Petrolheads flocking to the British Grand Prix this weekend can get all revved up at this stunning line of new electric cars ahead of their trip to Silverstone.
More than 1,000 engineering students and tutors across Asia showcased futuristic motors at the Shell-Eco Marathon in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Asian leg of the annual contest, launched by the oil giant to inspire innovation in transport, pitted some of the brightest minds on the continent against each other on and off the track.
Hypnotising design: Team Innogen KMITL V.1 from Thailand drew an audience as they sped around the track
Teams were tasked to build and drive a vehicle that can travel the furthest distance on the least amount of fuel and lowest possible emissions.
Budding engineers, from universities across Asia, entered vehicles into two categories – either prototype or urban concept – at Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang International Circuit.
They then sped around the track in either the electric class, using hydrogen fuel cells, solar and plug in battery power sources, or the internal combustion class, for gasoline and diesel.
Drivers were forced to attain an average speed of at least 15mph over a distance of 10 miles.
On-track: Eco-racers from across Asia lined up before their green marathon
The teams pulled out all the stops with their futuristic designs and colourful paint work including flames, lightning bolts, paint blobs and squiggles.
One car looked like a cross between a spaceship and David Hasselhoff’s heavily modified Pontiac Trans Am from Knight Rider.
It’s a belter: The Ayuthaya Technical Commercial College in Thailand showcased their conveyer belt-like design
The design by Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic was a dead ringer for the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) – with its black body paint, tinted windows and sharp angles.
Another car, by a team from Thailand’s Ayuthaya Technical College, appeared to have a conveyer belt on top.
Green power: A driver from the Polytechnic State of Pontianak in Indonesia just fits inside his team’s innovative design
Cancer scares, rising allergies and global warming concerns are driving the boom for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ personal care products. But how do consumers know if they are for real?
IT all started with a personal quest to source for Malaysian-made natural and biodegradable products for my family. For the past three years, more so after I became pregnant, I was adamant to steer clear of harmful chemicals commonly found in mass-market personal care and household cleaning products. Besides, we are trying our best to tread lightly on the already fragile environment.
I have no qualms about forking out a little more for imported natural or organic-certified products since Malaysia does not have the legislation or a local certifier that governs the manufacture or import of such items. Hence, products slapped with labels of accredited and internationally recognised certifiers such as Ecocert from France, BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics Seal (Germany), NaTrue (Europe’s natural cosmetics industry lobby group) or USDA (US Department of Agriculture) do carry some weight and assurance. However, certifications have varying standards and loopholes, and are usually costly, which in turn trickle down to the price of the products.
So why not support local brands, certified or not? I found a small Selangor-based company that produces supposedly “100% pure natural ingredients” shampoo and body wash. The labels list the ingredients – mainly fruit extracts, foaming agents, natural chemicals derived from plants and natural preservatives. They also mention the nasties to avoid, like paraben, petrochemicals, artificial fragrance and sulphates. Good to know they are trying to educate the public. Plus, customers enjoy a discount if they bring back the original bottle for a refill.
After two years of using the products, I have not experienced any side effects like skin irritation. But can I say for sure if the products are truly natural? Nope. And the brand distributor could not answer my questions either.
Peeling back the labels
How do consumers wrap their heads around labelling claims and the not-so-straightforward world of certifications? Even a chemistry geek who can decipher complex scientific names for product ingredients can’t tell if manufacturers are revealing everything.
In theory, the manufacturers have to abide by the Guidelines for Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia, issued by the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau. But you download the form online, fill it and wait for your certificate of notification from the Health Ministry.
“This is where abuse can happen but this is similar to most countries around the world,” says Jonathan Horsley, marketing and export director of I-Green, a Kuala Lumpur-based company that manufactures organic-certified skincare for adults. “The enforcement for checking what is on product labels needs to be improved. But to be fair, this seems to be a problem faced more in the natural and organic realm.”
Another Kuala Lumpur-based natural skincare manufacturer adds: “No one’s really checking on us so it’s basically self-regulated.”
To some extent, certified organic products do provide some level of comfort and assurance, according to Amarjit Sahota, founder and director of London-based Organic Monitor, a research and training company focusing on ethical and sustainable industries.
