#Special Focus* Walking the talk

WHEN it comes to sustainability, we must walk the talk," says Datuk Abd Wahab Maskan, managing director of Sime Darby Property Bhd (SDP).

It's clear from his enthusiasm that Wahab has wholeheartedly embraced and enforces Sime Darby Group's tagline, "Developing Sustainable Futures".

"No one will say there shouldn't be a sustainable programme in the world today. Sustainability is a global focus for SDP and it's not just the property development division, but the entire group. Sustainability to us is the balance between planet (environmental), people (social) and profit (economic)," he says.

SDP has developed a Sustainability Blueprint, Charter and Roadmap to define and measure its sustainability efforts, and achieve its Sustainability Goals 2020. The charter comprises five areas that influence sustained community well-being — responding to community needs; building community capacity; economic benefit; healthy and active communities; and opportunities for lifelong learning.

"Sustainability goes beyond technology and systems, which are things many can do. We have to focus also on the behavioural, and that means making sure our own people implement and behave, and engage with the stakeholders such as the customers on our sustainability practices," says Wahab.

"Our vision is creating sustainable communities. We define communities as a group of people who live in a sustainable community-like manner. It means the fabric of the communities must carry elements that will encourage them to behave and live in a sustainable environment."

SDP has developed a defined strategic plan to achieve its Sustainability Goals 2020. The plan covers 14 key elements — also known as the sustainability wheel — that include economic; occupational health and safety; environmental protection; materials; emissions; effluents and waste; energy; water; sustainability performance; products and services; tree-to-tree planting; and working culture.

"The goal for 2020 is to be the best practitioner of sustainable development and communities," says Wahab.

Its roadmap to 2020 is reviewed annually to measure and analyse its progress and implementation of the various programmes designed to achieve the goals.

"Sustainability has a big meaning. We want people to understand that having programmes or systems in place is not the same as sustaining them. We have targets and measurements to determine the percentage of how close we are to the goals. We can't achieve all our goals in a year," Wahab points out.

He believes that sustaining also means keeping up with the times. As standards and expectations evolve, so must SDP's sustainability practices.

Citing the £8 billion Battersea Power Station project, Wahab says, "In the UK, the sustainability practice is top notch. So our standard should be at that level, even though we are a Malaysian company. We are the leader and provider, so regardless of where we build, our standard should be of the highest level."

The Battersea project is a joint venture between Sime Darby, S P Setia Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund. The 39-acre redevelopment project will offer over 3,400 homes, more than 1.7 million sq ft of office space, 552,716 sq ft of shops, 161,190 sq ft of F&B outlets, two hotels, and 508,821 sq ft of community, cultural and leisure space. It is also expected to generate a significant number of new jobs.

The first phase — Circus West — was launched in January, and has since sold 98%. This represents a total sales value of £681 million. Construction commenced in July and phase one is expected to be completed in 2016/17. The entire development consists of eight phases, which will be completed in 14 to 15 years.

"We engaged renowned sustainability adviser Sir Jonathon Porritt to work with us on our sustainability programme. We all participated and came up with specific programmes that need to be implemented. We are halfway through our programmes, and there will be a revisit [of them]," says Wahab.

An evolving journey

According to Wahab, sustainability was a focus of SDP, even before the merger with Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd and Golden Hope Plantations Bhd in 2007 to form the company.

"Our sustainability journey has evolved over the years and gone through different phases. There was a time when sustainability came in different names. It started with total quality management, then it became total quality environmental management. After that, there's a total quality environmental management system."

It wasn't until climate change began to have an adverse impact on the environment, that the word "sustainability" started to hold new meaning.

"The clearer sustainability journey emerged in 2008. We adopted our tagline of 'Developing Sustainable Futures' that same year. Sustainability became a word to be understood and adopted. It's a natural progression," says Wahab.

In 2010, SDP set up a dedicated sustainable department, merging with the previous environment department.

"It was an important time for us, as we consolidated our practices, our understanding of sustainability, and pushed our future expectations and how to meet the global standards, thinking and expectations. We appointed consultants, adopted the Global Reporting Initiative and put everything together in our new policy and guidelines," says Wahab.

Engaging sustainability

Systems and programmes are just one part of SDP's sustainability practices. Of equal importance is the engagement of stakeholders to obtain better insights into their needs.

Wahab recalls attending a function last year, where some residents of SDP's developments were present.

"I received positive and negative feedback from them. I wasn't aware of some of the negative points they raised. From there, I gave the feedback to the relevant staff and together, we will find a solution to address the issues. That's why it's important to engage the stakeholders."

