Sustainability a profitable watchword for Asian firms

Shanghai's financial district of Pudong. China holds about half of the US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of new market opportunities in Asia presented by more sustainable business models, according to a recent report.
Shanghai's financial district of Pudong. China holds about half of the US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of new market opportunities in Asia presented by more sustainable business models, according to a recent report.PHOTO: REUTERS

Asia's companies are well-placed to reap some of the trillions of dollars of opportunities opened up by adopting more sustainable business models, a new report says.

Businesses in the region could unlock new market opportunities worth US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) and create 230 million jobs by 2030, by pursuing strategies in line with the United Nations' sustainable development goals, it found.

The report is from the UN Foundation-backed Business and Sustainable Development Commission - launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year.

The UN goals set out 17 targets to eliminate poverty, improve education and healthcare, create jobs and address climate change.

Said the commission: "Asia represents 40 per cent of the global value (at US$12 trillion), and nearly two-thirds of total jobs."

Its Better Business, Better World Asia report, presented at the 4th Ecosperity conference organised by Temasek Holdings yesterday, highlighted four key areas that will drive economic value creation.

The energy and minerals sector accounts for the lion's share of the value at US$1.9 trillion, followed by city infrastructure development at US$1.5 trillion, food and agriculture at US$1 trillion, and health and well-being at US$670 billion.

Of the US$5 trillion worth of opportunities, about half could be found in China, US$1.1 trillion each in India and emerging Asia, and the rest in developed Asia, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. The bullish projection comes amid global outcry over the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement last week.

Speaking at the conference, themed "Tomorrow Starts Today", Temasek chairman Lim Boon Heng noted the urgency of achieving sustainable development. "If global consumption continues at the same rate and the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050, the UN estimates that we need three planets to sustain our lifestyles," he said.

Mr Lim spoke of the "profound" impact of global warming, which could cause sea levels to rise by up to 30cm by 2065, and cities' contribution to 75 per cent of global carbon emissions despite occupying only 3 per cent of the earth's land.

"Preparing for tomorrow really needs to start today," he added.

The business case is strong, with both investors and consumers pushing for more sustainable practices.

Citing a recent Goldman Sachs study, Mr Lim said 93 per cent of millennials and 73 per cent of women agree that environmental and social impact is important in their investment decisions.

Meanwhile, sustainability-related investments grew 14.6 per cent on a compounded annualised basis from 2012 to last year to US$23 trillion, reported the Global Sustainable Investment Review.

"These developments point to the fact that there is no better time to do well, and to do good... Collectively, we can bring about meaningful change," Mr Lim added.

More than 350 participants from over 40 countries attended the annual Ecosperity conference.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Sustainability a profitable watchword for Asian firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe