Written by Novita Sakundarini and Raja Ariffin Raja Ghazila

Manufacturing industries play a vital role in strengthening economic growth in many nations, including Malaysia. Manufacturing industries contributed to 23% to Malysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017. Although the manufacturing sector is important in supplying goods and services, it is also one of the key causes of environmental degradation. To meet the increasing demands and needs of society, the manufacturing sector not only risks affecting the environment during the production process, but also increases the problem of waste generation. Unless addressed, these environmental problems, and the exponential growth of waste, will threaten the quality of life of future generations.

In the future, raising awareness and education through a mentoring programme concerning the standard methods of sustainable design implementation will need to be carried out.

As one of the signatory countries of many environmental multi-lateral agreements and conventions, Malaysia accepts the notion of sustainable development principles; that is, that sustainable development has become an important issue and should be aligned with the advancement of manufacturing technology. This includes the need to create public policy initiatives such as economic incentives, education, caps on resource consumption, participatory management, conservation strategies and legislated limits on pollution.  However, Malaysia is focused on three issues, namely: (1) using limited public resources to support research and development ; (2) encouraging the development and transfer of industrial process technologies that increase efficiency in input use and reduce the production of waste products; and (3) developing new financial incentives to achieve these two goals. In regards to the second issue, it is evident that Malaysia has placed environmental issues as an important concern to the country, especially in the utilisation of natural resources. Malaysia also has been promoting the need for environmental protection through policy and regulation under the Malaysian Quality Act 1974, the responsibility for which is entrusted to the federal government. The protection of the environment is also highlighted as a key element in the national long-term strategic plan for developed nation status called Vision 2020.

In Malaysia, the current approach used in environmental protection in manufacturing commonly involves end–of-the-line solutions, such as waste treatments and waste disposal. This is inefficient because action is taken after the damage has taken place – successful solutions should be based on prevention strategies. With growing populations and product usage, the need for a cradle-to-cradle approach in a product’s lifecycle will be necessary.

Challenges 

Although the concept of sustainability is well accepted by product designers, sustainable design in Malaysia is still little understood. Sustainable design is the process of creating a product which is sourced, used and then disposed (recycled/reused), sustainably. Product designers have yet to consider sustainable design as a critical issue. The inclusion of sustainability elements in design processes have not yet been prioritised/integrated into the product design. Major challenges include the lack of proper knowledge on how to implement sustainable design. From the results of a survey conducted with thirty two designers in Malaysia, it can be seen that the consideration of sustainable design, in this case the inclusion of environmental aspect in an engineering design process, is not prevalent among Malaysian designers. In addition, misconceptions still exist concerning the term of sustainable design. A common view among designers is that they perceive sustainable design as something that is complicated, which requires commitment from many stakeholders, and its not clear what the benefits will be. Strategic policies in place are also insufficient in motivating manufacturers to implement environmental initiatives.

Future 

It is apparent that the implementation of sustainable design and the associated opportunities have not been fully understood and embraced by industry, and that there are various constraints and risks that prevent industry from implementing it.  This is because misconceptions concerning what sustainable design means continue. The implementation of sustainable design is on a voluntary, segregated and ad hoc basis to simply meet regulatory requirements.

Yet, the concern and awareness with regards to sustainability issues do in fact exist among designers in Malaysia. In the future, raising awareness and education through a mentoring programme concerning the standard methods of sustainable design implementation will need to be carried out. This will include matchmaking industry with the experts, and through the development of guidelines. Consultation with industry experts on enacted international, federal and state environmental regulations is recommended. A policy is also needed to obligate companies to comply with environmental standard such as ISO 14006 and incentives might be necessary in order to foster the implementation of sustainable design.

Novita Sakundarini is an Associate Professor in Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Her research mainly focuses on the development of tools and methods for sustainable design and manufacturing. Raja Ariffin Raja Ghazilla is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Malaya and former Deputy Director at Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing, University of Malaya, Malaysia. His research focus are CAD/CAM/CAE, Human Factors Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, and Design for Sustainability. Image Credit: CC by BASF/Flickr

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