23 April 2012

Zimbabwe: Nation Needs Green Businesses


APART from Environmental Impact Assessments, Zimbabwe must, in the spirit of clean development, start investigating the possibility of instituting policies that compel companies to publicly report on their environmental efficiencies. The policies, which I will call the environmental efficiencies laws, would ensure mandatory reporting for efficiencies in water and energy use.

Raw material use and source as well as refuse disposal will also be included in the laws, which target both private and public firms, parastatals as well as municipalities.

The informal sector will also be guided by the same policies applied differently, however, in line with size and inherent costs associated with public reporting.

Target industries may include but not limited to energy, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, mining, services, construction, transport, financial and tourism.

Why environmental efficiencies laws?

Most of the pollution in the world today, which has resulted in a warming earth, takes place in factories.

Buildings alone account for up to 40 percent of all energy consumption in the world.

There is greater water demand for drinking, crops and animals in a world with less and less water resources.

Yet the current local system does not do enough to prevent or limit pollution at source, nor does it promote an effective and efficient strategy that guarantees active corporate participation in environmental protection.

Zimbabwe needs businesses that lead the way in combating climate change; businesses that champion the protection of the environment.

The environmental efficiencies laws will be a tool for driving pollution reduction, clean development as well as promoting sustainable production and consumption.

Apart from lowering Zimbabwe's carbon and water footprint, the laws will be expected to promote environmental accountability and transparency in an effective and regulated manner. Also, they will foster prudent environmental management and governance practices.

Whereas companies can and have had own environmental policies, which is a good thing, these are mostly voluntary, profit-driven and open to abuse and internal violation.

The biggest problem with voluntary action is that most firms may opt not to volunteer at all, even when it is logical to do so.

Self-monitoring mechanisms together with voluntary compliance by businesses have generally been ineffective.

The absence of a legal instrument enforcing compliance for in-house policies is a major weakness unless, of course, they were backed by some standards certification such as ISO or SAZ.

These laws may not necessarily change the global outlook on carbon emissions but will certainly be definitive on local mitigatory action, as well as environmental care.

It could be a pioneering project capable of changing the way that the world looks at and approaches issues of the natural environment and climate change.

The Environmental Impact Assessments, which are conducted very early in a project to measure environmental costs and benefits, fail to carry out similar critical analyses throughout the life of the project.

Several factors that threaten the integrity of the environment may change at any time in the course of the project.

Pre-production assessments will not manage to capture this, which increases the risks of unregulated environmental pollution.

The efficiencies laws may be able to complement the assessments in this respect.

Application, benefits and administration

The laws will be administered by the Environmental Management Agency, where structures that can support such legislation are already in place.

On energy and water use, thresholds may be set, those that are deemed reasonable according to empirical evidence, sector by sector, or firm by firm, above which flexible fines are levied in ascending order.

Companies will also be expected to institute clearly defined strategies on disposal of waste, as well as use and source of raw materials with the same threshold principle applicable.

With approval from the regulatory authority, companies would then be compelled to make public these thresholds together with other aspects of the laws already discussed, just like they do with listed entities.

Firms will also be expected to prioritise low-capital investments in eco-friendly programmes such as renewable energies.

Speaking at the Green Business Indaba held in Harare recently, EMA director-general Mrs Mutsa Chasi said some companies actually believed that it is cheaper to pollute than put in place corrective measures.

This kind of attitude is destructive, and is usually fuelled by weak and selective fines that are currently only meted out to proven offenders, usually through a cumbersome and tiring process, which obviously leaves out numerous polluters who cover their tracks well.

But in an atmosphere where consumers and financiers are increasingly looking for green entities or products produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, mandatory public reporting will enhance accountability, company profits, strengthen national environment goals and improve the efficient use of energy and water.

It will also reduce instances of carelessness and recklessness since private environmental practices will become a public matter open to public scrutiny.

Incentives, are they an option?

There are those who contend that too much legislation will create resistance and, therefore, fail to yield the intended environmental benefits.

They opt for policies that incentivise companies, which make green business a worthy venture, profitable to the organisation and the environment too.

However, there is not too much environmental legislation in Zimbabwe. Even when it exists, it is not as effective and prohibitive.

There are a lot of loopholes that have been successfully exploited by environmental renegades, often times with impunity.

While incentives or environmental credits redeemable on tax payments may sound good, most Zimbabwean companies are loose canons, whose interest in protecting the environment in which they operate is mostly deplorable.

Really, firms cannot expect to receive incentives for polluting our water bodies, our land and our free air.

Incentives may function together with the efficiencies laws, and granted to those firms found to be working to improve the integrity of the environment.

I am aware of the UN's Clean Development Mechanism, which is built on the carbon credits system. However, this system has not been fully embraced by local and most of Africa's industry, even with the accompanying monetary benefits.

So, essentially, voluntary compliance in Africa is still a major challenge, which requires significant aid from legislative enforcements.

God is faithful.

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