How Malaysians are making smart green choices in their lives

As awareness grows on the importance of protecting the environment, more people are mindful of the green impact of their purchases

Cheryl Anne Low, 43, businesswoman

“I choose companies that practise sustainability. I research their policies and practices and find out the measures undertaken as proof of their efforts.

“I’m ‘allergic’ to greenwashing (misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices). It’s not just packaging but a company’s overall footprint, business practices and promise to consumers. It boils down to having respect for consumers and the environment.”

The co-founder of Petaling Jaya-based Nude the Zero Waste Store hopes greenwashing companies will stop making misguided pledges.

“It would be meaningful to embrace environmental protection at its core. Every step and action that we take affects the environment, and the degradation of the forests, extinction of wildlife, and pollution of our oceans. We need to be conscious of our environment and our planet.”

Low refuses single-use plastic and advocates reusable items to lessen her carbon footprint. She always brings her tiffin carriers to pack food.

She opts to stay in hotels guided by their love for the environment.

“I applaud hotels that have stepped away from providing disposable plastic mineral water bottles. Their small step means choosing to stay relevant and understand the current pulse while being kind to the environment.

“I think some hotels want to move towards sustainability but don’t know how to. It boils down to the guiding principles of hotel management and their business practices.”

Mareena Yahya Kerschot, 49, Sampah Menyampah co-founder

“I never order takeaway food because most of them are wrapped in multiple layers of plastics. I always have tiffin carriers and containers in my car for buying food. My two children get hand-me-down clothes, or we buy second-hand items. I also like clothes swapping as it’s sustainable and cheap.

“I refill most of my beauty products, which are made using natural ingredients.”

The mother of two is pleased more local hotels are taking extra measures towards sustainability.

“There are lots of hotels in Malaysia that practice sustainability by trying to reduce the need to use plastic toiletry bottles, plastic straws and reduce food waste. My husband and I do consider eco-friendly hotels when travelling but we mostly book our holidays using online homestay apps. At these homestays, we can control the usage of electricity, and we only use what we need. It’s for environmental purposes,” said Mareena, who is a yoga instructor.

“Our government needs to get serious about climate change. We need to legislate it and get serious about its implementation. Go plastic bag- and plastic straw-free. Then move towards the key performance index for eco-sustainability programmes in offices.”

Hung Bee Ling, 36, Hara Makers co-founder

“As I’m involved in an environmental community project (particularly in plastic waste), and through our regular activities and research, I know how harmful pollution is in our society.

“For me, today’s disasters result from poor law enforcement, which has allowed the uncontrolled increase of pollution. It will make a massive difference if manufacturers make sustainability a part of their design process.”

She is well aware of the issue with fast fashion, and she shops only when necessary.

“I don’t do a lot of shopping. And when I do, I usually buy my clothing at thrift shops. I’m a huge DIY-er, so I make my own soap and skincare products. I usually source local handmade products, so that I can easily shop without packaging. I try to go zero waste as much as possible.”

She hopes more companies and hotels will adopt green practices and work together with local communities to improve the quality of the environment.

“I do see an increased number of hotels embracing sustainable and green principles, such as the use of renewable energy technologies, energy- and water-saving devices, and slowly phasing out plastic bottles of toiletries. Hopefully, more hotels will make environmentally friendly practices their priority with more awareness.”

Khor Sue Yee, 30, Zero Waste Malaysia co-founder

“I would like to see more Malaysian companies being environmentally responsible externally and internally. In addition, I wish organisations would adopt a sustainability mindset for their employees.

“Aside from that, I encourage companies to consider homogeneous material instead of mixed material in their brand packaging,” said Khor.

She adds that a company’s sustainability policies influence her decisions as a consumer.

“I believe our buying power can decide if companies will alter their sustainability policies for the greater good. For instance, if I support brands that provide zero-waste options, I am indirectly voicing out to other brands that I will support them if they offer sustainable policies too.

“When making retail purchases, I will try to buy items without packaging as much as possible. For example, I prefer to buy fresh produce from the wet market or neighbourhood with minimal packaging.”

She encourages consumers to be more mindful of their sustainable practices.

“I avoid purchasing new outfits because fast fashion is an issue. Instead, I shop at second-hand stores and participate in clothes swaps.”

Chris Chia, 42, marketing manager

“I have always been recycling, saving energy and reducing water use from a very young age. Sustainable policies and standards definitely play an important role in my decision-making as a consumer and even as a professional.

“I would even go to the extent of making sure a company that I am working with abides by sustainable standards.

“Why? Obviously because climate change (and its effects) is one clear sign telling us human beings that we are destroying Mother Nature.”

When it comes to retail purchases, Chia says, “I have stopped getting plastic bags from any supermarkets or food stores.

“I always have my grocery fabric tote bags or I will carry a big bag to make sure I have some space to grab a thing or two. Even for takeaways, I will bring my own containers. And of course, I use metal straws too.

Chia urges Malaysians to think green in their daily lives.

