Yeoh: From an early age, I have had an interest in conservation and environmental protection. I fondly recall planting trees and shrubs with my father on our private island resort of Pangkor Laut at the age of seven, in those early days before it became the internationally recognised tourist destination it is today. This mentality of doing business in the right way and being environmentally friendly in the process was due to my father who strongly believes in resource and nature conservation - it makes good business sense if you look at the current state the world is in today.
We (YTL) have done much over the years to be responsible to our shareholders and our community, including supporting and donating to leading conservation organisations such as The Nature Conservancy which acts on behalf of corporate bodies to protect the environment. YTL also recently donated RM3 million to relief efforts in Johor in the aftermath of the flooding - a disaster which arguably resulted from global warming.
In my role as finance director, I introduced corporate social responsibility and environmental responsibility into our annual report (2006).
My interest in climate change strengthened after meeting Dr Kenny Tang at a corporate road show in London - and we decided to embark on the project of the book thereafter.
Why should business and CEOs worry about climate change?
Worry would not be the right word - concern would be more appropriate. Climate change, at its simplest, is about changes in the external business environment. It has the ability to change many business rules of competition in the transition to a low-carbon economy. So they should be concerned. Also climate change has become a political issue with global caps on emissions and national caps on emissions, tighter and tougher regulations, and of course green taxes.
Climate change is also about new opportunities, ranging from more climate-friendly products and services to new infrastructure for food production, to cope with floods, hurricanes, etc.
In Asia, what will it take for business and CEOs to start thinking seriously about climate change and factoring it into their business strategies and decisions?
To be truthful, we see very little on the immediate horizon that will change the thinking of Asian CEOs in addressing environmental issues such as pollution, climate change. Asia is largely seen as the factory of the world with a need to stay competitive in a manufacturing sense. Anything environmental is seen as a cost and a negative impact. The concept of externality or externalising one's costs is critical to understanding the problem. [Let's say] a company has some waste discharges - it could dispose of it and pay for it. Or it is tempted to save on the costs of proper disposal by discharging the waste into the river - it becomes someone else's problem. Then it becomes a much bigger problem for everyone!
Of course, each country and its people will reach a tipping point when it will say No to this sort of environmental pollution, and governments will need to act. In some Asian countries, the tipping point will come earlier.
However, we see an Asian opportunity, which is to appeal to the bottom line - that it is possible to cut carbon and grow profits at the same time. Hence, the title.
Ruth, you're finance director of YTL Corp. How is YTL factoring climate change into its business strategies? For instance, YTL is also involved in the retail and hotel sectors which are dependent on consumption and global travel. How does it juggle the profit imperative on the one hand and environmental and social sustainability on the other?
Yeoh: I have highlighted YTL as a case study in our book. To summarise, we believe it is important to continue to provide and deliver energy, products and services in a way that minimises the impact our emissions have on the environment. Environmental and social sustainability is part and parcel of doing business at YTL and our people and shareholders understand this well. YTL has done much to mitigate climate change risk across all its operations...
Sir Nicholas Stern has said: "There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge." Do you see the onus as being more on government and business? What is the individual's responsibility?
As individuals, we all have to be responsible - to change our individual lifestyle. The power of the individual is frequently underestimated. Increasingly, individuals are demanding more climate-friendly products and services. As businesses, we all have to be responsible - to change our business practices, whether we conserve energy, be energy efficient, etc. Governments are different - they have a much heavier responsibility and duty to promote and encourage the changes in lifestyle and energy choices through a number of ways: tighter regulations as well as incentives or taxes to change behaviour.
What plans do you have for further collaboration?
We have two exciting projects underway - firstly, on waste management and waste strategies. This is a real problem for Asian cities - not only are the cities growing bigger, the people living in them are using more energy-intensive appliances and producing more waste per person.
We are also working on a publication around the problem of financing climate change adaptation for the poor, developing countries. The Stern Review strongly concludes that early effective action outweighs the cost. We think the whole arena of Climate Bonds could be issued in the capital markets to frontload development aid that is vitally necessary for climate change adaptation projects in food production, water, flood defences, etc.
YTL will be holding the international launch of Cut Carbon, Grow Profits in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with Climate Change Week from March 6-9.
The Cut Carbon Grow Profits Conference will be held on March 8, at the Ritz-Carlton Conference Centre. For details, please visit: www.ytlcommunity.com/climatechange. To attend the conference, please register at: https://www.ytlcommunity.com/climatechange/registerc.asp