – destruction of anything with historical value is strictly a one-way street. In the process, hidden gems like art, craftsmanship or even quality materials get lost forever.

Perhaps the more compelling but less tangible reasons for preservation are heritage and culture. These are an important part of a society’s social fabric and provide a vital link to the past, from which its identity also stems.


he good news is that in emerging economies, where urbanisation is the most rampant, there is a growing awareness of the need for preservation – be it buildings, nature or even traditions.

In the capital of Myanmar in Yangon, for example, there are over 6,000 historical buildings still standing. Doh Eain is a social enterprise that is working with its owners to gentrify and repurpose them to rent. As a result, they are able to get a higher income and increase the value of these precious assets.


urther south, efforts are being made on the environmental front. Unlike the fate of the hutongs in Beijing, Malaysia’s Sunway Group had the foresight to place environmental conservation front and centre of its activities. It developed the township of Sunway City Ipoh, taking great care not to destroy any of the gifts bestowed by Nature.

The highlight of the project is The Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat, an eco-friendly wellness retreat set amid pristine tropical jungle. It is endowed with an array of natural features, including 260-million-year-old Paleozoic limestone caves and a geothermal spring.


o conserve these, the Sunway Group willingly extended the development time of the 16-acre resort from 15 months to three years. It made a conscious effort to integrate the property according to the topography of the land, and incorporate the natural features into the design. Throughout the process, the tree population was preserved. Existing limestone caves were adapted for different functions such as meditation areas and wine cellars.

“The award winning Jeff's Cellar is an exclusive wine bar set in natural cave interiors."

n recognition of the lengths the Sunway Group went through for environmental conservation and sustainability, The Banjaran received the prestigious FIABCI Prix d'Excellence Award in 2012 for the resort category.

This project is just one of the case studies real estate developers around the world should use to understand how to maintain that delicate balance between progress and preservation, perfectly showcasing that not only can a business not need to sacrifice sustainability for financial gain, but that it can also build sustainability into the process as a means to success.


he effect of sustainability doesn’t just mean short term success. After all, we should strive to ensure we leave the world better than we found it, by preserving these little bits of culture, nature and heritage.

The Future of Healthcare is in Partnerships

The connection between good health and sustainability is not immediately obvious. Yet, it is an important one. According to the United Nations (UN), “ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development”.

No surprise then that it has made good health and well-being one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that world leaders have committed to reach by 2030.

Preventing disease and illness means public resources get freed up, societies get stronger and potential is maximised. In the long-term, this translates into economic growth and prosperity.

To this end, much progress has been made in areas such as increasing life expectancy, mitigating child and maternal mortality, making available access to clean water and sanitation, and reducing the spread of diseases.


onetheless, more can still be done. For instance, ischaemic heart disease and stroke remain the number one cause of death around the world over the last 15 years. In 2016 alone, it accounted for 15.2 million deaths.

One way to overcome this challenge is to encourage collaborations between sectors both public and private, and education and research institutes, to yield impactful, sustainable results for different healthcare-related issues.

In May this year, Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School announced its tie up with Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and BioLamina, a Swedish biotechnology firm. The aim: to study and develop a stem cell-based therapy to treat heart failure and vision loss.

Novo Nordisk will provide the funding for at least three years, while BioLamina will give access to its proprietary technology necessary to do the research. The Medical School said this is one of the biggest partnerships in its history.

What were the top 3 global causes of death in 2016?
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1. Ischaemic Heart Diseases

2. Stroke

3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Source: World Heath Organization, 2018.

t is not uncommon either to hear of collaborations led by a private company. Last November, Malaysia’s Sunway Group and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (named after Sunway’s founder) announced a partnership with the UK’s University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine - the first time the university has linked up with a clinical research centre in the world, as well as the first time it has entered into a partnership of this kind in Asia.

One of the priorities of the Sunway Clinical Research Centre – parked under the Sunway Medical Centre – is looking into finding cures specifically for Asians. With a more broad-ranging focus, it seeks to prevent, diagnose early and improve the treatments of a range of diseases for individuals from this part of the world. By focusing on preventative methods, rather than on cures, this initiative would be able to mitigate the costs involved with healthcare in the future.

“Making people’s lives better is fundamental to what we do here because we’re passionate about sustainable development,”
Founder & Chairman of Sunway Group, Malaysia Tan Sri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah AO

ambridge University Vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said, “These agreements mark the beginning of a new stage in an exceptional partnership. Working together, we are poised to make a distinct contribution to some of the world’s major medical challenges.”


he key to making healthcare sustainable seems to lie in the private-public sector brain trust. The quest for good health and well-being will take time and resources. That many organizations are committing to it nonetheless is heartening, giving way to hope that we are moving closer to a more sustainable world.

The Private Sector Can Play A Pivotal Role In The Future Of Education

Close to half the world’s population is under the age of 25, and while most children are enrolled in primary education, fewer are enrolled at the secondary and tertiary levels. Besides the role it plays in helping to break the poverty cycle, reduce inequality, improve social mobility and attain gender equality, education also empowers people to live healthier and more sustainable lives.


y default, people look to governments to fulfil their educational needs. The median spending on education worldwide by governments is about 5 percent of GDP. But given the rapidly evolving workforce and the increasing role of A.I., is this enough?

The private sector can fill the gap here by developing educational tools and facilities complementing public education policies, or through direct investment. Profit-making aside, they help to build a stronger workforce, create jobs and improve the economic prospects of a city.

The numbers spelling out the opportunities speak for themselves. In Southeast Asia, private sector education was estimated to be valued at US$90 to US$110 billion in 2016. Overall, the education sector is projected to grow five to six percent per annum till 2020.

n Malaysia, a private sector entity is demonstrating how corporations can help make education more widely accessible through a public-private partnership. The founder of Malaysia’s Sunway Group, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, established the eponymous Jeffrey Cheah Foundation in 2010, by gifting all of his equity in the 16 institutions of Sunway Education Group to a foundation, in perpetuity. The gift is valued at at more than US $250,000,000 today.


ne of the most notable partnerships is that between Sunway University and some of the world’s best institutions such as University of Cambridge, Harvard University and University of Oxford. These collaborations are aimed at knowledge-sharing between the world’s leading academic minds and raising the academic standards of excellence in this part of the world.

Cambridge University’s first partnership with an educational institution in Asia can be credited to Tan Sri Jeffrey’s vision and persistence. Keen to develop the skills and expertise of Malaysian talent, and those of the region, he worked with Cambridge towards a unique partnership that would conduct clinical research specifically for the Asian genetic makeup.

The Sunway Clinical Research Centre under Sunway Medical Centre will operate as a regional site partner of the Cambridge University of Clinical Medicine.

“Making people’s lives better is fundamental to what we do here because we’re passionate about sustainable development,”
Founder & Chairman of Sunway Group, Malaysia Tan Sri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah AO
In developing, low-income countries, every additional year of education can increase a person’s future income by an average of how much?
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In developing, low-income countries, every additional year of education can increase a person’s future income by an average of 10%.
This page was paid for by Sunway Group. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.