“Certified products give a guarantee to consumers that natural and organic personal care products do not contain potentially harmful substances,” says Sahota.
In Malaysia, I-Green is the first and only Malaysian company, so far, to receive Ecocert’s stamp of approval. Founded in France in 1991, Ecocert tests and certifies food products as well as cosmetics, detergents and textiles. They inspect about 70% of the organic food industry in France and up to 30% worldwide. Today the company has presence in 15 countries and conducts inspections in over 80 countries.
Briefly, Ecocert requires 95% of the ingredients in a product to be of natural origin and restricts what is allowed in the remaining 5%. And for a product to be labelled organic, 95% of the plant ingredients must be of certified organic origin.
“All of our products are 100% free from petrochemicals but we are allowed to add carefully selected safe and mild preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (derived from salt of acids, these are food-grade preservatives generally regarded as safe worldwide),” explains Horsley who has a background in chemical engineering. “As for fragrance, we use specially blended essential oils from France. On average our products are 99.8% natural.”
100% natural, or not?
But is there such a thing as a 100% natural product, and does it matter?
“It’s nearly impossible to make 100% natural skincare products on a large-scale commercial business model,” says a Klang-based formulation pharmacist who declined to be named. “For boutique business, yes, it is possible.”
Preservatives are used to prevent spoilage due to contamination from bacteria or fungus. Without preservatives, the shelf life of a product will be months if not weeks, the pharmacist explains.
There are natural preservatives like grapefruit seed extract and essential oils but compared with synthetic preservatives, their antimicrobial activity is lower and they cover a smaller spectrum of microbes.
“So using a natural preservative will require good knowledge of the product,” explains the pharmacist. “For example, if you use single-use delivery systems (containers) like ampoules, you may not need preservatives at all.”
There are also other compounds that are used to prevent products from spoiling or oxidising, such as antioxidants like vitamin E or vitamin C. The pharmacist says these antioxidants are natural but come in synthetic forms like Buthylhydroxyanisole (BHA) or Tert Butyl Hydroxy Quinone (TBHQ) and can be found in ointments or lotions. “Again, it’s possible to use natural antioxidants but it can get very expensive as you require higher quantities of the ingredient.”
But Penang-based Indochine Natural, a company that churns out handmade natural soaps, body wash and shampoo for local and international markets, did away with preservatives by sticking to old-fashioned soap recipes.
The germicidal action of soap has been known for a long time. Natural soaps are alkaline – a characteristic that favours the destructive effect of soap on micro-organisms. Scientific research from the 1920s has shown that soaps loose their germicidal action at pH7 or more acid conditions.
“Indochine soaps (as well as shampoo and body wash) have a pH of around nine and are formulated with 100% pure essential oils, many of which have documented anti-microbial activity,” says managing director and founder Dr Mike Thair, a trained chemist. “Therefore, the combined effects of the soap itself, the pH, and added essential oils make it unnecessary to use any form of preservatives.”
Natural or organic certification is not the be all and end all in ensuring consumer confidence as companies like Indochine and Alive Group, a Kuala Lumpur-based organic products manufacturer, demonstrate. Indochine’s production facility implements a quality system that conforms to the cosmetic guidelines of Asean, Japan, the European Union and the United States.
For their raw materials, Alive imports only those certified as organic. “Before every purchase, all the organic certificates provided by the suppliers or growers are examined,” says Alive nutritionist Sai Chia Chin. “We also do random lab tests on the raw materials to ensure they meet the required organic standards.”
Like I-Green and Indochine, Alive follows Good Manufacturing Practice standards to ensure product safety for its consumers. Alive personal care products are not certified but it is a member of Organic Alliance Malaysia which is working with the Department of Agriculture to enhance the competence and credibility of the organic sector.
In the field of certification, there is no shortage of mudslinging, accusations of false labelling and debates over mutual organic standards. Which explains Indochine’s reservations about applying for certification.
“It’s something we have deliberated over long and hard as currently there is a cloud hanging over many of these certifications,” admits Thair, whose company operates under Fair Trade principles as defined by the World Fair Trade Organisation. “We have decided to take a wait-and-see approach.”