Wahab believes that it is crucial for the vision to be reflected in the day-to-day work.

"We must know whether the communities in our developments are being engaged and encouraged to experience the sustainability features we put in. It's an ongoing journey; you have to take into account the dynamics of community life and our own behaviour.

"Engaging the stakeholders plays a big role in ensuring the standards of sustainability are met, and to enable us to determine if there are any additions or enhancements that need to be done, and close any gaps," he says.

In cases of mature developments, regeneration may be needed in certain areas.

"This needs to be done in a sustainable manner. We have our system of approach, where the community is engaged and the authorities as well. When it comes to upgrading, we will do more than just the bare minimum," Wahab comments.

SDP has systematic measureable programmes such as its own Sustainability Index (Susdex) and green certification, including the Green Building Index and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leeds). However, how does one measure behaviour?

According to Wahab, sustainability is something that is drilled into the group's employees. Even during the hiring process, potential employees are assessed on their understanding of, and willingness to embrace, sustainability.

"We engage the staff through dialogue and we do walkabouts in our developments to see if our people are doing their job the way they should. There are two groups of people here; one is the thought leaders and the other, I call leaders of the thought. The former come up with and prepare the plans, and the latter are the ones who implement them. This is where the behavioural part comes in — we have to make sure our people are actually on the ball and are able to deliver."

Each employee is given an information pack on sustainability that details Sime Darby Property's goals, roadmap and initiatives, among other information. The developer also has a Sustainability Culture Assessment, which assesses how much the sustainability culture has been embodied in its employees.

"The information pack is a source of reference for our people to act. It will be constantly refreshed, as our systems and programmes are upgraded. If they are not doing what they should, we have to engage them. We believe in rewards and recognition, and also what we call, painful persuasion. We must encourage our people to practise sustainability," says Wahab.

Innovation in sustainability

In 2010, SDP built the Sime Darby Idea House, a prototype dwelling that provided an insight into future tropical living. It showcases the latest in sustainable architecture and aims to be the first carbon-neutral residence in Southeast Asia. Since then, the developer has identified five elements from the Idea House that have been incorporated into some of its developments.

"The Idea House is the dream. The five elements from Idea House are broken down into sub-elements in our products. Last year, the average application of these elements in our products ranged from 40% to 80%. We can't use all of the elements in Idea House, because it has economic implications for us and the market.

"We have to find a balance. R&D gives us the dream, but the reality will be based on three things — we must make reasonable returns, the market must accept the price, and the capability of the people to utilise the features. We are tracking the application of these elements as we develop more and more projects," Wahab explains.

These elements are also valid in commercial products. One example is the upcoming RM4 billion Subang Jaya City Centre (SJCC).

"SJCC is our next branded integrated transit-oriented development (TOD) that carries many elements of sustainability," says Wahab.

"We are looking at townships too. This is where the City of Elmina comes in. Elmina is the main project that we will use to establish the criteria for our dream sustainable township."

The 5,000-acre City of Elmina is a regional grouping of townships. Located along the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, it has a gross development value of RM25 billion and is envisioned to be Selangor's wellness and liveable city.

"One of the most important aspects of our development is our approach towards passive designs. For example, we have always promoted natural lighting and cross ventilation. Our houses and buildings are orientated to allow this. These are things you can't see, but they are built-in," says Wahab.

Sustainable practices in Malaysia

Sustainability is no longer a new topic in Malaysia, and Wahab believes the country is definitely moving in the right direction.

"The government is already committed to sustainability. We have policies, procedures and incentives to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices. Non-profit organisations and companies are also looking at sustainability. More important now is the next stage of the sustainable journey — which is how to make sure the system, and people are behaving the way we, corporate bodies, are behaving," says Wahab.

However, he feels that there is a varying degree of adoption and more needs to be done.

"We are on the right path. There is a lot of engagement, support and pressure from various parties. Sometimes, pressure helps to push up the standards and expectations. At the same time, more support in terms of resources and funding is needed. We need to balance all these things," Wahab remarks.

He opines that developers in Malaysia are moving forward progressively, with sustainable practices.

"If you have a brand, you would want to be recognised as one that practises sustainability. Good business is sustainable business. We are not doing this for the money, we are doing this because it's good business.

"I think all religion will tell you that you are not supposed to destroy nature as you please, but you are supposed to use nature to help nature. What you take, you must give back. It's even better if you can give back more. For us, sustainability is serious business. It is our philosophy," says Wahab.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Aug 19-25, 2013.

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