Malaysia Urban Forum 2019

Earth-friendly cities: Circular City Economies Promote Sustainability

“How many Earths does it take to support humanity?” Professor Mahendhiran Nair, CEO of Monash Malaysia R&D and Vice-President (Research & Development) at Monash University Malaysia, raised the question at the Malaysia Urban Forum (MUF) 2019, held 18-19 February at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Prof Mahendhiran was one of several panelists at the forum’s roundtable on “W2W: From Waste to Wealth”, which discussed urban issues and solutions. In his presentation on “Circular City Economy and Realising Sustainable Development Goals”, he held up Sunway City as an emerging model city.

Sustainable consumption and circular economies

Professor Mahendhiran Nair

Current human consumption of natural resources are outstripping what the Earth can supply. Water shortages, for example, may affect two-thirds of the world by 2025 – due to inefficient agriculture, pollution, and climate change. Our use of natural resources and manufactured materials continues to expand and subsequently, haves an adverse impact on all biological species on Earth.

The looming risks of unsustainable consumption has led some governments and cities to consider implementing a “circular economy”.

A circular economy strives to preserve natural resources while reducing and reusing waste materials. To ensure sustainable development, economic decisions must account for social, environmental, and health consequences in all economic activities. In contrast, a traditional “linear” economy devours finite resources, to create products with a shorter lifespan, which often end up discarded in landfill, rivers, and oceans.

The European Union and some of its member countries have been at the forefront of putting in place circular economy initiatives. For example, the Netherlands aims to realise a circular economy by 2050 through maximising the smart reuse of raw materials. Instead of simply producing or owning many goods, the focus is on services—for sharing, renting, recycling, and repairing. Other cities in Europe have created a market for waste products, where they repair, reuse, and remanufacture waste materials that create value for society.

Sunway, a smart city

In Malaysia, Sunway City has emerged as a model for ‘walking the talk” – that is putting in place sustainable and smart practices that create value for communities living in the city. In the 1980s, Sunway was a land made barren by tin mining. Now it is a thriving and vibrant ecosystem, transformed “from wasteland to wonderland”.

Sunway has won a number of awards, including the Green Building Index Award and the Malaysian Institute of Planners' Low Carbon City Award.

In terms of resource management, the city practices trash separation and has run "zero food wastage" initiatives. The city's water treatment plant conserves water and caters to all commercial buildings. Natural gas and solar energy are used to generate electricity.

The city promotes efficient transportation through bus, light rail, and train via public-private partnership arrangement. Meanwhile, canopied walkways increase fitness and reduce carbon footprint. All buildings owned by Sunway Group were to be smoke-free by 2018, and nearly 25% of the city is reserved for green space.

In view of future development the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, established by Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah AO, Founder and Chairman of Sunway Group, has gifted US$10mil to the United Nations to develop the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development in Sunway University.

Monash University Malaysia, a joint-venture partnership between the Sunway Education Group and Monash University is also actively contributing to the Sunway City sustainable city agenda. Close to 300 academics and 450 PhD students are undertaking leading-edge research on a wide range of areas such smart transportation system, river pollution, economic development of marginalised communities and other areas that contribute to Sunway City’s environmental-friendly and dynamic ecosystem.

Public-private partnerships are essential

Cities can play a pivotal role in enabling a circular economy. To achieve this, however, the help of the private sector and multiple stakeholders is needed. Successful implementation of smart and sustainable cities across the globe, show that leadership of the various stakeholders are critical. In the case of Sunway City, the force behind the transformation of a mining crater into a vibrant township is the visionary and transformative leadership style of Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, the Chairman of Sunway Group. The Sunway City case study provides valuable insights for other cities in Malaysia and in developing countries in creating a circular economy that has a high return on investment for all stakeholders in the economy.

The Malaysia Urban Forum seeks to engage policy makers, property developers, professionals, academia, community leaders, and other stakeholders. Organised by Urbanice Malaysia, under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the forum is also supported by UN Habitat to encourage implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information on Monash University Malaysia, join us at our Open Day on the 23 March 2019, 11am to 4pm.