"Sustainable Development —
An Asian Perspective"
By Mr. H.L. Kam
President & CEO
CK Life Sciences
Ladies and Gentlemen. Good afternoon. It's my honour to have the
opportunity to come to Melbourne to speak at this important gathering.
Today, I would like to talk about sustainable development from
an Asian Business Perspective.
World Summit Outcome – Public-Private Partnership
Three months ago, the World Summit on Sustainable Development was
held in Johannesburg. At the Summit, Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture,
Biodiversity were identified as the five key areas for action and
public-private partnership as the preferred vehicle.
The company I work for – the Cheung Kong Group – has
launched initiatives in all of these five areas, and have also participated
in a number of public-private partnerships. This afternoon, I would
like to share with you some of our experience.
Before I go further, maybe I will first introduce to you briefly
the Cheung Kong Group.
Cheung Kong Group
The Cheung Kong Group is made up of a group of listed companies
engaged in property, telecommunications, ports, infrastructure,
retail, manufacturing, media, and life sciences.
Total market capitalization of the Cheung Kong Group is about A$110
billion, equivalent to about 15% of the total market capitalization
of the Sydney Stock Exchange. We operate in over 40 countries and
have more than 160,000 employees worldwide.
In Australia, we have invested around A$9 billion. Businesses include
gas distribution, electricity distribution, transportation and telecommunications;
and they are conducted through Envestra, ETSA Utilities, Powercor,
Citipower, Sydney Cross City Tunnel, and Hutchison Telecom.
Environment sustainability is the forte of CK Life Sciences, our
biotech arm. This company is dedicated to improving the quality
of life in two areas, environmental sustainability and human health.
Through this company, we have participated in public-private partnership
programmes in Australia, and have started a number of environmental
initiatives. I will elaborate further about this later.
Importance of Public- Private Partnerships
Going back to public-private partnerships, I believe they constitute
an important contributing factor for the implementation of successful
Private corporations can make great contributions by developing
and promoting products and services which facilitate environmental
sustainability. However, as private corporations are driven by commercial
objectives, unless financial returns on these products are justified,
investment will be limited.
Governments, on the other hand, can act as catalysts to speed up
the necessary reforms. Government can also generate multiplier effects
in expediting the success of efforts undertaken by the private sector.
Governments could assume the leadership role in providing an environment
for private corporations to operate so that their causes can be
realized. Policies, incentives and - at times – legislation
could create the appropriate playing field to ensure sustainable
efforts get to be carried out widely, efficiently and effectively.
The role of governments in sustainable development is extremely
Sustainability Does Not Mean Compromise
In addition to public-private partnerships, another very important
dimension to successful environmental programmes would be the development
of win-win, non-compromising solutions for all parties concerned.
At Cheung Kong, we believe that achieving environmental sustainability
should not mean compromising on quality of life. Truly sustainable
means that we should not have to go back on progress made nor do
we have to suffer sacrifices. We should always move forward, and
contribute positively towards efficiency and human comfort.
After all, sustainability should be aimed at more than just basic
survival. Sustainability should be the principle by which we work
to improve the well being of mankind.
Effective environmental sustainability initiatives should be ones
which are financially viable for commercial corporations, generate
overall benefits for the country, and improve quality of life for
Take the example of motor vehicles, one should not ban cars on
the road because they cause pollution, one should find ways to tackle
the pollution problem. The introduction of unleaded fuel, and legislation
on emission free vehicles in some countries are good examples of
non-compromising win-win solutions.
Some of Cheung Kong’s Sustainability Initiatives
At the Cheung Kong Group, we are committed to developing solutions
in which all stakeholders win.
We have undertaken a number of environmental initiatives, and the
principle we adopt for making decisions on participation follow
this non-compromising, win-win, scenario.
These initiatives include:
- a co-combustion system that can handle 50% of Hong Kong’s
municipal waste, while creating green employment and using recycled
- hydrogen fuel cell investment in Canada in which we are the cornerstone
shareholder in a listed company aimed at supplying cars with fuel
that is emission free; and
- a A$625 million property development in which 95% of the natural
wetland on site is preserved; this project not only solves a housing
problem, but also generates a wetland conservation fund to protect
the 80 hectare wetland and the rare species of birds that are habitats
of that environment.
