Sustainability is no longer an obscure concept: From energy use to resource consumption and waste disposal, our ecological footprint has grown very wide indeed. But as vast as the scale of the problem is—so too is the economic opportunity to address it. Thankfully, a growing number of global leaders understand the rewards and urgency of balanced development.
Thailand is among those championing green growth and technologies. Recently announced incentives are squarely aimed at nurturing a green ecosystem in the newly established Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), an exciting, large-scale investment area for hi-tech and green industries. The idea is to attract a critical mass of entrepreneurs, engineers, and corporations with the resources and abilities necessary to tackle these important new challenges.
Paper, Plastic, or Cassava?
The phrase green innovation often evokes images of shiny high-tech machinery, but really making a difference starts with the more basic building blocks of the global value chain.
Take the simple plastic bag. While its economic value may be inconsequential, its environmental impact is enormous. A WEF white paper estimates that 95% of plastic’s value is lost after its first use; they’re becoming so pervasive in our oceans that they’re now expected to outweigh all fish by 2050.
Southeast Asia is particularly at risk, with its widespread public use of disposable plastic bags in food markets and restaurants from Myanmar to Indonesia. But Thailand is disrupting the cycle with new material sciences that produce biodegradable plastics from locally available sugarcane feedstock. Instead of ending up buried for centuries in landfills or washing out to sea, Thai bioplastic containers crumble to worm food in just five weeks.
European bioplastic veteran Corbion cites the country’s strategic access to APAC markets as a key reason behind its latest $100 million investment in Thai bioplastics production. Unstated are the benefits of an increasingly skilled talent pool of local engineers, material scientists, and technicians.
Bio Energy as a Blueprint
As developing economies continue to grow, so too does their thirst for energy. Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand are all building liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals to ensure uninterrupted supplies as regional demand picks up. But renewable energy resources like biomass and biogas are growing in importance as a more sustainable way to address supply pressures.
Bio-based solutions are a natural fit for Thailand, given the huge amounts of eco waste produced by the country’s agricultural sector. Domestic sugar producer Mitr Phol is one leader— it now powers several processing plants with steam turbines that run on burned burn leftover sugarcane waste. Early success has convinced the firm to diversify into dedicated biomass power plants that run on rice waste as feedstock as well.
Biogas is equally promising, with a number of foreign players building new plants in Thailand. Singapore and Irish-backed Asia Biogas now converts palm oil by-products into renewable biogas for power generation. Japanese fiber expert Toray is building a new plant that is expected to produce bio-ethanol using half as much energy as current standard. And new Thailand 4.0 incentives should help smooth the way for more foreign direct investment and biogas adoption; land ownership permissions and corporate income tax exemptions certainly help sweeten the finances behind these deals.
But stepping back, innovation in biogas and bioplastics can be seen as a road map for other heavy industries overdue for environmental modernization. Thailand—with its dreamy beaches and lush tropical landscapes—understands the value of unspoiled nature better than many of its peers.
Advances in green technologies and bio processes will be critical in mitigating the once inevitable environmental damages of industrial activity. And as these efforts scale up, so too will their financial sustainability. Like Thailand, countries that seed a green innovation ecosystem today will help prepare their economies and environments from the urgent demands of tomorrow.
For more information about the benefits that Thailand might offer your business, visit the
Thailand Board of Investment
, which showcases resources and programs that create opportunities across a range of industries.
This article was produced on behalf of the Thailand Board of Investment by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.