An anomaly amongst manufacturers who guard their secrets zealously, Indochine practises an open-door policy at its factory in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
“We are happy to show customers the entire production process plus all of the quality documentation and certificates of analysis for our ingredients and products,” says Thair. With the exception of essential oils, all the raw ingredients used by Indochine are sourced locally. These include turmeric, powdered lemongrass and vegetable oils.
“Our distributors from France, Switzerland and the US have visited and did thorough audits of our company’s production and work practices in order to satisfy quality standards,” he adds. Indochine’s Japanese distributor has had a third-party audit done on its finished products, which included laboratory analysis for 22 potential contaminants.
“At the end of the day, we welcome rigorous quality testing and auditing as a means of ensuring consumer confidence,” says Thair.
One thing all three companies – Indochine, I-Green and Alive Group – have in common is they are committed to strong research and development, strict quality control and reaching out to their consumers through awareness campaigns, education and consumer fairs.
The role of ensuring safe skincare products lies with retailers, too. Organic retailer Justlife, for instance, gives priority to certified organic and certified natural personal care products.
“It is very important that all the ingredients, from the base to active ingredients, are from natural sources such as extracts from plants and natural minerals from earth. Products should be free from any synthetic and harmful ingredients, petrochemical derivatives and animal ingredients,” explains chief executive officer Callie Tai.
“We do not promote products made of animal ingredients because animal farming is one of the industries that exhausts the world’s natural resources and causes global warming,” Tai adds.
Justlife’s team of technical staff, including biochemists, evaluates all new products and reviews them from time to time based on latest findings.
So do Malaysian-made natural and organic products measure up against international brands?
“Definitely, the local brands are growing steadily, with very promising future potential,” says Tai, who founded the Justlife chain in 1999. “Brands such as I-Green and Indochine are already making inroads by penetrating the overseas market and getting good feedback.”
As for Yours Truly, I’m still none the wiser when it comes to sifting through so-called natural products.
Maybe it’s time to raid the kitchen pantry and whip up some home-made beauty remedy.
Article excerpted from www.thestar.com.my
HUNDREDS of visitors took part in the Forest Research Institute Malaysia’s (FRIM) celebrations in conjunction with World Environment Day 2011 recently.The event, themed “Forests: At Your Service”, was held at FRIM Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.
The aim of the event was to promote a sense of responsibility among the public to play a more active role in the conservation of the forest and environment.
Observing keenly: Participants of the guided nature walk looking at fishes at the lake in FRIM.
FRIM director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Mohmod urged the public and corporate bodies to support forest conservation efforts in the country.
“The aim of the celebration is to strengthen public awareness on the importance of forests, not only to the economy and environment but also to the collective wellbeing of the people. We would like to take this opportunity to remind people of the various ecological, economic and socio-cultural services provided by forests.
“This includes regulating water, preventing floods, maintaining soil quality through provision of organic materials, reducing erosion and protecting soil from direct impact of rainfall, modulating climate and being home to rich biodiversity, among others.
“FRIM opens its doors to the public to enjoy its forest environment, providing nature education facilities and activities and it also welcomes collaborators with corporate bodies in various programmes including tree planting, recycling and environment education,” he said.
During the event, Latif also launched a collaborative programme between FRIM and HSBC in which HSBC staff will participate in field research activities related to forest and climate change which are being carried out at the FRIM Pasoh Research Station in Negri Sembilan.
“The Pasoh Forest Reserve under the care of this station is the most extensively studied lowland tropical forest in South-East Asia. The first research was initiated in 1964.
“Since then, FRIM actively promotes research, capacity building and awareness activities related to the field of ecology, including biodiversity conservation and climate change by providing necessary facilities and technical assistance.
“Under the FRIM-HSBC programme, the bank’s staff will be educated on the role of the forest in mitigating climate change so that they may do their bit for the community,” he said.
“We hope the collaboration will give recognition to the local forest research efforts, support environmental awareness in the corporate sector and together fulfil social responsibilities,” he added.
Latif said this after flagging off participants of the Eco Fun Walk during the FRIM World Environment Day celebrations.
