Principle Eight: Environment

Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

What does it mean?

In Chapter 30 of Agenda 21, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit spelled out the role of business and industry in the sustainable development agenda as: "Business and industry should increase self-regulation, guided by appropriate codes, charters and initiatives integrated into all elements of business planning and decision-making, and fostering openness and dialogue with employees and the public."

The Rio Declaration says that business has the responsibility to ensure that activities within their own operations do not cause harm to the environment. Society expects business to be good actors in the community. Business gains its legitimacy through meeting the needs of society, and increasingly society is expressing a clear need for more environmentally sustainable practices.

Why should companies care?

Cleaner and more efficient processes mean increased resource productivity, which translates to needing fewer raw material inputs and lower costs. More environmentally responsible companies are also benefiting from tax incentives or permit programmes because they are more advanced than their peers. Additionally, employees and consumers are increasingly interested in doing business with responsible companies.

The challenge for companies is developing an environmentally responsible strategy that keeps them ahead of the pack, helping them maintain an advantageous position in the marketplace. Companies must truly innovate in terms of how they manage their relationship with the environment.

What can companies do?

Steps that the company could take to promote environmental responsibility would be the following:

  • Define company vision, policies and strategies to include sustainable development — economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity;
  • Develop sustainability targets and indicators (economic, environmental, social);
  • Establish a sustainable production and consumption programme with clear performance objectives to take the organisation beyond compliance in the long-term;
  • Work with product designers and suppliers to improve environmental performance and extend responsibility throughout the value chain;
  • Adopt voluntary charters, codes of conduct and practice internally as well as through sectoral and international initiatives to reach responsible environmental performance;
  • Measure, track and communicate progress on incorporating sustainability principles into business practices, including reporting against global operating standards. Assess results and apply strategies for continued improvement; and
  • Ensure transparency and unbiased dialogue with stakeholders.

In doing the above, the existence of appropriate management systems is crucial in helping the company to meet the organizational challenge.

Key mechanisms or tools for a company to use include:

  • Assessment or audit tools (such as environmental impact assessment, environmental risk assessment, technology assessment, life cycle assessment);
  • Management tools (such as environmental management systems and eco-design); and
  • Communication and reporting tools (such as corporate environmental footprinting and sustainability reporting).

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