“Let’s start being sustainable with the necessities such as food, water and energy. I hope Malaysians will stop wasting food. Stop wasting water by letting the water run while not in use and switch off any lights or air conditioner when not using them as well. All these are a good start to being environmentally responsible.”

Noraini Narodden, 42, architect and entrepreneur

“I believe that our environment is in dire need of protection. Climate change, the increasing heat, reducing resources, carbon emissions and the frequency of natural disasters are just alarming.

“We really need companies to be aware of this and put in the effort to create a bigger impact and awareness. Many are still ignorant of plastic use or recycling but when policies are in place, the acceptance will follow suit.

“Some companies give discounts for items you bring back or when you bring your own bags. That is a form of savings that consumers won’t mind.

“I try to make every purchase decision a responsible one and avoid wasteful consumption. And I do prefer shops and outlets that incorporate sustainability ideas,” says Noraini, who shops from a skincare store that recycles empty bottles and tubes.

“The two clothing stores that I frequent have recycling programmes for used clothing either for re-wear or donation, repurposing or recycling.

“I believe that would help to reduce the amount of fabrics in our landfills. Also, we are doing good by donating and giving the clothes a second life and to people who need them.

“For grocery shopping, I go to this local shop which gives boxes for groceries instead of plastics. I would sometimes return the boxes or flatten them for recycling. I prefer stores that use paper or reusable bags.

“When it comes to buying coffee, it’s best to use your own reusable cup or tumbler that would also give you a couple of ringgit off. Another good initiative by food delivery providers is adding the ‘no cutlery required’ option when placing our online orders.

“I usually carry a foldable shopping bag, a collapsible cup and reusable cutleries in my handbag with a container and sometimes tiffin in my car for takeaways.

“Everyone has different motivations, be it saving energy, reducing waste or protecting the environment, but everyone should contribute actively towards the preservation of the earth we live in.

“Brands have followings and their green policies can influence how we next decide on where to stay, which service to use and what to purchase.”

Sashikala Nair, 50, public relations director

Sashikala was exposed to sustainable practices from young.

“My late grandmother and my mother till today, eat vegetables grown in their gardens and buy clothing, tools and other household goods handmade in our hometown in Negri Sembilan.

“In fact, for more than 20 years, my maternal grandparents ran a dairy farm. In a small town like ours, there was only one way to get our vegetables and produce and that was by going to a local farm.

“I learnt from a young age that the reason my family bought local was to support our neighbours because we got to meet them and also support and help their businesses survive, which in turn helped to feed their families and pay their bills. Our neighbours reciprocated by loyally purchasing our dairy for generations.

“For me, it is a huge deal to buy local for this reason alone. I encourage everyone to shop locally, even if it is selectively, periodically or seasonally. When you shop local, you come across fresher food, better service, and best of all, have the satisfaction of knowing you are helping your neighbours and local community.”

Sashikala feels that these days, more local manufacturing and electronic companies are adopting and incorporating concepts such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their business portfolios.

“Notwithstanding institutional changes (such as Bursa Malaysia’s mandatory reporting on ESG) that are partly driving the local sustainability movement within these sectors, credit must be given to players in these sectors for working hard to go beyond meeting regulatory compliance to incorporating elements of holistic sustainability into their business portfolios.”

Chan Li Jin, 52, urban farming advocate

Chan Li Jin feels that corporations need to steer away from greenwashing practices and instead, implement more comprehensive campaigns that better reflect what sustainability really means.

In terms of sustainable packaging, she says that changing from using plastic wrappers to paper wrappers when in fact there’s a thin layer of plastic embedded within is not advisable.

“I can understand that it’s not practical (without the layer of plastic), so they might as well be upfront about it and try other options.

“Recently though, I’m beginning to see a slow rise in packaging-free shops. It certainly looks like a good attempt towards inculcating sustainable practices in society.

”Still, it’ll take perhaps one to two generations before we see it turning mainstream because we’ll need these kind of shops to be as common as the (chain grocery/retail stores that are around).”

Chan’s suggestion is for manufacturers or all large companies to have a sustainability department dedicated to environmental issues.

“The key message is someone’s trash can sometimes be another person’s treasure. The sustainability department will look at all aspects of their business operations, especially on how to recycle or repurpose their waste into something new instead of throwing them away.

“Work with zero-waste or environmental NGOs to make it happen. A few years ago, for example, a factory selling upholstery fabrics gave me loads of fabric samples and scraps – totally new but useless to them – because the boss didn’t want them to go to waste.

“I had them distributed among several NGOs dealing with refugees and B40 communities. On our end, my volunteers and I sewed over a hundred cushions and distributed them to taxi drivers and the blind community at the Brickfields/Sentral area in KL.

“Ultimately, it boils down to the clarion call of the 2014 People’s Climate March – to change everything, we need everyone. We need a top-down approach and political will. It is everyone’s responsibility – manufacturers, retailers, consumers – and not just the manufacturers.”

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