Driving the Right “Attitude”, to Champion “Sustainability”

Renard Siew, WEF Curator – Global Shapers KL, Sustainability at Sime Darby

Renard is the Curator of the Global Shapers – Kuala Lumpur Hub, an affiliation of the World Economic Forum.  The organization works at the nexus of Engineering and Economics to address the many challenges associated with developing sustainable communities. Renard is also attached to Group Sustainability, Sime Darby a multinational conglomerate where he is involved in driving the environmental agenda and constantly seeks  opportunities for various industry sectors to champion the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

He had a short stint as a postdoctoral teaching fellow and a researcher at the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets (CEEM) where he was involved in a number of portfolios including sustainability/ integrated reporting, socially responsible investment (across different asset classes: equities, infrastructure and property/real estate), climate change and sustainable construction for the building/infrastructure sector.

A graduate from the UNSW and Cambridge University, Renard was selected as one of 15 international scholars to attend the PhD Academy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). He has been covered in many international refereed journals. In 2014, he won a Highly Commended Paper award by the Emerald Literati Network and was a nominee for the Individual Leadership in Sustainability Infrastructure Award.

Team ABT Reached out to Renard to know his views on the current challenges in Sustainable Environmental Development & the ideal way forward to ensure a better future.

Who is your greatest inspiration? Why?
I would say Elon Musk. For those who are familiar with his personal journey, he has more grit than anyone else I know and his never giving up attitude is simply contagious. As an advocate for sustainability you need to have that same kind of attitude.I find a lot of the values which I have incorporated in my life and in the work space, in the organizations and companies that I lead, is strongly influenced by his character.

In your views, what is a Smart City & the challenges that needs to be addressed?
To me, a Smart City is looking beyond the boundaries of what one would consider a typical “green building” but also focussing on the surrounding communities. I would define a Smart City as a developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas: economy ,mobility, environment, people, livelihoods and the government.

Excelling in these key areas can be done by focussing on human capital, social capital and ICT infrastructure. Some people say that in order to develop or maintain Smart Cities, you need Smart Citizens and I think this holds true in many respects. You need people who are concerned enough to play their role as responsible citizens- to recycle waste, to opt for public transportation, to be innovative and contribute to economic growth. The biggest challenge (in my opinion) is that we have groups of people working in silos as opposed to taking on a systemic perspective- as a result we tend to get “piecemeal” results and not exactly the intended outcome we expect.

Your views on the environmental challenges today & the need for a sustainable plan for Infrastructure
In the recent Global Shapers Survey of more than 31,000 respondents, climate change was named as one of the top 3 environmental concerns. I think this is to be expected as the impacts of climate change is severe from water scarcity in one area to flooding in another; reduced agricultural yield, increased in climate refugees, and spread of diseases just to name a few. I don’t think people are unaware of it but rather they choose not to do anything about it and call themselves ‘climate denialists”.

I do strongly believe that we need a robust plan for sustainable infrastructure one which is not only adaptable to climate resilience (i.e. can withstand flooding, hurricanes or weather related disasters depending on geographic location) but also one which encourages social cohesion among communities of all ages from an 8 year old to an 80 year old. The issue currently is that there isn’t a lot of guidance or frameworks on how to develop a sustainable infrastructure- What sort of criteria needs to be considered? What is the benchmark that should be used? How to get funding for sustainable infrastructure?

What accordingly to you, should be the key Millennial goals for an economy to ensure a sustainable environment & living?
We have moved past the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to now focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which consist of 17 Goals and 169 targets. It covers everything from the need to end poverty, to promote gender equality, health and well-being, clean water as well as responsible consumption and production. I believe a sustainable economy should strive to incorporate and measure progress based on these goals instead of just relying on the GDP. The narrative needs to change.

Please share with us, your most cherished milestone
For me, it’s definitely the people that I have come to meet through my engagements in both corporate and civil society. To be able to work with some of these amazing group of people, learn from them and to create sustainable impacts collectively is what I cherish the most. It’s not about the awards or achievements that I have received.

If you were not an expert in sustainable development & environment, what would you be doing?
Funnily enough, a friend was telling me about how researchers these days are modelling for advertisements and TV commercials. At the start of this year, I was approached by a men’s lifestyle magazine to share a little bit about what I do in the sustainability space. Perhaps, I would consider a career in modelling if wasn’t an expert in sustainable development.

Tell us about some of the recent projects that you are working on.
I actively participate and contribute in various stakeholder platforms. I am part of the industry working group member the National Transformation Roadmap for Urban Water Management under Academy of Sciences Malaysia. It’s meant to set the roadmap for how water resources will be managed in the coming years in Malaysia.

Internationally, I am part of the Stakeholder Council Member of Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB) working towards the development of a framework to promote sustainable infrastructure. I also serve as an industry working group (IWG) member of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) based in the USA to explore how we can integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria into investment decision making.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
This is a difficult question to answer as I do have quite an extensive wish-list which I have in my diary. But in the span of the next 5 years, I do sincerely hope that all Asian cities would have in their roadmap or at least have identified key focus areas that would make them smart and sustainable.