Message from Malaysia

17 October 2013
I have just returned from a fascinating trip to Malaysia. It is a fast growing, dynamic, young country eager to learn from the west but to apply that learning in their own way. There is no recession there, and it remains a country of significant economic growth. There is a huge investment in education, I gave a presentation at a university and was impressed by the questions I was asked by the students and their broad knowledge of world affairs. Most of the curses are conducted in English, so their language skills are very proficient. But infrastructure remains a problem. Public transport in Kuala Lumpur is inadequate and in common with many East Asian nations, the exponential rise in car ownership is causing congestion and air quality problems in the city - not to mention the suicidal scooter pilots who weave through the traffic, often with their young families on board with scant regard for personal safety. Investment in construction is massive and controlled primarily by the Construction Industry Development Board, responsible for all policy, building certification and training. There is much more government influence there, with elements of government ownership involved with most of the big developers and construction companies. I visited a version of Ecobuild while I was in the country and was pleased to see many of the sustainability challenges are being met by application of technology but the competence of the supply chain to deliver against these challenges needs to be improved. This was the focus of my discussion with the people at CIDB. I also met the Royal Malaysian Police. This is a huge organisation which is responsible for policing the whole nation, not regional police forces such as we have in the UK. Their property portfolio is massive with most police officers being housed by the force and they have a huge spend on utilities, vehicles, uniforms, technology, etc. They want to be more sustainable primarily to enhance their reputation, in common with most of the world, the police force does not always have the best public image. They are also interested in the cost saving potential of energy efficiency and want to find a way to persuade their national car manufacturer Proton to develop a hybrid. The government is just embarking on a sustainable procurement strategy to support its overall sustainable development policy, which is very good. But they are making some of the same mistakes we made in the UK Task Force in 2005. For example, they propose to train all public sector buyers in whole life-cost techniques. This is a good objective, but it will be hampered by the annual budgeting process that often does not support a whole-life costing case, and instances where the additional spend is with one department and the saving is realised by another. The UK Treasury never solved that, but I hope my new friends have more success. I hope we will have the opportunity to roll out our supply chain school initiative here in addition to our plans in Australia. In which case it is very likely that I shall return. ☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability
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