Why Your Business Needs an Environmental Policy: A perspective from the 2019 National Environment Act Uganda
Recently, I carried out a small survey and discovered that not many workspaces have environmental policies. The reasons given included “it is unnecessary ,“when my company gets bigger” and “we do not manufacture products”.
The conclusion I reached was that many Ugandan businesses do not appreciate the benefits that come with formulating and adopting an environmental policy.
Aside from occasional headlines on the state of our environment, many are resigned to the false conclusion that in our spaces of work, we cannot be effective agents of change in the environment.
However, climate change is no fiction and other players in the market, most especially international corporations and bodies are taking action to mitigate the effects of a fast changing climate. This has been through implementing environmental policies that bind employees, suppliers, contractors and visitors among others.
Like a domino effect, other stakeholders keen on mimicking corporate strategies of large entities have adopted the idea which has since become a best practice that Ugandans should not shy away from.
Here below, I will highlight three reasons why every business should have an environmental policy from the perspective of the recently amended 2019 National Environment Act.
Under the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, every Ugandan has a right to a clean and healthy environment. The old adage goes that beside every right is a corresponding duty. Specifically, S.3(2) of the National Environment Act (NEA) 2019 provides that:
“Every person has a duty to create, maintain and enhance the environment, including the duty to prevent pollution”.
This means that every Ugandan must avoid taking a passive role in environmental matters. It also means that our duty is not, as is mistakenly thought, limited to street activism, public interest litigation, planting trees or social media save-our-environment campaigns.
We can protect our environment even at workplaces. A bigger responsibility lies with business owners and the relevant corporate governing structures to ensure that those who work for the business abide by the environmental laws. This can be effectively achieved through the formulation and implementation of an environmental policy at the workforce that demands certain levels of proactivity.
The content is tailored for every business keeping in mind its values, mission and vision. It is not a matter of one shoe fits all.
Typically, the policy will state the problem, the role played by the business in impacting the environment and the ways of minimizing the negative effects on the environment as a whole, however minimal.
In this way, many people will unwittingly become participants in environmental conservation and that is a point for nature and inevitably one for the employer.
Reaping the benefits of adhering to international standards
Do you own a bakery, a manufacturing plant? Do you use a lot of raw materials? Are you in the
waste management business? Are you in the food industry? Do you have any international certifications? Have you heard of the ISO 14000 standard?
Having an environmental policy is a must if a business intends on implementing international environmental management standards. The beauty in implementing international standards is that it improves corporate image since by demonstrating commitment to environmental management, an entity will most likely develop positive relations with external stakeholders like the government, international bodies, collaborators, funders, investors and the community.
The relevant standard here is the ISO 14000 standard which is a series of norms that provide practical tools for companies and organisations of all kinds looking to manage their environmental responsibilities through what is termed an effective environment management system (EMS).
Research has showed that apart from minimizing costs, being certified gives a business a competitive advantage over companies that do not adopt the standard.
This in turn has a positive impact on the value of the company. It also applies to all organisations regardless of size. The Uganda National Bureau of Standards has a certification scheme that interested applicants can apply to, in order to get the ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems certification.
Much as having an environment management system like the ISO certification is voluntary business, the NEA 2019 actually makes it mandatory for certain businesses or activities to have an environment management system as per S.49 of the NEA 2019. These are activities that fall under schedule 4 and 5 of the Act, the failure of which on conviction will make the operator liable to pay a fine of UGX 100,000,000(Uganda Shillings One Hundred Million) or imprisonment of 10 years or both.
It is much easier to avoid liability if a company follows the law and once it identifies its business as one that is mandated to have an EMS, it should adopt one and it starts with having an environmental policy.
Creating a culture of sustainable development
Under the definition section of the NEA 2019, sustainable development refers to the development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Businesses that are interested in the longevity of their firms will recognize that the mindset of the workforce of the generations that will come will be fundamentally different because I speculate that these will be more environmentally conscious.
This is because now environmental studies will have become integrated into the curricula of all education levels which was not the case before.
Particularly, S.14 of the NEA provides that:
” The Authority shall in collaboration with the Ministry responsible for education, ensure that environmental and sustainable development concerns are integrated into the national education system including academic and non-academic programmes.”
Therefore that workforce will require structures that will aid in promoting environmental protectionism. If we of the present take charge of the environment and take active steps in laying foundations for the generations to come, we would have discharged our duty of sustainable development.
It can start with a step as small as drafting and adopting an environmental policy. We can be a green people for a green earth.