Zara Phang


on 14 Mar, 18:25

Malaysian Well-being Report 2013

Malaysian Well-being Report 2013

I noticed I can no longer find this on the internet, and I had to dig through my back-ups to find this, so I thought I’d best upload it here for safekeeping.  This is the Malaysian Well-being Report 2013 by the EPU.  It is the first Well-being Report and supersedes the Quality of Life Reports which can be found here.

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on 27 Jul, 11:08

Environmental valuation survey!

Environmental valuation survey!
Post Volunteer!

Hello everyone,

A MSc student from Imperial College, London is doing his thesis on the Ulu Muda rainforest in Kedah.  Whether you have heard of Ulu Muda before or not, he would very much like for you, and as many Malaysians as possible to fill out this survey!

It only takes 5 minutes and would contribute a lot to his research  There is also an option at the end to fill in your e-mail address so you can learn more about the results of his survey.

Take the survey here

It would also be great if you could forward the survey to your Malaysian friends and family!


on 31 May, 23:57

11th Malaysia Plan and the Environment: An Overview

11th Malaysia Plan and the Environment: An Overview

The 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) was released on 21st May 2015 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. It is a national plan for the next five years of the country’s development, and powers the last leg of the race to Year 2020 when Malaysia plans to achieve the status of a developed nation.

Join us for this multi-part series as we read and review the 11MP with a focus on green growth and sustainable development.

Structure of the 11MP

The 11MP is published with one main document and 21 strategy papers related to the main document.  All the documents can be accessed and downloaded in full text here. The main document has 10 chapters and 370 pages, and is quite reader friendly with a good structure, clear writing and engaging infographics. Basically there are six strategic thrusts seen as game changers for our country’s advancement, as summarised below:

Six strategic thrusts of 11MP, Source: The Sun Daily

Six strategic thrusts of 11MP, Source: The Sun Daily

Green growth is one of the strategic thrusts and occupies one full chapter in 11MP, i.e. Chapter 6: Pursuing green growth for sustainability and resilience. The content is expanded in two strategy papers: Strategy Paper 11: Climate Resilient Development and Strategy Paper 12: Growth Through Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.

Green Growth as a Game Changer

In the 11MP, green growth is outlined as one of the six strategic thrusts that will enable Malaysia to stay ahead of challenges and opportunities in a fast-changing global and political landscape. It is the first time that the environment angle gets featured as a main strategic thrust (“Pursuing green growth for sustainability and resilience”) within a Malaysia Plan. This is an improvement from the 10th Malaysia Plan which did mention the environment, but mostly within the context of ensuring quality of life and not from a strategic standpoint on its own.

Within the 11MP, long term sustainability for future generations is mentioned, denouncing the “grow first, clean up later” model, as can be seen from the quote below:

Green growth refers to growth that is resource-efficient, clean, and resilient. It is a commitment to pursue development in a more sustainable manner from the start, rather than a more conventional and costly model of ‘grow first, clean up later’. A reinforced commitment to green growth will ensure that Malaysia’s precious environment and natural endowment are conserved and protected for present and future generations. (11MP, p.1-10)

Green growth is also seen as a “game changer”, with paradigm shifts such as the following:

From growth to green growth

Source: 11MP, p.1-14

Focus Areas of the Green Growth Strategic Thrust

There are four focus areas of green growth. For the next five years, we will be focusing on strengthening the enabling environment, promoting sustainable consumption and production, conserving natural resources, and strengthening resilience against climate change and natural disasters.

Here is an overview of the focus areas and their associated strategies:

  1. Strengthening the enabling environment for green growth
    1. Strengthening governance to drive transformation
    2. Enhancing awareness to create shared responsibility
    3. Establishing sustainable financing mechanisms
  2. Adopting the sustainable consumption and production concept
    1. Creating green markets
    2. Increasing share of renewables in energy mix
    3. Enhancing demand side management
    4. Promoting low carbon mobility Managing waste holistically
  3. Conserving natural resources for present and future generations
    1. Ensuring natural resources security
    2. Enhancing alternative livelihood for indigenous and local communities
  4. Strengthening resilience against climate change and natural disasters
    1. Strengthening disaster risk management
    2. Improving flood mitigation
    3. Enhancing climate change adaptation

Other Strategic Thrusts Related to the Environment

The 11th Malaysia Plan also touches on initiatives which could be considered environmentally friendly outside of Chapter 6 on green growth. Strategic thrusts Five and Six, “Strengthening infrastructure to support economic expansion” and “Re-engineering economic growth for greater prosperity” (Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 respectively) include aspects which are typically seen as environmentally friendly. Chapter 10 looks ahead, beyond 2020, envisioning a developed, low-carbon Malaysia with citizens who are “Passionate Stewards of the Environment”.

This article provides the overview of the 11MP. In the next parts of this series, we will be going deeper into Chapter 6 of the 11MP and its related strategy papers, as well as other chapters that touch on issues connected to the environment. Stay tuned for more!

on 27 Apr, 15:42

A toolkit to implement green business – out now and free!

A toolkit to implement green business – out now and free!

