Bui Tran Nhu Phuong

Comfortable and energy-efficient housing that is affordable: why not? – The story of Covestro Inclusive Business in Malaysia

East Asia and Pacific

As the world is quickly moving to a stage where we take environment into consideration in all of our activities, housing solutions are no exceptions. More and more initiatives have been taken to ensure a more sustainable way of living: reducing energy consumption with energy efficient housing designs, and yet, keeping it affordable. That definitely sounds like an impossible game to win. But, believe it or not, the consideration of innovative materials is a game changer.

Be Curious!

I remember a decade ago, the concept of “affordable housing” was emerging around developing countries as an effort of the governments in addressing the housing shortage for the increased population in urban areas, mostly the urban poor. The concept sounded like a novelty that was hard for people to grasp. It also raised concerns about the quality and safety of the so-called “affordable houses”. Projects were launched but people weren’t convinced.

However, we are truly living in the age where we believe that challenges can be overcome as long as we persevere and collaborate. For quite a few years, Covestro’s Inclusive Business ASEAN has been investing tremendous effort in search for such like-minded partners in developing an affordable housing solution from Covestro’s materials. The challenges were strongly present when the stories were shared. Not the typical problems one would come across in business development because inclusive business is nowhere close to “being typical”. But in the end, the conclusion from Soo Mei our country manager for Malaysia and Philippines: “Still, I have to move forward.”

Possessing that very same spirit led Soo Mei to an invaluable opportunity to cooperate with United Panel System (UPS) in our affordable housing initiative.

Since its establishment in 1978, UPS has been specializing in the production of injection polyurethane (PU), polyisocyanurate (PIR) and polystyrene (PS) insulated panels for walk-in cold rooms.  They initially planned to penetrate the construction sector as well with their PIR panels and were exploring the market. Covestro came in timely to present an opportunity to build a kindergarten with them. A Memorandum of Understanding solidifying the cooperation between UPS and Covestro on October 2017.

Fruitful cooperation between Covestro IB ASEAN and UPS teams

Embarking on the quest

Approached by the local government, Covestro IB was asked if we could apply our technology to refurbishing a kindergarten in Kuching, on the island of Borneo, called KG Kudei Kindergarten. After a recent flood, the building was severely damaged and the local government was trying to ensure that the children were not left behind.

The school runs 2 sessions daily; 7.30 – 11.30am & 12.00 – 4.00pm. With the climate in this part of the country, during days when the temperature was high, the classrooms felt like an oven, making teaching or studying unbearable for both teachers and their young students. It was a heart-wrenching image to ponder upon. In collaboration with Ministry of Sarawak, Ministry of Works, and UPS, Covestro IB was therefore determined to give these teachers and students a better school with our innovative housing solution.

The affordable housing model that Covestro ASEAN has been promoting in the Philippines and Malaysia applies such innovative materials: PIR (polyisocyanurate) – a line of materials that Covestro proudly carries. PIR foam panels are commonly used in cold room or industrial refrigeration. They have excellent insulation properties and show resistance to moisture. Houses build from PIR panels keep the heat out and minimize the usage of air-conditioner and are resistant against mold. Prefabricated PIR panels are light-weight and therefore enable shorter construction periods and are less labor intensive. Less labor and faster construction time means houses can be around 35%~40% cheaper than conventional buildings.  The PIR panels present the respective advantages:

  • Fast and simple construction process
  • Energy efficiency (Thermal insulation)
  • Precise prefabrication
  • High design flexibility
  • Smooth surface finishes
  • Minimum construction waste
  • Minimum tools and equipment required on site
  • High quality

On 8th May, 2018, after roughly three months under construction, the kindergarten was inaugurated with the attendance of rejoiced teachers and students, relevant stakeholders and the local authority.

Constructed with the PIR panels, the school is now much more spacious, brighter, and cooler. The teachers also commented that they could feel the difference in the temperature when they stepped into the PIR constructed kindergarten.  It is easier for them to clean and maintain the school now. They also have more sturdy walls on which they can hang photos and visual aids for teaching.

Teachers and students of KG Kudei Kindergarten, Kuching, rejoice with the new PIR school

What does the future look like?

Covestro IB thrives on three elements: People, Planet and Profit (3Ps). No matter what the agenda might be, “we have to be positive in two of the Ps and we cannot be negative in the third P”.

This technology undoubtedly benefits first the People. The communities can certainly enjoy a homely living condition, comfortable and secured environment. The government can deliver their housing projects in a shorter time with much more durable and resilient results. The construction time and waste is reduced hence the saving on labor cost and materials. The technology allows high design flexibility as well as high quality finishing.

Establishments constructed with PIR panels are proven energy-efficient, which means residents in warm tropical climate will be less dependent on fans or air-conditioners, hence save on energy consumption. This housing solution facilitates a way of life that is much friendlier to the environment.

The newly PIR constructed KG Kudei Kindergarten

Using PIR panels in construction belongs to the Industrialized Building System (IBS) which is a faster method of construction applied by the government in Malaysia. IBS involves less manpower and wastage, providing a cleaner and safer work environment. And the quick rebuilding of the kindergarten after the flood did evidently shorten the duration that the children were left without a proper school to attend.

“IBS is the key component under the productivity strategic thrust of the Construction Industry Transformation Programme (CITP) 2016-2020 which seeks double the construction industry productivity level.” – Mr. Fadillah Yusof, Works Minister, stated the merits of the IBS. This shows the awareness of Malaysian government about the importance of innovative solutions in improving its citizens’ quality of life.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof in the middle front with teachers and the project team from Covestro and UPS

“Affordable housing should be a basic right for everyone. It’s not only a house they lived in, it’s a permanent home we want them to own and be proud of. In a long run, such technology is more environment-friendly and less labour intensive.” Stefan Koch, Head of Inclusive Business ASEAN

 A new route to the market serving low-income segment of the population has been opened in the front of affordable housing. This contributes to ensuring that no one is left behind in the path of achieving sustainable development. It is a solemn promise by not only the civil society to the UN’s SDGs but it is also a commitment of Covestro as a member of UN Global Compact, a community of private enterprises engrossing themselves in corporate sustainability initiatives.

For more information, please contact: Ms. Lim Soo Mei - limsoo.mei@covestro.com