CK Life Sciences in Australia
I would now like to share two examples where we believe the public-private
partnership as well as the non-compromising win-win principle can
apply very effectively in Australia. Both of these efforts are those
of CK Life Sciences.
CK Life Sciences, has identified promoting environmental sustainability
as one of two missions of the company, the other being improving
human health. Using scientifically advanced breakthrough technology,
we have developed more than 100 products, half of them aimed at
solving environmental issues, and the remainder addressing human
health concerns. All these products were developed based on our
unique yeast-based technology platform in which dormant cells of
the selected yeast strains are activated and then acclimatised to
perform functions including nitrogen-fixation, carbohydrate-degradation
for environmental products and immunity enhancement capability which
is applied in pharmaceuticals and animal feed additives.
The range of environmental products we have developed include eco-fertilizers,
bioremediation solutions, and animal additives. For today’s
purposes, I will zero in to talk about cases pertaining to the first
two product categories.
Sustainability Agenda of Australia
In our view, these products, the eco-fertilizer as well as the bioremediation
solution, fit perfectly with the sustainability agenda of Australia.
According to the recent Land and Water Audit Report conducted by
the Federal Government, it is clear that the country is faced with
serious soil degradation and water quality problems.
For soil condition and water issues in Australia, one of the major
causes is the over use of chemical fertilizers. For decades, chemical
fertilizers have improved productivity yields of farmers. But many
studies have indicated that only one third of the nutrients from
fertilizers is absorbed by the plant, one third is left in the soil,
and the other third gets leached into nearby waterways.
Those chemicals that remain bound up in the soil cause soil degradation,
while those leached into the water cause pollution which affects
the bio-diversity of the marine environment. For these reasons (and
others), sustainable agriculture has become an urgent topic for
The challenge now is to develop or identify a fertilizer which can
supply nutrients, that is nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium
(K), that the crops need without causing leaching into the environment.
In this area, we definitely see great potential for public-private
partnerships. Take, for example, the case of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian government should be commended for taking a visionary
role by outlining plans to tackle the Reef water quality problem
in the MOU recently signed by the Queensland Government and the
This MOU commits the two Governments to a range of joint actions
aimed at halting the decline in water quality on the Reef.
One activity to result from the MOU is an inquiry by the Productivity
Commission, which found in its Draft Report released last week that
important parts of the Reef system may be under serious threat from
chemical laden sediment that flows into coastal waters every time
there’s significant rainfall.
Against this backdrop comes the opportunity for private sector
to step up efforts to develop appropriate solutions. One of the
challenges is to develop fertilizer products which do not cause
leaching and yet can generate yields similar to chemical fertilizers.
Currently, there are organic fertilizers in the market which are
environmentally friendly, but they do not always generate satisfactory
productivity yields for farmers.
CK Life Sciences’ eco-fertilizer, NutriSmart
At CK Life Sciences, we have developed an eco-fertilizer product
NutriSmart is an active microbial fertilizer which contains six
strains of yeasts. It does not contain pre-fixed N, P and K and
the strains are all treated to supply macronutrients by fixing N
from the air, decomposing rock phosphate into P and breaking down
K from the soil to an easily absorbable form when they are in contact
with the roots of plants, and when the plants are in need of these
nutrients. In essence, NutriSmart has three benefits. It enhances
crop quality, improves soil condition, and is environmentally friendly.
NutriSmart can do most of the beneficial things that chemical fertilizers
do in terms of productivity, yield and cost, but without causing
the associated environmental harm of traditional chemical fertilizers,
such as leaching of excess nutrients into nearby waterways. NutriSmart
is an appropriate product for the current agricultural environment
– right product, right timing.
The product has been extensively tested in a number of countries
around the world, with favourable results. In Australia, tests have
been carried out by SARDI, a South Australian government agency,
with very positive results; and currently it is being tested by
BSES, a government agency in Queensland.. NutriSmart is now in use
on more than 50 crops in a dozen different countries.
Recently, we have participated in a programme orchestrated by the
Burdekin Shire to alleviate the burden on sugar cane farmers in
the Burdekin region of Queensland.
