Converting the world’s ecological debt through environmental sustainability

Thursday, 19 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cassandra Mascarenhas

Driving forward the absolute necessity of environmental sustainability within the corporate sector and building awareness about the pressing issue amongst the general public, Managing Director of Haycarb Rajitha Kariyawasam summed up the exigency of the situation with one simple example.

He pointed out that the magnitude and the urgency of the environmental crisis shows that today, the world’s consumption is 30% more than its regeneration capacity and if this trend continues, by 2030 we will require the capacity of two planet earths to sustain our growth.

These views were aired at the quarterly Global Compact Sustainability Knowledge Hub held earlier this week, which drew a large audience from Sri Lanka’s corporate and public sectors and civil society.

Organised by the local network of the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative, the Global Compact Network Ceylon, the Sustainability Knowledge Hub aimed to convey the message of driving economic growth sustainably by equipping the Sri Lankan corporate sector with the necessary knowledge and skills required to practice corporate sustainability.

The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative pioneered by the former Secretary General Kofi Annan, for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. Global Compact today stands as the largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative in the world, with over 7,700 corporate participants and stakeholders from over 130 countries.

Tread lightly on the earth

The keynote address was delivered by Judge Christopher Weeramantry who addressed the subject of ‘The Need for Environmental Trusteeship as a Pre-Requisite to Sustainability.’ He drew examples from his book ‘Tread Lightly on the Earth: Religion, the Environment and the Human Future,’ certain areas in which dealt with the topic at hand.

“We need to teach the people that anybody who claims that they are the owner of 10,000 acres of land is talking of something completely unsustainable because nobody on earth can even say that they own one square inch of land; everybody is a trustee and you cannot afford to lose sight of that for even one moment,” he stated strongly.

The book, he explained, deals with five religions – Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam – and through them, he has shown how each of these religions features the same thing – to look after the earth because the earth sustains itself and no one has the right to destroy the earth and plunder it because it belongs to the generations that are yet to come and that, he added, is the message that we should convey.

He went on to say that it is very important that we find ways and means of driving this message into the conscious of young people, which is what the local arm of the Global Compact has been doing to the best of their abilities.

One of the experiments conducted in Sri Lanka has also attracted attention overseas with the World Future Council in Germany adopting the idea, as well as the University of Colorado and Monash University is now interested in it.

Thinking ahead, Weeramantry revealed that another 60 students from all South Asian countries will be added to this project during the Global Compact Network Ceylon’s seminar to be held in September.

“Our ideas are going international and this is something we should continue with, because Sri Lanka I have always thought is the cultural centre of the entire region and let us be a source of illusion, a beacon in our area and carry forward to the entire region these principles of trusteeship and sustainability,” Weeramantry concluded.

The debt to the planet

Managing Director of Haycarb PLC Rajitha Kariyawasam expanded on his experience, views and ideas in promoting, establishing and maintaining environmental sustainability within industries, drawing from his wealth of experience gained at Haycarb, a subsidiary of Hayleys PLC, the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of coconut-based activated carbon solutions.

As a leading corporate of Sri Lanka, he discussed how Haycarb has contributed towards sustainability and how they have shaped up their company strategies for the future to encompass the environmentally sustainable practices outlined in the global compact.

“Let me first introduce the magnitude and the urgency of the environmental crisis to date. A UN report released in 2008 shows that today the world’s consumption is 30% more than its regeneration capacity and if this trend continues, and it can be seen as the usual scenario, by the year 2030 we will require the capacity of two planet earths to sustain ourselves,” said Kariyawasam.

He pointed out there is exploitation and a breach of trusteeship and that we are creating a significant debt by going above the bio-capacity of the planet earth. The issue goes beyond that of trusteeship as we have now created a debt, therefore the corporate, governments and civic societies, the three pillars, have equal responsibility and power to address this issue

Our role here is to reverse this trend through the actions of the government, the multi-governmental forums and agreements by the corporate societies and as individuals, we are all responsible. To convert this ecological debt that has been created today to a bio-capacity reserve is an enormous challenge so there has to be sustainable environmental policies and principles and technologies in order to take on this daunting task of reversing this trend. It is an enormous task, firstly because of the rate at which the available resources are being consumed and secondly because of the disparity of consumption between the rich and the poor.

“Although I’m not looking to create controversy or a debate over who is responsible, if you look at the statistics of CO2 emissions per capita, the disparity between the developed and the developing is huge. The average CO2 emissions per capita by the leader in the block, the US, is somewhere between 19 and 20 metric tonnes of CO2. The world average today is about 3.7,” stated the Managing Director

He added that the responsibilities and the roles of the government, corporations and the civic society need to recognise this fact while at the same time realising that each one of us has a responsibility here.

Drawing upon the example of global forums like Summit Earth where reconciliation could be established, he explained that such reconciliation means that either the developed world cuts back on their emissions significantly with very advanced technology and lowering their consumption or falls back on the feasible option would be to pay off the developing nations, recognising the fact that the developing nations too need to grow as well like India and China.

“How would the developing world pay the developing nations in terms of the technology in terms of grants? The trading of carbon credits is one mechanism of doing this. This is a means of compensating so that the developing world will introduce more environmentally sustainable solutions and technology in an affordable way. That is the most pragmatic way of reversing the trend while both the developing and developed world reduces their consumption,” he affirmed.

