Doing business in a cleaner way

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Can we do business in a cleaner way? What measures can be taken to adapt the world economies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, believed to be the major factor causing the global climate changes that we are witnessing all around us. Also in Ethiopia we experience the consequences of the global changes that are taking place as we witness changing patterns of rainfall, more severe and frequent periods of drought as well as floods. While factors influencing the weather are mainly of a global nature, local dynamics play an important role as well, more especially in the form of deforestation. As a result of natural resource degradation and erosion, the highlands are no longer able to hold back the rainwater as they used to, resulting in flooding in the lower parts of the country.
To mitigate this, Ethiopia has taken the initiative to plant trees, millions of trees. This initiative is to be applauded and measures need to be taken to make sure that this will not be a stand alone project but that it will become a sustained effort to regenerate some of the forests, which covered this land in the not too recent history and help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Reducing greenhouse gases by planting trees will not only be beneficial for Ethiopia but will have its effects beyond its borders and is indeed an initiative, supportive to global interests. But more needs and can be done. Even though we are not a major industrial nation in comparison to the world’s giants, like the USA, Europe and China, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to pull our weight in adapting our industrial practices in the direction of reduced carbon emission, environmental friendly practice, clean production and effective waste management. There is in fact no time to waste to pull up our socks and become serious about the relations between production, waste and pollution, affecting not only our land but the global atmosphere, which we are using as a natural resource. Failing to do this will not only leave us with a polluted environment but will also negatively affect export, which we want to see grow instead. Just like it is no longer possible to export products which have been manufactured using child labour, it will become increasingly difficult to export products that have been produced using environmentally unfriendly technology. Global environmental policies will transform the way economic activities impinge on the natural world and no business will be untouched. Thinking about environmental impacts of business and the effect of environmental policies will become integral to business strategy. Ignoring these dynamics will result in loosing markets and thus loosing economic growth opportunities. It is as simple as that. We need to realize that the natural environment is part of the commercial environment and businesses will do themselves little good by disputing the need for action on environmental issues, while informed consumers will have no problem switching to another brand in response to environmental unfriendly production processes. Brand image and status can be greatly affected by environmental practice and policies.
Businesses can respond to the focus on environmental issues in several ways. At a minimum, managers should conduct an “environmental audit” of the ways in which the company interacts with its environment. This begins with a review of all the company’s solid wastes, liquid wastes and gaseous emissions. Managers should then examine the lifecycle of their products, researching where the components of the product end their lives and how the uses of the product affect the environment. Do they lead to wastes or emissions that could be reduced by different designs? Could transportation or packaging be reduced? Does the disposal of the product damage the environment? Companies should also review the environmental history of their raw materials. For example, are wood products obtained by logging tropical forests? Are minerals extracted in a harmful way?
Carrying out an environmental audit does not force a company to take immediate action but the company is now aware and can begin planning to adjust its production processes. The sooner an audit is done, the more time there is to respond. Many of the issues raised are unlikely to be anticipated, so time to think strategically and respond carefully can make a great difference to the eventual costs. In fact, it can allow the company to see ways of turning possible problems into profit opportunities. For example, waste products are often inputs for which a company has paid and is not using. Reducing them can save costs, at least partially offsetting the costs of waste management. If waste products cannot be reduced, they can be sold and used as input for other products. Recycling components also has profit potential. If components are designed to be recycled and reused, materials costs will fall while the environmental image of the company is raised. The reuse of toner cartridges for printers is a good example. The costs of reducing environmental effects may be much less than they first appear and there are sometimes profitable opportunities associated with waste management. Many governments now also give financial incentives for environmentally friendly innovations, opening up opportunities that can help both companies and the environment. The time is now for Ethiopian industries and companies to strategically think in this direction and search for these opportunities. Failing to do so will in the longer term result in isolation and losing the markets we are trying to connect to.