Until recently businesses and environment have never seen eye to eye, and were considered completely different entities, unrelated to each other. However, recent environmental hazards, climate change impacts and green activism have compelled big corporates to incorporate environment assessment into their reports.
Several incidents reported in the recent past that resulted in detrimental impacts on the environment were allegedly due to the negligence of companies and factories. A similar incident was reported in Hanwella early last year where residents protested against a rubber factory, citing water contamination. The glove factory in Rathupaswala was forced to relocate to Biyagama after residents claimed that the drinking water was contaminated due to improper waste management system adopted by the factory.
The issue prompted the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to conduct a continuous assessment exercise on approximately 4,000 companies, situated along or adjacent to the river banks
Even though it was not proven that the factory was the reason for the water contamination, the issue inculcated a culture in which the public is more concerned about the environment they live in and businesses have to prove that they have an environment friendly waste management system.
More recently, one of the world’s leading beverage companies was embroiled in a controversy after an oil leakage from one of its tanks contaminated the Kelani River.
Assessment of 4,000 companies
The issue prompted the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to conduct a continuous assessment exercise on approximately 4,000 companies, situated along or adjacent to the river banks. The CEA earlier announced that it would revoke licences of companies that fail to conform to the standards.
According to Acting Deputy Director General, Environmental Pollution and Control Division of CEA, Dr. RMSK Rathnayake, did not revoke EPLs of any of the companies during the inspection process. “We have identified certain companies whose waste management standards do not meet our specifications. We have given them a warning and a time frame to rectify the faults,” he said.
Today, it has come to a situation where in many countries, companies would not be allowed to function without an Environmental Protection Licence (EPL). However, experts say that the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment is not enforced to its full potential.
Loopholes in the system
Dean of the Law Faculty, Colombo University Prof. A Sarveswaran says that the lack of proper enforcement has resulted in people making use of loopholes in the legal system which eventually affect the environment.
“For example, if the law says that the owner of a poultry farm should have a proper waste management system if it exceeds a certain land area, there are cases where they divide the land and function as separate farms. This sort of manipulation should be addressed through a firm enforcement strategy,” he emphasized.
Sarveswaran said that Sri Lanka needed to establish an Environment Tribunal which would allow concerned parties to take action on environmental issues. “The authorities could also come up with a mechanism where the dispute could be settled out of court,” he said.
He also pointed out that the CEA needed to have a mechanism to monitor environment related issues at prisons. A CEA official stated that there was no mechanism to monitor environmental issues and waste handling in prisons. “We take actions based on the complaints received,” the official said.
Senior Professor at Sri Jayewardenepura University Management Studies and Commerce Faculty, Kennedy D. Gunawardana pointed out that the concept of environmental auditing was also important. “Environment is an important asset. It is a broader concept that includes air, soil, building, people and their actions. Environmental auditing takes into account whether the people’s actions harm the environment or not. When regular monitoring is carried out, we could take precautions, implement certain controls before the damage is done. Releasing harmful substances to the environment is a serious issue as most of the time it is deliberate. Profit-motivated industries pollute the environment as they believe this is a mode of cost reduction. However, part. of the company managers’ job is to take measures to protect the environment by proper waste-control mechanisms. They should not withhold information concerning their industrial processes.”
Accordingly, environment auditing is extensively carried out in the printing industry in Thailand, where they focus on waste control mechanisms. He said that certain garment factories in Sri Lanka has included carbon footprint reduction mechanisms into their production process.
In addition, the European Union rejects our garments unless we adhere to certain standards in the production process. However, environment auditing is rare in Sri Lanka. Although there are current government organizations for this purpose, limited resources and expertise is a major barrier to practicing this on a large scale.
However, Prof. Kennedy believes that community also has a responsibility towards their environment. Religious organizations such as temples and churches should take an initiative to actively guard their environment. “What we need is for environmental friendly groups to check the organizations in their community for their water usage, chemical release and so on.”
According to Sabaragamuwa University, Management Studies Faculty, lecturer on Eco Business Management, Dr. Sampath Wahala, there are various environment management tools to measure the industrial processes. One such measure is the carbon footprint estimation. This is a measure of climate change impact. However, carbon footprint is not just carbon dioxide. It takes into account all green house gases. Therefore, there is an environment management tool referred to as carbon dioxide equivalent footprint, which measures total climate change impact of all the gases. Using this tool is beneficial to the industry as well. “An organization has to measure all energy related emissions such as electricity, transport, waste disposal and so on. We can calculate emission factors based on this. These are linked to organizations expenditure as well. Therefore, when carbon footprint reduces some of their costs would decrease.”
Life cycle assessment is a tool to estimate the industrial process from material extraction to the final product and its usage. By using this, you can quantify climate change, acid rain, water pollution in terms of eutrophication and other impact categories. Green production is a process where scarce resources have to be managed efficiently.
“In this process, material usage has to be minimal, energy usage has to be optimized, water usage and wastage has to be minimized. This should be linked to production and service sector. Basically, the consumption should be reduced.” Referring to the recent environmental hazards such as the Coca Cola incident on Kelani River, Rathupaswala and the Hanwella rubber factory incidents, he said that these factories have obtained ISO 14001 certification, which has environmental standards in place. In reality, these certifications should be obtained by a verification process. However, importance should be given to following the guidelines afterwards. If an organization follows these guidelines properly, there is no need of risk assessment.
While treating waste has been a popular method to address the issue, the National Cleaner Production Centre, Sri Lanka (NCPC-SL) takes a preventive approach. “Here we focus on the production process and not on treating the waste that has been generated. We then provide recommendations on how the factories could reduce waste generation. There is no additional cost involved in this method. However, the companies need to invest a certain amount in order to reduce waste generation,” NCPC-SL, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Samantha Kumara told Nation.
He said that several companies were skeptical of shifting towards reducing waste generation since it required an initial investment. “There are no soft loan facilities for environment-friendly investment. This is one concern,” Kumara added.
Kumara also highlighted the importance of making Cleaner Production method a law in Sri Lanka. “Countries like China have adopted this law, which means that the companies will have to comply with the law,” he said. After all it’s easier to prevent pollution and waste generation than clean up after the mess has already been made.