Under this plan, we offered cane farmers limited supplies of NutriSmart
at a steep discount. We asked for an upfront payment of only $50
a tonne with the balance of $300 paid off interest free over nine
months. During the nine months, farmers are expected to seek a Government
subsidy designed to encourage take-up of innovative new technology,
in order to pay amounts outstanding for the fertilizer. For farmers
who apply for the subsidy but don’t receive it, or receive
less than $300, their total outstanding balances will be waived.
The project not only alleviates the financial burden on sugar cane
farmers, it also gives them the opportunity to counter those persistent
accusations that cane farmers are the ones causing pollution to
the environment. Another multi-win scenario.
Private Enterprise Can Only Do So Much
But companies can only do so much. As a private enterprise, there
is not a great deal more that we can do than develop products, stage
tests and trials to prove their effectiveness, and aggressively
implement initiatives to promote the use of our products.
However, these are all micro-level activities. A general change
of thinking is necessary to push forth sustainable farming. And
the speed of change should be considerable in order to be effective.
To accelerate adoption of such farming practice requires the active
leadership from the government on a macro-level. It is this leadership
which would create an attractive environment for industry practitioners
to develop and introduce solutions to the market, and make consumers
aware of the need to adopt the solutions.
Governments Take Lead in Some Areas
In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland and Federal
Governments have demonstrated a visionary approach in conducting
the on-going Productivity Commission study and the series of workshops
with concerned stakeholders, as well as inviting submissions from
the public to look for solutions to solve the Reef water quality
As I understand, the South Australian Government has funded a number
of tests for sustainable agriculture; and the Victorian Government
has been active in developing an export-oriented organic food industry.
These are all commendable efforts, but it looks like this is just
the beginning and that there are still many actions to be taken
in order to ensure effective solutions are implemented expediently.
Steps for Government to Consider
To encourage greater take-up of eco-fertilisers as replacements
for traditional chemical products, we propose that Australian Governments
consider the following:
1. Provide research grants for the development of eco-efficient
2. Provide subsidies for the testing of eco-efficient fertilisers.
3. Introduce targeted, performance-based incentives for farmers
to change to eco-efficient fertilisers, and
4. Develop a regulatory and legislative framework that induce the
use of eco-efficient fertilizers and discourage the use of contaminating
We feel very strongly that to ensure sustainable agriculture is
carried out and implemented, some sort of carrot and stick approach,
a combination of incentive and regulation is essential.
California Emission Control Legislation a Good Example
The actions of the California Government of the US to reduce motor
vehicle emissions provide an example that Australian Governments
could productively emulate.
The California Government has passed legislation requiring 10%
of the State’s motor vehicles to be emission free within a
10 year period..
That is a clear target and a clear timeline, both essential ingredients
in any effective plan designed to create an environment in which
the necessary research and development is carried out and the required
business support operations are developed.
The California Government’s determination to take the lead
by passing the legislation has had definite results. With expectation
that the issue is forthcoming, car manufacturers have stepped up
efforts to carry out research on cars that run on clean fuel. Gas
companies have started to devise business strategy to meet the legislated
changes; and consumers have begun to learn more about clean fuel,
its applications and benefits. There were no more debates on the
This is a good reference case for the Australian government to
look to for ways to speed up the adoption of sustainable farming
practice. The government can set the stage and get farmers and the
fertilizer industry prepared for the change. Incentives and levies
should all be considered to turn the concept of sustainable land
use into reality.
Protecting Precious Water Resources Through Bioremediation
Moving from sustainable farming, I would like to discuss another
important and related subject – bioremediation. This is another
area where we see how the public-private partnership can work very
well and win-win non-compromising solutions can be implemented effectively.
As water is another precious resource in Australia – like
fertile soil - government should take a leadership role in conserving
water and improving its quality. Drought has been an issue in Australia
in recent years. Developing measures to encourage re-cycling of
water and cleaning up polluted water would be important areas for
Government activity, while it is also imperative to encourage the
adoption of sustainable farming practice that will not contaminate
It is understood that water problems such as those in Great Barrier
Reef, Murray Darling River System and many smaller waterways, are
very complex, and that while physical, chemical and biological solutions
have all been studied, the perfect solutions for recycling and cleaning
waste water, as well as preventing the water from being further
contaminated have yet to be identified. For this matter, government
can take up many roles – as regulator, policy maker, and in
some cases, even the end user. In this regard, the government can
work with private corporations to carry out research and develop
WonderTreat Offers Liquid Waste and Solid Waste Solutions
CK Life Sciences has developed a range of bio-remediation products
to treat waste water itself as well as solid waste that lead to
contamination. The WonderTreat™ range of bioremediation products
provide effective, economical and environmentally-benign solutions
for organic waste management and water pollution.