Besides the Eco Fun Walk, there were many other activities organised for children, youth and parents to have fun together. There was a nature walk in the forest in FRIM with guidance from FRIM nature guides.
There was also a car boot sale and recycling counter where visitors could buy items or send their newspapers, bottles, aluminium cans for recycling.
For the kids, there was an Erra Art Club colouring contest for children aged between five and 12 as well as a storytelling session at the Perah Camp in FRIM Kepong.
Article excerpted from www.thestar.com.my
When Rustam Roshandin got out of rehab, he wanted to do something with his life that would help recovering drug addicts like himself stay clean. He had no idea this desire would transform into the largest night bazaar in Kuala Lumpur.KL Downtown Night Market now has 600 stalls, most of which employ former addicts who completed the same rehabilitation program Roshandin went through, and more than half are owned by recovering addicts. “It gives us a reason to stay clean and sober everyday,” Roshandin said.
The bazaar (open from 10 pm to 4 am) is a huge draw for tourists, he added, offering everything from local, handmade batik fabrics to street food to foot massages to five-minute haircuts. On weekends, the market invites local dancers and musicians to perform on its stage. A portion of all proceeds go to Kuala Lumpur’s Pengasih rehab centre.
Socially conscious businesses like KL Downtown are giving travellers the opportunity to do some good while on vacation. The timing is great, say responsible tourism advocates, because demand for sustainable travel in Malaysia is on the rise.
“Over the last couple of years, there has definitely been an upswing,” said Deborah Chan, programme manager of Wild Asia, a Malaysia-based NGO dedicated to promoting responsible tourism throughout Asia. Tour operators vouch for the increase in sustainable travel. Responsible Travel, a UK-based travel agency selling sustainable holiday packages, reports a 23 percent increase in customers buying trips to Malaysia from 2009 to 2010. “In particular we’re seeing an increase in travellers opting for orangutan based holiday experiences in Malaysia – Borneo in particular,” said communications manager Krissy Roe.
Locally, the award-winning tour operator Borneo Ecotours is finding the same trend. The company says that ecotourism attracts many people from Europe and the UK who want to learn about Malaysia’s natural history. “You have to be careful, though,” warned assistant general manager Susan Soong. “A lot of companies are into greenwashing. They are more marketing sustainability than practicing it. So it’s a bit important to know who you are [buying from].”
That is part of the reason that Wild Asia hosts the Responsible Tourism Awards each year – to support businesses that practice what they preach.
This past year, one of the winners was the Frangipani Langkawi eco-resort, located in the northwestern part of the peninsula in Kedah. The resort and spa offers a luxury getaway of beach relaxation in beautiful villas with private terraces. Nearby eco-activities abound, with chances for snorkelling, rainforest treks and island hopping. Travellers can feel good about staying here, too, since the hotel’s mantra is conservation. Frangipani implements a rainwater recycling system to water its sustainable gardens and uses solar panels to reduce energy use.
For travellers seeking adventure, Malaysia’s stunning wildlife lends itself to many opportunities for sustainable travel. Sea turtle lovers can visit the Ma’Daerah Turtle Sanctuary in Terengganu or Malacca’s Padang Kemunting Turtle Hatchery. Or, take a reforest trip and find endangered elephants at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary or endangered guar (wild cattle) at the Seladang-Gaur Wildlife Conservation Center.
Local food enthusiasts may be more interested in agricultural tourism. Farms such as Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm feature tours, activities and accommodations. Kahang, which produces rice, vegetables, fruits, herbs and seafood, has tours of its rice fields, prawn harvests and wild duck sanctuary. It also hosts trips for nearby mountain climbing, bamboo rafting and boat riding. Accommodations range from floating chalets amid rice fields to simply camping. If you are really committed to sustainable farming, Kahang is a great place to volunteer. Volunteers learn farming practices and work eight hours a day for a minimum of 10 days; meals are included.
It is also possible to support local communities just by shopping. In Kuala Lumpur, the Salaam Wanita eco-basket making project is a social enterprise through which local women living below the poverty line seek economic independence. The women are highly skilled in the local art of basket weaving. Interestingly enough, the beautiful baskets, boxes and totes they make are actually crafted from recycled magazines.
Even without embarking on an eco-trip, said Wild Asia, tourists can travel responsibly by merely exercising common sense. “In hotels, switch off lights and re-use linens,” advises Chan. “And respecting local cultures is also a big thing. In [some] provinces it’s not appropriate to dress skimpily, in a bikini for example… And if you go on a tour that brings tourists in to indigenous tribes, don’t walk into someone’s home without asking permission.”
From shopping to eating to sleeping, almost everything you do on vacation can involve a sustainable element. For a list of socially conscious tour operators in Malaysia, visit http://www.wildasia.org/main.cfm/library/directory_index.
Article excerpted from www.bbc.com
Tomatoes, yum.Heading to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia was originally about escaping the heat of Kuala Lumpur and getting some much needed hiking in. As is the norm in travel, it turned out to be something completely different.
With the plan set to head to the Cameron Highlands, I decided to send a message to a local CouchSurfing host, and with a positive response, I was set.
My bus from Kuala Lumpur (35RM, $10CDN) only took meThe tractor through to Tanah Rata, the main town in the Cameron Highlands, while my host was still 20km away in the small village of Kampung Raja. I caught a second bus for that leg, and after arriving in Kampung Raja, called my host from a payphone to pick me up. A short while later Tien Khuan arrived and took me to his home to stay with his family.
My host is a former Physics lecturer turned organic farmer here in the Cameron Highlands. The first farm, only 1 acre, was started in 2002 and a 6 acre organic farm followed 4 years later. Farmable land is at a premium here in the highlands, and every bit of land that can be is used to its most.
The original acre of land is used for a niche crop called pea sprout, while the newer area is organic vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, several kinds of spinach, lettuce and many more. When driving by other farm areas nearby, you can see a difference even in the look of the soil, with his looking rich and dark brown in comparison. Tien Khuan credits the use of a technique called Biodynamics created by Austrian Rudolf Steiner about 90 years ago for much of the his current success, though the process is continually being tweaked for better yields and product.
Tien Khuan photographs the soil and vegetables frequently to document the changes & improve techniquesProtecting the crops is important and more difficult without the convenience of just spraying a chemical on them. The clear plastic coverings you can see are to keep the rain off the crops, while the green netting is to keep the fruit flies out of the tomato, cucumber, gourd and zucchini crops. The learning process is also tough, as there are virtually no others in the area farming as he does. Tien Khuan has traveled to Australia on a few occasions to visit other organic farms and bring their tips and techniques back to Malaysia for use on his farm. It was just recently after several unsuccessful attempts at growing tomatoes that he found that this type of netting would keep the insects out but still allow the crops to grow.
The farm is staffed by 22 mostly migrant workers from Burma & Nepal who live on site at the farm. They pick the crops and maintain the farm, while shipping approximately 40000kg most of which is actually pea sprout.
I was fortunate to sample his vegetables on a several occasions, including 2 meals at a local Chinese restaurant where you can bring your own veggies and even fish to be cooked for you. We also ate spaghetti with sauce made from fresh tomatoes, and right on the farm I ate fresh cucumber and carrots picked that very second. Verdict: excellent.
Organic farming in Malaysia is still in early stages but there has been interest from other local farmers in Tien Khuan’s farm and the techniques used. Like elsewhere, the vegetables sell for more than their pesticide-sprayed counterparts, but the cost is time, and in Tien Khuan’s case, 4 years of trial and error to get where he is today. It’s a work in progress.
Channeling my inner botanist
Article excerpted from www.skinnybackpacker.com
Malaysian Minister of Health Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, a vegetarian who has made his diet the cornerstone of his healthy lifestyle, has won a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific Proggy Award for Promoting a Vegetarian Diet. Proggy Awards (“Proggy” stands for “progress”) recognise animal-friendly achievement in 21st century culture and commerce.
“I’m concerned about the health of the people in the country, especially with regard to the healthy lifestyle”, says Datuk Liow, who holds a degree in science and nutrition from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and a master’s in business administration from Universiti Malaya. “I would emphasise more on prevention and healthy living instead of curing patient and health.”
Going vegetarian is a key in helping to prevent a variety of diseases, including today’s leading killers. Meat consumption has been conclusively linked to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity and several kinds of cancer. Pathogens also place meat-eaters at risk. E coli, salmonella, listeria, the bird flu virus and mad cow disease all result from raising animals for food.
Going vegetarian is also the best way to help the planet. A recent UN report determined that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined. The report states that the meat industry is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. Of course, adopting a vegetarian diet is also the best way to help animals who might otherwise suffer on factory farms and be slaughtered for food.
Want to follow Datuk Liow’s lead and do your part to help animals? Pledge to be veg for 30 days today, and we’ll e-mail you our favourite recipes as well as tips on making the switch to a vegetarian diet.
Article excerpted from www.petaasiapacific.com
SMK (P) Sri Aman students performing at the launch of Anugerah Hijau 2011 at the Malaysian Productivity Corporation on Tuesday. — Picture by Hasriyasyah Sabudin
There is a need to eradicate the perception that one needs to have a science background to protect the environment.
EcoKnights, a non-profit environmental organisation, hopes to achieve this with Anugerah Hijau, a competition challenging youths, between 14 and 25, to think “green” creatively.
The competition was launched on Tuesday at the Malaysian Productivity Corporation here.
The competition comprises two categories — Totally Active and Wildly Creative. Totally Active is about making a one to two-minute short film on any green issue, while Wildly Creative involves creating fashion attire where 70 per cent of its materials have to come from everyday recyclable items.
“This year’s theme is all about bringing creativity and innovation to understanding and addressing green issues through short films and fashion wear,” said Yasmin Rasyid, president and founder of EcoKnights, which has been organising Anugerah Hijau since 2009.
“We want to build a future generation of shakers and movers, those who can champion a green cause by designing sustainable and/or eco-friendly fashion wear and by making films with urgent and inspiring green messages to the general public,” added Yasmin.
Every year, the competition’s goal is the same — to give back to the environment by encouraging innovation and creativity among youths.
“We need to eradicate the ‘fear’ that one needs to have a science background to protect the environment. That’s a big misconception.
“We want this competition to ignite creative ideas among youths from all backgrounds, whether in engineering school, boarding school, arts or science stream, multimedia students or even aspiring accountants or lawyers. We can’t expect only the scientists to save the world, all of us live on the same planet, and that means all of us have to individually do something positive. Collectively, we can be a force,” added Yasmin.
The competition is open to all secondary schools and higher institutions of learning in Peninsular Malaysia. There is no limit to the number of ideas an individual or a group can submit. All submissions must be done electronically via the official web portal, http://www.anugerahhijau.my.
Upon selection by Anugerah Hijau’s panel of judges, ten best ideas from each category will be shortlisted and announced in June.
The finalists will have to attend a one-day facilitated workshop in July where their original ideas will be moulded, improved and expedited. The workshop is designed to help prepare the finalists for the competition.
Finalists will also get a chance to pop by the Sepang International Circuit for a pit tour and a chance to watch the Shell Eco Marathon Race.
One of the workshop facilitators is Lara Ariffin, an experienced local filmmaker who has made films such as The Smart Tunnel, The Malayan Emergency and Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh. Silas Liew, who won MIFA’s Most Promising Designer of the Year in 2001, is the other facilitator.
Individuals or groups from secondary schools, colleges or universities who sign up and participate in this competition between now and May 31 will automatically qualify for a free environmental awareness talk and environmental film screening by EcoKnights.
Anugerah Hijau ambassador Sari Yanti and expert judges will be evaluating all ideas submitted after its May 31 deadline and a special announcement will be made with the New Sunday Times as its official media partner.
Prizes include RM3,000 for the winner of each category, a certificate, trophy, an opportunity to catch the Shell EcoMarathon Race in Sepang (July), a CIMB Junior account with RM100 deposit, free privileged movie passes to watch the premiere of Green Hornet, courtesy of Warner Brothers, a spot in a special environmental leadership camp courtesy of Yuber, special green hampers and more.
Article excerpted from www.nst.com.my