This month Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (SSM, the Malaysian Companies Commission) and WWF Malaysia launched a new toolkit to help businesses go green.  The toolkit is Malaysian-centric and available in both English and Bahasa Melayu.

The toolkit focuses on 3 areas of business activities:

  • Administration – Maintaining a green office
  • Supply Chain – Implementing a green procurement strategy
  • Operations – Greening your operations

 For each of these three activities, the toolkit covers:

  • The benefits of greening
  • Suggestions on how to green business in this activity
  • Incentives that will help businesses on their way to greening
  • Suggestions on working with employees/colleagues and supplier organisations to meet environmental objectives
  • How to maintain a focus on continual improvement in a company’s environmental performance
  • Suggestions and guidance specifically for SMEs

Many suggestions, particularly under the Green Office section, are easy and cheap or free to implement.  They will help businesses reduce their electricity and water usage without impacting their work.  Implementing further suggestions will reduce their liability, help them access more markets and impact the community around the business.  This will help businesses inspire loyalty from their customers, show leadership to their suppliers, and result in healthier, more engaged, and more productive employees.

The toolkit is a resource for continual reference.  Do have a look through the book and plan what you can start doing today, and come back to the book when you are ready to take your next steps. Furthermore, instructions on how to green your procurement process and how to set up an Environmental Management System (EMS) are given and applicable for any level of greening and size of organisation, should you wish to use them.

Do feel free to download, copy, distribute and teach from this material, provided that suitable acknowledgement of Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia as source and copyright owner is provided.

Download the toolkit from the WWF website here!

on 10 Dec, 15:01

Are your heuristics right?

I recently took a course on Sustainability with Coursera, and one of the last lectures was really interesting to me; it was about “heuristics” – ‘shortcuts’ we use in thinking to help us make our minds up about various issues or to make decisions, specifically the ones we use for decision making in terms of being environmentally friendly.  For example, my heuristic for deciding on a healthy snack choice is for fruits/vegetables over processed food.

But are our heuristics right?

Tim Harford, an economist, wrote a book called ‘Adapt’, which is partly about complex systems (the main point though is about how we need to make a lot of little mistakes in order to find what works; the tagline is “Why success always starts with failure”).  One of the chapters is on trying to find solutions to climate change, and he tells a hypothetical story of a newly converted environmentalist who wakes up one morning and decides to be environmentally friendly.  So he drinks a glass of milk instead of boiling the kettle for coffee, unplugs his mobile phone charger, takes the bus to work, buys locally sourced food for lunch and dinner but is so tired he forgets to turn off his computer when he goes home and leaves it on standby.  He then does the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher, buys energy efficient lightbulbs but stops from replacing them thinking it might take up fewer resources if he allows his current ones to burn out first.

Then he goes on to discuss how this newly converted environmentalist’s actions were not so environmentally friendly as he thought; that glass of milk came from a cow which produces a lot of methane and takes a lot of crops to feed, locally sourced food probably has more embedded carbon (the carbon emitted from all the processes it takes to produce the food) than imported food due to the inefficiencies of locally grown food (for instance in the UK tomatoes are grown in greenhouses which need heating, while tomatoes from Spain take advantage of natural heat), leaving his computer on standby more than offset unplugging his mobile phone charger, using a dishwasher actually saves more electricity and water than handwashing dishes and he should have installed those energy efficient lightbulbs as soon as he got home from the shops because the old ones waste so much energy it’s worth replacing them straight away.

In other words, this newly converted environmentalist was full of bad heuristics.  Maybe there were a few things in the above paragraph that surprised you, and no one would blame you.  Being environmentally friendly is difficult, and we get told information on how to be environmentally friendly that is often contradictory.  The point that Tim Harford was making was that it is a very complex world, and it is difficult for a single person to determine what is better or worse for the environment.

Almeria: Agribusiness Cluster. Source:

Almeria: Agribusiness Cluster. Source:

For instance, I started with the concept of ‘food miles are bad’. Then I learned that actually, food miles are a very small proportion of the ‘embedded carbon’ of a food product, and generally, imported food is cheaper because they use less resources, and have less embedded carbon, and therefore more environmentally friendly.  Then I visited my boyfriend’s family in Northern England where his uncle turned up with a pack of locally grown tomatoes… which had been grown in greenhouses which had used excess heat from the nearby power station.  So now these locally grown tomatoes were even more environmentally friendly than the ones from Spain!

Each case is complex, of course, and I will still stick to the general heuristic that locally grown tomatoes in the UK are less environmentally friendly than tomatoes from Spain (unless they are from that particular part of England).  You might also have other reasons for your choices besides being environmentally friendly, such as supporting communities, animal welfare, tastiness, etc.

I unfortunately can’t give you a list of popular wrong heuristics about living sustainbly, I’ve probably got a lot of it wrong myself.  But I would urge you to think your way through your current heuristics about being environmentally friendly and see if anything needs changing or researching.  For products a good thing to think about is where they come from, and what sorts of processes and amount of resources went into making them and delivering them.  I also hope in the future to write a series of articles on clearer thinking for environmentalists, so keep checking back here for that!

