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Helping World Wildlife Foundation Malaysia plan a “living landscape” for sustainable conservation

Helping World Wildlife Foundation Malaysia plan a “living landscape” for sustainable conservation

Forests in Malaysia are at risk. Bain worked alongside WWF-Malaysia to build support for a more sustainable model of agriculture that will allow the forest to regenerate, farmers to still produce their crops, and ecologically important animals to thrive, starting in Johor.


Johor is the Southern-most state of peninsular Malaysia and the country’s third-largest economy.  It is also home to a vibrant ecosystem of threatened species such as the Malayan tiger and tapir. The region’s six national parks offer vast forest cover, many watersheds, and abundant resources. Due to industrial manufacturing and agriculture, its forests are at risk of overuse. Johor has lost 45% of its tree cover and now suffers frequent flooding.

WWF-Malaysia is one of the leading nongovernmental organizations in the region addressing this issue and was seeking a partner to help increase its conservation efforts. It wanted local industries to use more sustainable practices, especially palm oil producers, whose businesses require vast tracts of land. If successful, this would contribute greatly to all of Malaysia’s sustainability efforts. For help, WWF-Malaysia turned to Bain.

The plan

With Bain’s assistance, WWF-Malaysia's planned to achieve its conservation goals by encouraging more sustainable economic development using a “living landscape” approach.  Because palm oil production accounts for 43% of land use in Johor, it was a leading focus, as was improving livelihoods for smallholder farmers who would clear the land to grow their trees.

According to Bain’s research, consumers around the world would readily buy sustainable palm oil if it were available. If WWF-Malaysia could connect that demand to these farms, they could increase these farmers’ access to new markets and differentiate against regional competitors. Sustainable palm oil could also be attractive to large multinational corporations and grocery chains which are under greater pressure to demonstrate sustainability throughout their supply chains.

Together, both teams developed a landscape plan that aligned all stakeholder interests.

  • Who were all the stakeholders WWF-Malaysia would need to engage?

  • What approach and model could unite all stakeholders?

  • What was the root cause of environmental and conservation degradation in the region?

  • How could WWF address these issues by aligning existing stakeholders to avoid creating a new entity? 

  • What targets should WWF set for this initiative?

  • What would need to happen to achieve those goals?

The approach

Bain helped WWF-Malaysia frame and document the living landscape approach using Johor State as a model and present the plan to a diverse set of stakeholders from private to public sector to build support. It aimed to optimize environmental, economic, and social outcomes through a combination of strategies that balance the protection, production, and restoration of natural resources. It would also introduce new ecological corridors to allow endangered species to flourish and restore degraded habitats.

To build support, Bain’s consultants also supported several working sessions with WWF-Malaysia which culminated in a workshop for all stakeholders involved in the sustainable palm oil production process—consumers, corporations, investors, and regulators—and mapped their needs. Bain identified and prioritized potential solutions and quick wins. By studying similar approaches elsewhere, consultants recommended clearly articulated, tangible targets for the state that could cascade down via policies, frameworks, and initiatives.

The results

WWF Malaysia has successfully introduced the living landscape concept to key stakeholders in the palm oil industry both from the public and private sector. Through engagements and workshops, WWF-Malaysia was able to gather stakeholders with different perspectives to brainstorm solutions. Based on outcomes of these engagements, WWF-Malaysia is rolling out pilot programs. Bain will continue to support WWF-Malaysia as the approach gains momentum, and the work continues.