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Through the sustainability lens

While perceived as 'temporary' as compared to issues related to climate change and sustainability, the COVID-19 pandemic has already impacted our lives quite extensively. This makes the longer-term repercussions of sustainability unconceivable. So, what does sustainability refer to, and what are individual and corporate considerations on this topic?

What sustainability means to me

For me personally, there are two areas on sustainability that I am passionate about; environmental security and wellbeing:

  • Addressing specific environmental concerns

There are many different challenges that face our environment. I grew up on a farm on the East Coast of South Africa and I have always been passionate about the wilderness. Having spent a lot of my youth outdoors, I continue to prioritize my spare time to enjoy the wonders of the natural world. And whilst our forests and opens spaces remain my primary concern, it is another environmental topic that I have been more closely involved with since moving to Asia. The topic of Water Security.

It is easy for many to take it for granted that there will always be access to fresh and clean water. However, it is a bigger cause of concern than what an average person is aware of. We already have a big demand vs supply issue in many countries around the world. Beyond access, there are equally significant challenges with the quality of water. According to UN-Water, water quality is affected by increased water temperatures leading to increased risks of water pollution and impacting food production. This compounded by poor water consumption, treatment and disposal practices can have wide ranging effects. There is the impact on physical and mental health – linked to disease, injury, financial loss and the displacement of people – to be considered.

Given how interconnected the eco-system and the world is, more can be done to create awareness on this topic. In addition to engaging in various forums on Water Security, I have also been involved in supporting one of the champions of "water awareness" Mina Guli, with her #RunningDry campaign. This was initiated as a call for everyone to save water and change the way we consume water. I was fortunate to join Mina on the Hong Kong marathon as part of her epic "100 marathons in 100 days" challenge around the world in aid of water issues. The topic has been recognized in the past by the World Economic Forum as the largest risk facing the world. We can all make a difference on this one.

  • Identifying ways to improve your wellbeing

Beyond looking at sustainability from a macro environment perspective, there is also the personal aspect of sustainability to consider. Personally, I resonate with the saying "Protecting the asset where the asset is yourself" and with the pandemic, mental health and wellbeing has grown as a concern. According to a Swiss Re study, 45% of Americans are more concerned about their mental health as compared to before the pandemic.

Protecting the asset where the asset is yourself.
Jonathan Rake, Chief Executive Officer Asia Pacific Corporate Solutions

During this challenging period and even beyond, I think it is important to balance one's mind. One way I've found to be really effective is clearing my mind through exercising. This helps me keep a healthy state of mind and destress. There are many ways to improve one's wellbeing, what is key, in my view, is to determine your own wellbeing approach and to practice it regularly.

Switching gears to the corporate perspective

Across the Asia Pacific region, we are seeing more government efforts towards sustainability and being carbon neutral. China has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060, while countries such as Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and South Korea have set 2050 as their carbon-neutral targets. With these regulatory changes, companies are increasingly seeking advice on how they can transition to be carbon neutral.

Companies have also started 'vocalizing' their carbon neutral pledges. Malaysia's Petronas, for instance, is eyeing net-zero emissions by 2050, while China's state-owned oil companies such as PetroChina, Sinopec and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), have announced their reinvestment in zero emissions technologies and committing to near zero emissions by 2050. These moves signal not only the move towards renewable and green energy, but also account for the renewed demand and interest in renewable energy solutions.

Firstly, companies can look to adopt a longer-term view on sustainability rather than focusing on short-term cost benefits. Additionally, they can take a proactive approach and explore ways to perform a physical risk assessment to understand the potential long-term risks to their operations, instead of waiting for the regulators to define the climate risk approaches. For a start, Swiss Re Institute's Sigma Explorer offers a visual display of the changing risk landscape and the impact of natural catastrophes in Asia Pacific and across the globe over a 30-year timeframe.

Companies looking to be carbon neutral and those in the energy sector transitioning to renewable energy could assess their internal capabilities in addition to the economics and business planning that come with the transition. When evaluating their internal know-how, they need to determine if they have people with the right skills, knowledge and experience to lead them in the process. Otherwise, it is critical that they select the right partner to work with, one that can fill the gaps identified and provide the essential know-how in managing their wind or solar farms.

Final thoughts

When looking at sustainability from a personal or individual perspective, keep an open mind and be objective in identifying the role you can play and actions you can take. Beyond the causes that you take a role in, remember also to focus on your own sustainability. Know what makes you happy and gives you the 'balance' you need to function and keep at it to maintain a healthy mindset.

For companies, consider adopting a long-term view. Define a partner selection 'criteria' that you will work with as this could ensure you are sufficiently prepared and well-informed when making decisions related to your sustainability efforts.

In summary, sustainability is a very broad topic. Figure out what it means for you and your company and focus on the areas you are passionate about and where you can make a difference.

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