In the meantime, to help, here’s a great TED video about eating seafood sustainably: Barton Seaver: Sustainable Seafood? Let’s get smart.

From this video I guess I can leave you with one good environmentally friendly heuristic after all… In general, less is better.

Other Resources:

Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States (Journal article)

The next offering of Coursera’s Sustainability Course starts January 20th.  Sign up here.

on 24 Nov, 16:18

SEDA’s FiT – Part 2: A cap that FiTs?

An Introduction to Feed-in Tariffs

The Malaysian Feed-in Tariff (FiT) is certainly not the first in the world – FiT programmes which have popped up all over the world in the past few years.  The basic purpose of FiT is to provide incentives for national investment in renewable energy technology.  To do this FiT schemes allow and encourage smaller providers (single to double digit kilowatts), including households, to generate electricity from renewable energy that they can “feed-in” to the grid.  These small-scale producers are paid a fixed price per kWh produced that is over the market price for electricity and is guaranteed for a long term (16-21 years in Malaysia, depending on the energy source). This premium price makes it more enticing for potential producers to invest in the initial outlay costs for installing the energy generation technology.

The rates that small-scale providers are offered differ depending on the form of renewable energy used: typically solar rates are higher and hydropower rates are lower, to reflect the efficiency of the technology – for example currently small hydropower generates electricity at a lower cost compared to solar photovoltaic (solar-PV) and is therefore more efficient.  This evens out the playing field for the different technologies so that non-mature technologies (such as solar-PV) will continue to receive investment, instead of investors opting for mature technologies that provide a higher return for cost without subsidy.  In Malaysia, rates can also be added to when the technology used achieves some ideal goals, such as being locally manufactured or assembled, or by using certain technology (see ‘bonus rates’ on the ‘FiT dashboard’ on the SEDA website).

The rates offered are also depreciated annually to reflect that over time as technology progresses, renewable electricity should get cheaper to produce.  So for instance an installation of solar-PV in 2014 will receive a higher annual rate than an installation of hydropower in 2014, but a lower annual rate than an installation of solar-PV in 2013, as it is thought that the solar-PV installation in 2014 would use better, more efficient technology to create a higher electricity to cost ratio.  In the Malaysian FiT programme, the annual rate for hydropower doesn’t depreciate over time, as it assumes that the technology for hydropower is mature and is unlikely to become much more efficient.

The Malaysian difference

The Malaysian FiT programme follows the basic FiT structure described above but differs significantly from other programmes in that it introduces an annual quota.  The quota caps the amount of electricity generation from each source of renewable energy available for the FiT scheme each year and is based on the amount of money collected from the 1% electricity bill charge (see my previous post) from the previous year.

The quota has two main purposes: the first is to ensure there is a maximum amount of money that the government pays out annually for the scheme, and the second is to control what renewable energy technologies are invested in that year, with the purpose of focusing the growth of renewable energy on proven and mature technologies in the short-term, and, once the mature technologies have reached capacity, on technologies that are currently still developing (such as solar-PV) in the long-term.  This means that Malaysia won’t be installing the bulk of the renewable energy technologies that are still developing until later, when they are more developed, which allows them to take advantage of research that the rest of the world have done.

The renewable energy technology available for the FiT scheme in Malaysia are: biomass; biogas; mini-hydro (not exceeding 30 MW), and Solar-PV.  The Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA), who is responsible for the management of the FiT is currently still investigating whether Malaysia is suited for wind power.


The National Renewable Energy Installed Capacity by source goals, from SEDA

The National Renewable Energy Installed Capacity by source goals, from SEDA

To combat allegations of corruption, the allocation of the quota is based on a first come first serve basis. Applications are made by the SEDA website and the companies and individuals awarded are accessible on the website.

The obvious downside to the quota is that once the quota has been reached it is likely to disincentivise renewable energy installations.  It is easy to imagine a situation where, once the quota is reached, interested parties decide to wait until the next year to implement.  Once that year rolls around, the quota disappears like tickets for a popular concert but, like Glastonbury, hundreds or thousands are left without quota.  It is hard to say how likely this scenario could be, however the 2013 quota for 20MW Solar-PV disappeared within an hour of it being available[1].

On the flip side, no one can blame Malaysia for being eager to avoid the problems other nations have experienced with an unprecedented large take-up of FiT, where programmes had to be hijacked to reduce rates with little warning (see my ex-colleague’s take on the UK experience) or shut down altogether (e.g. Spain).  It could even be argued that the UK and Spanish FiT programmes had implicit quotas which, once breached, or with the threat of being breached, caused the FiT rate to be lowered (UK) or for the programme to be frozen (Spain).  Given this argument, it is unlikely that the quotas will ever disappear completely, however given time, experience and public support it is possible that the quota could rise to a level where it becomes more of a safeguard to government funds than a limit to the installation of renewable energy.

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Connecting the green dots is a crowd-sourced platform and a living database for environmental movements in Malaysia. There are many good actions being done out there. Our goal is to bring them together. We connect the green dots.