Championing Sustainable Development with Sunway Malls

Asia Blockchain Review
July 20, 2019

Asia Blockchain Review recently spoke to Chan Hoi Choy, Chief Executive Officer of Sunway Malls and Theme Parks at Sunway Berhad. Chan talked about Sunway Malls and The One Academy’s role in representing Malaysia during the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Campaign’s Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany and how Sunway Malls is raising awareness of SDGs among the general public.

Asia Blockchain Review: What is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Campaign? How did Sunway Malls come to take part in this project?

Chan Hoi Choy: The UN SDG Action Campaign is best viewed as a cohesive effort to bring about advocacy, citizen engagement, behavior change, and political will to drive action towards making Sustainable Development Goals a reality. At all levels of society, there is an immense need to address sustainability through the pillars of the environment, society, economy, and even culture. There is a growing concern, especially regarding climate change, that development for the current generation does not compromise future generations. 

Sunway Group is a believer of sustainable development and a supporter of UN SDGs. In fact, the Group established the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development (JSC) in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network to advance SDG achievement in the ASEAN region through research and solutions-oriented approaches.  As part of Sunway, Sunway Malls naturally takes SDGs advocacy upon itself, given that our malls collectively have a total visitorship of 70 million annually. It is on this premise that SDGs awareness must be advocated consistently, and given that Sunway Malls has an outreach platform, we decided to embark on a project to raise awareness among our shoppers.


ABR: Why did Sunway Malls choose to join in the partnership with The One Academy (TOA)?

CHC: In our search for a partner, we felt that the brand partnership must be mutually beneficial to both parties. For awareness projects, conventional practice is to engage creative agencies and activation companies to run the project. But we felt that this approach fell short of creating that mutual benefit Sunway Malls intended. We wanted creativity in this project, and for our partner, we equally wanted them to gain deep-seated learning and experience that can bring out more sustainable, long-term benefits in their work. Sunway Malls wanted the learning process to go on and go as far as possible and not stop at the end of the project. Given these goals, we felt that working with students was the most ideal. We hope that working with students will further seed generation awareness and actions on SDGs. 

The One Academy (TOA) was approached given their credentials in producing industry-relevant students. They have a consistent track record of producing industry-ready graduates too. And Sunway Malls was honored when TOA came onboard. 

One of the aspects in which the partnership worked well was how both parties were able to create value added. For example, on the mall side, we have creative design professionals whose primary role is to enhance the mall ambiance via decoration and visual merchandising. By onboarding, they were able to guide TOA students in technical aspects. In turn, the students, through the good foundation of TOA curriculum, were able to assimilate and transfer this knowledge and expertise into the project. There was good masterclass training involved. And of course, the students were also very committed, as this collaboration was certainly very challenging. One of the more sustainable measures of this project was the students were able to access the malls’ workshops and use recycled materials for the project. This lessened the environmental impact too.


ABR: Can you tell us about the team’s entry, “Our Sustainability – A Reminder Through Interactive Experiences”? What was the inspiration behind the idea? 

CHC: In addressing SDGs for the project, Sunway Malls took cognizance of three important factors in play: 1) The goals, though important, were a very difficult subject matter to get people excited about; 2) issues on SDGs and efforts to combat them can be acted at the individual level; and 3) SDGs awareness was still predominantly visual-driven and somewhat one-directional. 

These three factors drove our strategic approach to adopt interactiveness and experience curation in addressing SDGs. The harnessing of the senses was important to forming Sunway Malls’ perspective because it ties back to the very core what we believed a mall visit should be: essentially, a sensory experience. 

The end result was an interactive public exhibition consisting of four installations that took place within the mall over a weekend in August 2018. The installations were conceptualized, engineered, and crafted by 18 students over three months to showcase Sunway’s commitment to SDGs. 

ABR: Can you tell us more about the interactive installations at Sunway Malls? What were the themes of these installations?

CHC: The four installations addressed the SDGs, and members of the public could interact with them. Both Sunway Malls and TOA included urban poverty and gender inequality in addition to environmental issues to show that sustainable development should be viewed with a wider lens. The exhibition itself attracted 22,000 unique visitors over the two days of that weekend.

There were four themes two about the environment and two about social issues. Lights Out highlighted the awareness of light pollution through switching off lights in a dark dome to bring out the stars; Mao was an interactive flipbook that told a short story through animation displayed using the Pepper’s ghost illusion technique to convey how minor changes to our daily lifestyle could impact the environment; Sexist Arm Wrestling was a game to raise awareness on gender equality, allowing the public to experience a literal, exaggerated representation of the frustrating social discrimination experienced by women; and lastly, Beyond the Garden Wall was a replica of a low-income home that attempts to demystify the causes and effects of urban poverty. 

The mall’s Creative Design Department guided the students, to further enhance their projects and advised on the requirements of industry standards and safety aspects of their installations, while Technical Services, Housekeeping, Building Services, and Security oversaw logistics advisory.


ABR: What was some of the feedback from visitors who experienced the installations?

CHC: Feedback has been largely positive. One common theme that came out was that in one way or another, many people were already practicing sustainability without realizing it. There was also greater awareness that sustainable development is not confined to environmental issues, but social ones as well. Many visitors highlighted that they had never seen SDGs being delivered through interactive installations. One area of improvement we observed was that the duration of the exhibition should be extended to cover two weekends, in order to widen its reach. However, as the students who manned the exhibition had lecture commitments, this was difficult to achieve. A possible solution is to look at having more of their peers from other programs participating in future projects.


ABR: What are Sunway Malls’ other efforts to implement the SDGs?

CHC: We believed this should be both inward and outward looking. Inwardly, we spent the last few years looking at our operations and finding ways to undertake SDGs. As our flagship mall Sunway Pyramid is 22 years old, much focus was concentrated on environmental issues. 

This took the form of retrofitting aging equipment that was not energy efficient, like chillers and lighting. The idea was to ensure that energy is optimized. We had also created double airlocks for better air conditioning and to prevent heat transmission. Landscaping, rainwater harvesting, rooftop greening, a buy-back recycling center, and electric vehicle charging stations were also introduced. 

The outward focus allowed us to include social aspects of the SDGs, and there have been several initiatives along these lines. One of our malls, Sunway Putra Mall, spearheaded an initiative to designate one day each week as Autism-Friendly Day, making it the first mall in Malaysia to do so. Efforts to encourage e-waste recycling took Sunway Malls to work directly with the community at the residential association level, whereby e-waste collection was done at community parks rather than in-mall to encourage better recycling rates. In just six months after launch, we managed to get the community to recycle 2,000 items and 3,000 kg of e-waste.


ABR: What are some of the aspects of sustainability that the retail industry has yet to address?

CHC: The most pressing issue of sustainability for the retail industry is how, at this point, it is still a use-and-dispose economy rather than a circular economy. Much of the resources used are often discarded and not recycled or upcycled. That, of course, has a tremendous environmental footprint, as resource harvesting leaves deep-seated ecological imbalance. Post consumption fills up landfills and contributes to the greenhouse effect. 

Most consumers have to be made aware of the environmental, social, and economic implications of what they consume. Businesses have to come to terms that addressing these three pillars, in the long run, will be more sustainable in nature. Addressing these are not easy as it deals with the entire value chain, but we do see this gaining traction when society demands and places emphasis on more sustainable practices. 


ABR: How important is sustainability for the retail industry? 

CHC: We all should cast a wider lens when it comes to sustainability. Only then we will not miss out the bigger view of its significance and importance.

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