Private sector needs to go beyond CSR projects to protect environment

Saturday, 24 June 2023 00:00 –      – 16

Preserving Land and Nature (Guarantee) Ltd. (PLANT) Chairman and Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) former President Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne in a recent interview spoke on the need for the private sector to play a proactive role in biodiversity conservation. He said Sri Lankan corporates are looking inward and ticking environmental, social and governance related boxes, as opposed to being a force for the better.

This, he noted, is in contrast to what is seen in other countries where big corporations stake a claim and pledge to drive massive change by donating a percentage of profit and working with various entities and spoke on the need for high-net-worth individuals and large corporations to fund such causes.

His views are timely and must be given serious consideration by the corporate sector who are failing in their responsibility when it comes to biodiversity/environment conservation.

We are well aware that the major companies showcase their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects from time to time and these include some related to environmental conservation such as tree distribution/planting projects or beach clean ups and similar projects. These are laudable but most are superficial and are rarely followed up once the news makes it to the media and the annual reports. The corporate sector’s responsibility has to go beyond CSR projects and should make a commitment to work hand in hand with government authorities if they have genuine interest in the environment.

So far what we have seen largely in the country is how big businesses use their connections with those in political power to breach whatever environmental laws are in place. Be it encroaching on ecologically sensitive lands to put up buildings, adding to air and water pollution and paying little attention to the manner in which products they sell contribute massively to environment pollution. Environmental certification for mega projects is rushed through often with more interests shown to get the necessary authorisation done as quickly as possible and scant regard to the fact that such processes take time if they are to be done in a manner that there is minimum damage to the environment.

If one takes a walk among any of the roads, mainly in urban areas, plastic bottles, beer cans, food packages, lay littered with the labels of big companies/brand names whose annual turnout run into billions of rupees. Companies need to do more to encourage and educate consumers on the importance of recycling by putting in place programs to collect litter at designated places and reward those who turn in glass bottles and recyclable casings etc. if the situation is to improve. An advanced copy of the report of the UN Secretary General on the ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet’, released in May says that businesses are making sustainability and climate related commitments daily and they must be held accountable for those commitments, and they must deliver. This is the case with Sri Lanka too where commitments are made regularly on sustainability and climate related issues but much of the efforts so far have been superficial with no major effort to use the clout the sector has with the public to make conservation a priority. The Government has said it is committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, but these targets are not ones that the state sector can achieve on its own.

It’s time for Sri Lanka’s corporate sector to take the example set by companies in more developed parts of the world where they’ve put sustainability and environment concerns at the heart of their businesses. In the long term, being active partners in conserving the rich biodiversity of the country and focusing attention on safeguarding the environment will benefit all Sri Lankans.