Sustainability Literacy Will Be Imperative to Paving the Way to Net Zero Carbon: Zeti

Sustainability Literacy Will Be Imperative to Paving the Way to Net Zero Carbon: Zeti

Kuala Lumpur, 19 November 2021 – Leadership for Enterprise Sustainability Asia (LESA 2021) organised by Asia School of Business (ASB) with a focus on how businesses can adapt to the Climate Change(D) Economy, closed yesterday.

The event, supported by Maybank and Sarawak Energy, facilitated the conversation around critical issues in relation to the management and strategies of climate risk, with emphasis on sustainable finance, human capital, and the energy transition. Closing the four days of discussions was Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz who reiterated the urgency needed for action, and more practically the need for a ‘sustainability literacy toolkit’ similar to the financial literacy programmes which have resulted in more than 90% of the Malaysian population owning bank accounts.

Following the global commitments made in COP26 just last week, LESA 2021 attracted more than 9,500 participants from 43 countries. The audience gained perspectives from speakers based in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia who discussed the importance of an interconnected, collective approach towards solving the climate crisis. This is in line with ASB’s DNA of being a global business school located in ASEAN, one of the fastest-growing regions in the world.

This year’s COP26 was evidence that the time of ‘Why the need for climate action?’ is over, and the same sentiments were echoed by the LESA 2021 speaker lineup: This is the decade for decisive and collective action. Annually, we use 1.75 times the amount of resources in the world today. We’ve been building debts to nature, we will hit limits, and nature does not do bailouts. LESA 2021 served as an effective platform to amplify the discussion and learn directly from case studies of enterprises that have been leading the way in driving organizational change towards the sustainability agenda. 

From how Vale implemented a roadmap towards net carbon zero, to Esquel’s bold vision for a modern manufacturing park that doubles up as an educational eco-tourism destination, to utilising food technology to provide alternatives to meat on a large scale, and to the creation of sustainable oil palm supply chains, speakers touched on industry-specific challenges and ways forward.

Another key theme the conference touched on is the need to upskill and prepare human capital for the imminent paradigm shift. Despite Gen Zs tender age, they are influenced by the “Greta Thunberg Effect” – the idea that no one is too small to make a difference. Companies that take into account environmental and social responsibilities are more likely to retain the new cohort, who are more likely to be loyal to a company that aligns with their values and beliefs. With most of Asia and emerging markets having the advantage of demographic dividends (whereby the workforce is young), corporations must take this into account.

“Building a taxonomy of common language that is used in explaining issues in this climate crisis agenda is important so that everyone will use a common language, to get buy-in from corporate leaders, members of parliament, and political leadership. They need to understand what the benefits are, and the harm and losses if they don’t address it. For people to know what they must do, they must be aware of every aspect of this. We already have the knowledge, but someone needs to assemble it in simple language via a ‘sustainability literacy kit’,” advised Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia and Co-Chair of the Board of Governors at the Asia School of Business.

Prof. Charles Fine (PhD Stanford), CEO, President & Dean of Asia School of Business reflected: “There is a significant ethical component to sustainability. Part of the mission of ASB is to develop transformative and principled leaders and being able to look people in the eye and say, ‘I’ve done the best I can’ is a critical component. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen accusations of leaders ‘greenwashing’. We need to be direct and transparent about what the challenges and issues are, and address them. It’s not easy to do, but it’s the right thing to do. Following Dr Zeti’s advice, we hope to contribute towards greater “sustainability literacy” through educational and research programs to equip and upskill leaders,” said Prof. Charles Fine (PhD Stanford), CEO, President & Dean Asia School of Business.

The conference ended on a high note with the announcement of the LESA 2022 keynote speaker Andrew McAfee, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Initiative on the Digital Economy at MIT Sloan and author of ‘More From Less’. 

ASB wishes to thank Maybank as the exclusive sponsor of Iclif Leadership Energy Awards (ILEA), which awarded the next generation of exemplary leaders and unsung heroes of society, as well as Sarawak Energy, the associate sponsor of LESA 2021.