September 11, 2015

IGEM 2015: Losing Touch with the Environment?

IGEM 2015: Losing Touch with the Environment?

Moonrise over Kuala Lumpur by naim fadil @wikipedia

As Malaysia’s flagship green technology conference and exhibition rolls onward, the disposition of all things green business are looking sunnier and sunnier for the country playing host. Aggressive green tech goals are being set, groundbreaking deals are being made and IGEM 2015’s theme of ‘Powering the Green Economy’ is being taken quite literally by those who are in a position to do it.

Through six years of blowout events, IGEM has never been uncertain about its purpose – to leverage Malaysia as the regional green technology hub for all of Southeast Asia. A recent quote from the CEO of GreenTech (Malaysia’s big-shot green technology development company) sums it up nicely:

“From the very beginning, the IGEM series was positioned to take the lead and gather industry players and professionals from the public and private sectors, to explore and grasp the opportunities present in the green market. I am pleased to note that IGEM has achieved exactly that. It has successfully developed into a premier platform for industry stalwarts to discuss, deliberate and discover emerging opportunities.”

GreenTech CEO Ahmad Hadri Haris was right, IGEM has been wildly successful. It has also played a large part in developing Malaysia’s green economy. This is good news not only for Malaysia but for the entire world, which needs all the encouragement it can get to forge ahead with renewable energy, spur environmental innovation and embrace the idea that business should respect – and can profit from – operating in the planet’s best interest. These are IGEM’s goals, and they’re being accomplished.

But for an event focused on the good of the environment, IGEM offers surprisingly little of its spotlight to the natural world.

Looking over the IGEM 2015 program of events, one is impressed by the amount of sustainable learning and business development opportunities available. The schedule is dominated by green financing forums, green talks, matchmaking sessions and investing seminars – but perusal of the document presents few reminders of the environment Malaysia is actually developing in.

The truth is that although Malaysia could emerge as a major world player in green technology, it is struggling with devastating environmental issues. Many of these issues (deforestation, species extinction, air and water pollution, etc.) are linked to economic and industrial development. Green business leads away from these pitfalls, and IGEM leads to more green business, but the event is perhaps missing out on a great opportunity to raise awareness and even funding for the environmental woes of its host country.

by Emma Gawen @flickr

by Emma Gawen @flickr

IGEM usually highlights exhibitors that own big companies in the green business sector. A few of this year’s mainstage exhibitors are the Malaysian Timber Industry Board, power company Amtech Power and two solar power big-leaguers Hanwha Q CELLS and Malaysian Solar Resources. This is right and fitting for the event, but one featured partnership with an environmental action organization like WWF-Malaysia could provide many businesses with an important nudge in the direction of direct environmentalism.

It is also worth mentioning that the Malaysian Timber Industry Board’s attending IGEM 2015 made it into a press release on Eco-Business.com, but the presence of the Malaysia Forest Certification Committee did not. Both organizations will help organize timber deals, but only the unmentioned one focuses on sustainable forest management.

Also in the Eco-Business press release was German-based solar company Hanwha Q CELLS. Hanwha recently moved operations from to Malaysia from China – whose solar industry has been pegged for poisoning communities with illegally dumped toxic chemicals. It’s been said that some solar businesses are moving away from China to avoid recent anti-dumping investigations and environmental offset requirements put in place by the EU. Malaysia will have to watch its booming solar industry carefully if it doesn’t want to face similar issues. Solar energy has been a huge growth sector in Malaysia, and has a correspondingly large spotlight at IGEM. What hasn’t been discussed as much are the environmental hazards of solar panel production.

By Chandra Marsono @flickr

By Chandra Marsono @flickr

All conjecture aside, IGEM 2015 and all previous IGEM events are working towards sustainable development and doing a good job at it. Over RM6 billion ($1.4 billion) in green business leads has been generated by IGEM, and that is a positive statistic no matter how you look at it. And though it doesn’t have the spotlight per se, environmental action is part of IGEM 2015.

One big victory for direct environmentalism is the fact that the Malaysia Forest Certification Committee (MFCC) has a booth at IGEM this year. MFCC is a country-wide organization pushing to get Malaysian forests and timber companies certified for sustainability. An initiative to this effect launched in 2001 has seen 4.66 million hectares of forest (22% of Malaysia’s total forest area) and 349 timber companies get certified since its inception.

Jungle, Taman Negara. by Marco Abus @flickr

Jungle, Taman Negara. by Marco Abus @flickr

Executives and innovatives come to IGEM with open minds – they come there to network, make deals and look forward to the future of green business. That MFCC will be there educating any business dealing with wood-based products about the importance and benefits of using sustainably-sourced materials is a win for Malaysia’s environment.

During the continued course and happy aftermath of IGEM 2015, many important developments in green business will likely surface. Though IGEM may be more focused on numbers and market growth than Malaysia’s environment, the green business values, lowered emissions and green development that arise from it will bring the country ever closer to a state of true sustainability.

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