Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Batu Caves, Malaysia | Jason Rost/Unsplash
The pandemic has laid bare not only the many flaws in our global systems but also our capacity for resilience and ingenuity in the face of complex, immediate
challenges — if we apply that thinking to those that lay ahead, we may yet save ourselves from ‘business as usual.’
Over the past two years, brands have been focused on how to respond to the
pressing daily challenges facing their workers and communities. Now, it’s time
to look both back and forward to understand why the current system is leading
towards planetary disaster, and how we can build a system that allows for a
sustainable and equitable future.
“In order to get to the sustainable, regenerative future we need, we need to
slow down, restore our connections to ourselves, our families, and people around
the world,” said Sustainable Brands™ founder & CEO KoAnn Vikoren
Skrzyniarz. “We need to relearn from the stories that have changed us through
history and helped us evolve — and, together, write a better story for our
This was the main focus during the first day of the 2022 Sustainable Brands
Kuala Lumpur conference, held June 21-22
virtually for the second straight year, due to COVID. The theme: Build Back
“With the global pandemic and all the uncertainty in the world today, it is time
to stop and take stock of where we are, how we got here, what we can learn from
our past in designing a better a future,” said Gerald Miranda, the head of
Sustainable Brands Malaysia and chairman of brand strategy firm Acacia
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One key thread was that the pandemic showed that a new way of business is not
only necessary, but possible.
“We could maintain the underlying values of this system that will lead to
ecological and civilizational collapse; or we could begin to change the
underlying values of this system, leading to a cultural transformation around
the world, an ecological civilization,” said Jeremy Lance, author and
founder of The Liology Institute.
In Malaysia, the pandemic has resulted in strict Movement Control
like the lockdowns that took place in many other parts of the world, limited the
mobility of Malaysians in the name of public health. The most impacted were
low-income residents, refugees and minorities, who had less access to capital
and often were unable to make enough of a living — a sign of things to come as
the climate crisis worsens.
“Those more marginalized have been disproportionately impacted; and many of them
come from low-wage industries with minimal social protection,” said Tan Sri
Jemilah Mahmood, a professor and Executive Director of the
Sunway Centre for Planetary Health.
Still, in Malaysia, there was a recognition that many companies need to expand
their efforts around sustainability. Margie Ong, founder and CEO of
Malaysian sustainability consultancy Thoughts in
Gear, provided participants with clear
guidelines towards making sustainability a new normal at their companies by
leveraging value levers to reduce risks and unlock growth opportunities. She
also shared Thoughts in Gear's eight-step sustainable adoption methodology,
along with other methodologies brands can utilize to measure their progress.
“Sustainability is truly your new normal,” Ong said. “In order to reduce risks,
ensure that you are in fact not just within the conversation around
sustainability in your industry, but ahead of the game.”
Abdul Sani Abdul Murad, Group Chief Marketing Officer of RHB Banking
Group, cautioned against taking a one-size-fits-all
approach, understanding that each customer has unique desires and needs.
“There’s no single sustainability consumer,” Sani said. “Their values and
attitudes vary, depending on the situation. A customer who is faced with climate
calamities, your interest will be related to climate. But if you are urban poor, climate is not your main agenda.”
Another key point was consumers’ need for sustainable choices, and that those
choices must be accessible. Michelle Nunis has taken that to heart as she
aims to create healthy snack alternatives for Malaysians with her startup, Viana
“Healthy food is the right of every Malaysian; if you choose to go in that
direction, they should be made affordable for everyone,” Nunis said. “I’m very
passionate about that — I don’t believe this is a niche product.”
For brands looking to start this journey, participants shared various tools,
measurement frameworks and platforms to assist them in making sustainability
central to their business. This includes several tools from Sustainable Brands,
available to brands not only in Malaysia, but other parts of Asia and around the
world — including the Brands for Good
collaboratory, aimed at helping brands direct their marketing power to make
sustainable lifestyles achievable; the Pull Factor
Workshop, which helps
marketers explore how to create a pull towards sustainability by surfacing unmet
consumer needs; and the Brand Transformation
which helps sustainability professionals understand progress and areas of
improvement within a company.
Participants also learned about the results from the first-ever Socio-Cultural
Tracker research in Asia. This research, conducted in four Asian countries including
Malaysia, provided the first-ever consumer insights into how to connect with
Malaysians around sustainability. For example, it showed that, for many
Malaysians, the desire to eat more
isn’t due to climate concerns, but health. It also showed that a key reason that
many didn’t take action around sustainability is that they didn’t know where to
“There’s an opportunity for brands who want to help Malaysian consumers who want
to pay more attention to fostering resilient societies,” said Acacia Blue
Managing Director Sharmini Nagulan, while presenting the findings.
One of the highlights of the conference was the powerful talk from Tan Sri
Jemilah Mahmood, who presented planetary
as a framework for understanding our impact on the planet. The concept, first
introduced in 2015, has taken on a new, clear purpose since the onset of the
“There is no doubt we need a new system,” she said; but she believes a better
future is possible. “Humanity, you and I, are the most powerful force sharing
the future of the earth. It all comes down to individual behavior changes
triggering collective action.”
Published Jun 23, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.