WonderTreat™ contains microbes with specific pollution removal
functions. It provides tailored solutions for removing bioavailable
nitrogen and phosphorous and reducing odours and environmental toxins.
It also reduces polymeric compounds, and suppresses the growth of
algae and pathogens.
Currently, in Australia, a few trials of WonderTreat have been
lined up including ones in a piggery for the treatment of pig manure
near Murray Bridge, and another in a dairy farm to treat cow manure
with the intention of solving the dairy discharge problem into the
lower reaches of the Murray River. Both of these initiatives are
to be conducted with the support of the South Australian Government.
Commercial tests are also in place.
Important Partnership Role of Environment Groups
At this point, before I go further, I would like to point out that
in addition to private enterprises and the government in partnerships
to carry out environmental initiatives, the environmental NGOs are
also an important party to the cause. Governments and business corporations
are often led by their own agendas and priorities, such as political
situation and monetary gains. On the other hand, the NGOs, guided
by ideals, are oftentimes more impartial and put greater emphasis
on the longer term benefits of mankind. They are very focussed on
their ideals and can concentrate on the problems without much distraction.
They can play an important role in making sure the governments and
private enterprises remain on course towards the effective development
of sustainable solutions.
So while it is true that government, environmental NGOs and commercial
enterprises can work together for the common good of the environment,
just how to make the partnership work effectively is another key
How To Make The Partnership Work?
In my view, there are three important elements to make the partnership
1. Complementary Roles
Each party of the partnership has to understand their roles. The
Government and NGOs are to address macro issues, with the government
taking the leadership role to create the environment for change,
maybe through passing legislation, setting policies, introducing
incentives and so on. The role of the NGOs is to raise public awareness
on the issues and/or at times bring in international rapport. Private
enterprises, on the other hand, are to launch activities on the
micro-level – putting in resources and know-how to develop
and market the appropriate products and services. The efforts of
the three parties should be complementary.
2. Be Courageous and Open Minded
Many governments and NGOs have been sceptical about working with
the private sector, worrying about being labelled as “endorsing
a commercial product”.
But for the greater benefit of sustainability, partnering with
private sector organizations, especially those who have put in huge
investments on R&D, can speed up progress. The key is to ensure
the outcome benefits all.
There are more and more cases all over the world in which Governments,
private sector organisations, as well as NGOs start constructive
dialogues in the form of regulatory negotiation to formulate policies
inclined towards the promotion of products that will benefit both
environmental protection and economic development.
3. Willing to Invest into the Future
The private sector should not be afraid to take bold steps in investing
in R & D and undertake ventures which may not bring immediate
profits, but could bring good returns in the long run. It is these
pioneering private enterprises who come out with innovative breakthrough
products which could capture untapped opportunities when they arise.
In this regard, governments can assist with the commercial viability
of a new technology or a new venture by itself buying innovative,
environmentally-friendly products. Setting the right policy would
also greatly help in shortening the lead time for business corporations
to generate returns.
Australians Can Lead the World in Sustainable Developments
Australia is well placed to turn these opportunities into real commercial
ventures which could contribute to this country’s balance
Australia has a highly adaptive and innovative population which
readily adopts new ways of thinking and new technologies. This quality
in turn has fostered the growth of highly innovative thinking in
this country about ways to tackle environmental problems.
From my previous dealings with the different government departments
and government agencies, and those with NGOs such as ACF, NCC, Landcare,
and WWF, I can see that great expertise exist and positive actions
have been taken.
Private sector industry colleagues have also been innovative in
their thinking and business acumen. With all parties making effective
contribution in their roles, it is almost a certainty that the public-private-NGO
partnership would go a long way to champion environmental sustainability
If there is any one country that can lead the world in sustainability
development, I’d say that that country is Australia.
We at CK Life Sciences are dedicated and committed to develop products
and solutions for environmental sustainability. We hope that we
can work closely with governments, NGOs and other industry colleagues
for the eventual benefit of mankind.