Sources of renewable energy for industries

The final speaker at the forum was CEO of LOLC Kapila Jayawardena, who enlightened the audience on what practical measures could be undertaken by service industries to become environmentally sustainable. LOLC has been a driving force within the service industry in Sri Lanka in taking this forward by joining the UN Global Compact and implementing changes to reflect this.

“Sustainable investment by going green has been at the very core of our business since our inception. On the regulatory compliancy side, we are committed towards sustaining good governance in all our business. Although the three pillars must all work towards sustainability, businesses too should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges,” he said.

LOLC has targeted conservation of energy through solar energy, reforestation, waste reduction and recycling to name a few measures undertaken by the group. Taking the recycling of paper as an example, Jayawardena explained that they introduced a policy where any paper generated to an officer has to be mandatorily printed on both sides. Through such measures and by eliminating printing on paper unless necessary, LOLC has reduced their consumption of paper by 35%.

 “The minute we talk about energy saving lighting, everyone assumes we are talking about florescent lighting. However, we have moved to the next step in energy saving which is LED lighting which consumes 10% of the energy consumed by energy saving bulbs. The biggest saving is surprisingly not the electricity but the wiring which only requires one tenth of the wiring used on other bulbs, which is a major saving on costs and even copper,” Jayawardena revealed.

Another simple measure undertaken was maximising the use of natural lighting and minimising unnecessary power draws and as responsible organisations to the environment, he stressed on the importance of companies installing energy saving devices.

Their state-of-the-art eco-friendly garage which is a part of LOLC Motors was started a year ago specially designed to implement means of vehicle repairing and maintenance. It relies on the harvesting of rainwater and has capacity to hold 40,000 litres of rainwater and the facility has been designed to maximise the availability of natural light and has gone as far as recycling and using all engine oils. The company is also in the process of replacing conventional vehicles with hybrids and LOLC has also placed the order for 70 such vehicles.

LOLC also follows a code of conduct for developing new products and all their credit appraisals contains a page for the environmental assessment of the companies they work with. The marketing officer who is writing the report has to confirm that the company is not harming the environment, which of course also depends on the nature of the business.

The company also disperses a certain amount of money on environmentally friendly activities such as the funding of recycling plants. 4,000 solar panels were financed in rural areas where they have no access to the power grid and the company has been doing that since 2003. The entire roof of their head office has been converted to 2,000 solar panels which produce 48 kilowatts of power per day when there is strong sunlight and this generation is sufficient for 15% of the monthly power requirement at the head office. On days that the office is not functional, the energy produced goes towards the national power grid.

“Solar energy is the energy of the future not just for corporate but also for the manufacturing sector,” he said. “We have also invested in a company that is involved in generating renewable energy through biomass and we plan to establish 10 megawatt power plants across the island. We have started on 14 mini hydro power projects, two are already functional.”

He wrapped up his presentation by urging all environmentally sustainable companies to register for carbon credits and to benefit from the advantages, pointing out that their two power plants alone generates $ 10 million through the trading of carbon credits.

The 10 principles of the United Nations Global Compact

Human rights

  •    Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
  • Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.Labour
  • Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
  • Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
  • Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.Environment
  •     Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
  •     Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
  • Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.Anti-corruption
  • Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

Panel discussion

Q: What made LOLC join the global compact?

Kapila Jayawardena: We were looking to be sustainable and we were impressed by the global pillars of the global compact. The commitment of the Board is also essential for a company to be driven on the sustainability side. LOLC has a lot of funding partners in many developed countries who are also very conscious of environmental factors and it was a combination of all this that made us join the global compact.

Q: You have made bold strides in driving forward environmental sustainability – how willing are you to share this information within your own sector and others?

Kapila Jayawardena: We are completely willing to do so. As I mentioned earlier, anyone can call us at anytime if they want help with any of the ideas that I spoke about and we are willing to share our experiences with other organisations.

Q: Could you give some advice for manufacturers looking to be environmentally sustainable?

Rajitha Kariyawasam: I think the first and foremost point I would like to make here is that there has to be a personal condition from the top, whichever industry you are in and this is critical to ensure that the policy that you are about to take on is successfully implemented.

It needs to embraced into your corporate strategy and philosophy; in a way it is similar to brand building. Environmental strategy has to be part and parcel of all strategies and the environmental sustainability framework needs to embedded into the design process, whether you are building a new factory or developing a new product. It is also important to measure what you are doing because without any measurement, no one will be motivated to drive the policies further so measuring is essential.

Q: How far are you willing to stretch and compromise corporate profitability in order to ensure environmental sustainability?

Kapila Jayawardena: The reality is that the financial market does not reward you for environmental performance but will penalise you detrimentally for failures, a good example being the case of British Petroleum. The consequences of a disaster could take your business away and that is the ground reality. When you look at a company’s stakeholders, it is your customers and employees who drive environmental sustainability, more than the Board.

Q: What is your opinion on how environmental laws are administered in the country?

Judge Weeramantry: Environmental laws in every country are not as good as they should be; even those who administer the laws are not familiar with the latest developments in internal environmental laws. A study conducted by the UN showed that judges all over the world judge environmental cases without full knowledge of the latest developments in international laws.  There are various developments taking place all the time and the decisions taken by them are therefore out of step with the latest developments and this applies more so to lawyers as well. I would also say that one of the biggest problems we need to address is the lack of environmental knowledge within the general public.

Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera