VII. ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: SOME POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
A requirement for development in any country is a viable industrial base, that is, a prime source of the goods and services, employment and national wealth that sustain economies. However, industrial activities are directly responsible for much of the pollution that is degrading the environment. Those activities also affect the environment by shaping consumption into a resource-intensive pattern.
Industrial processes, characteristically alter the natural flow of materials. Today's industrial flows are immense and often disruptive of local environments. Environmental degradation can occur when natural resources are extracted or processed and when end products are used or discarded. In areas polluted as a result of industrial activity, concentrations of toxic substances often exceed the levels normally found in soil, waterways and sediment. When toxic substances accumulate in the environment and food chains, they can profoundly disrupt biological processes.
Therefore any serious effort to pursue sustainable development must confront the formidable task of transforming industrial processes. Clearly, if industry is to provide for the needs of the present and the future without undue environmental degradation, which is the goal of sustainable development, new processes will be needed that use less virgin material, produce markedly less pollution or waste per unit of product and minimize indirect environmental effects. Another consideration critical to sustainable development is the overall "metabolism" of industrial activity; that includes the products created by industry, and their ultimate use and disposal.
The case for clean industry is easy to make on ecological or humanitarian grounds. However, there are also economic reasons for industry to adopt sustainable practices, such as:
Therefore industries must strive for sustainable practices. They should begin by accepting the fact that reducing waste or pollution at source is inherently good business because it is more efficient and less costly than attempting to clean up pollution once it is produced. That philosophy differs markedly from traditional approaches to waste management and pollution control measures that centre on end-of-pipe technologies such as incinerators and water treatment facilities; the latter merely remove or detoxify wastes without fundamentally affecting the industrial processes that produce them.
The pollution prevention approach follows a natural hierarchy of waste management options:
Introducing environmental consciousness into the design phase of products and processes is one of the most effective methods of pollution prevention. Traditionally, design has focussed on maximum product performance and ease of production at minimum cost, ignoring the overall environmental impact of raw material acquisition, production processes and the products themselves.
Success in transforming industry through new technology, innovative design and better systems management will depend to a large extent on market forces to support such a revolution. Current markets often offer little incentive for environmentally responsible behaviour. Normally, companies and consumers are protected/exempted from the direct costs of any environmental degradation that their activities incur. Those costs, in the form of haze, groundwater contamination, pesticides residue and acid rain, are borne by individuals not directly responsible for them or by the community at large. When companies are made to internalize the costs, called full cost pricing, then market forces will begin to penalize environmentally harmful practices and reward the good practices.
But any efforts by industry will be fruitless unless the government also involves itself in adjusting tax and regulatory policies in order to intervene in markets on behalf of the environment. Many policy measures are available to the government in acting to prompt industry to internalize environmental costs. Taxes can be imposed on pollution emissions, energy consumption and the use of virgin material or toxic substances. A complementary strategy is the elimination of government subsidies that impede environmental goals. Subsidies, which range from tax incentives for extractive activities such as mining to artificially low charges for energy or water, can lead to overuse of resources and serious environmental contamination. Another more indirect scheme is emission trading, where a limited pool of credits is exchanged on the open market to reward those industries that emit less pollution. That type of scheme is favoured by companies because it allows them to decide on their own how to achieve environmental objectives at minimum costs.
In addition, the government. can influence markets through environmental regulations. Current regulations take the form of command and control, that is, they specify emission standards or disposal practices for toxic materials and prohibit certain polluting activities. Such regulations, while effective within their particular sphere, focus attention on specific pollutants in isolation, prompting investment in end-of-pipe pollution control rather than changes in industrial practice when attempting to realize the overall goal of pollution prevention.
The goal of industrial sustainability entails more than just a transformation of technology and its applications. It involves a more fundamental revolution in corporate culture, that is, in the philosophy business uses to make decisions. In other words, the transformation to sustainability should begin in the boardroom, where management attitudes, organizational structures and performance incentives are all shaped. Without a change in corporate culture to enable the prevention ethic to be embraced and the strategic value of sustainable practices to be realized, any change in technology will be largely reactive and based on short-term compliance. Once the fundamental change in business thinking is made, however, progress is expected to be more rapid and profound.