Corporate leaders must embrace sustainable development

Sustainable business goals that integrate wholly with sustainable development goals should be the way forward for Malaysian businesses.

Haze has periodically blanketed parts of the country - File photo

The coronavirus pandemic, which has brought about a rethinking of business strategies in Malaysia, should lead into something far more concrete that would integrate business models with the wellbeing of community rather than with merely accountability to shareholders.

The pandemic, which has its roots in the careless destruction of nature, has had a big impact on populations, businesses and governments, causing unemployment and loss of revenue around the world. It has thrown economies into chaos, and it will require the collective effort of the government, the corporate world and the people to restore order. This requires a vision of wholeness instead of a demarcation of corporate and workers’ interests or economic growth and environmental preservation.

The new world emerging from the crisis would need to embrace sustainable practices in business that would reduce the cost of business by adapting to a circular economy, a focus on human development and environmental protection. This would be in line with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. These goals provide a comprehensive guide on how nations should move forward with not only economic growth as the aim but also consideration for the environment and sustainability.

In an article, Morris Fedeli, a sustainable business innovation strategist, narrates the journey to sustainability which dates back to the 1800s at the start of the industrial revolution. He called it a war between industry and the environment as coal was freely burned with no filters. The air in industrial cities in Europe and America grew increasingly grey. Unconstrained by any environmental laws, industry continued to generate more air and water pollution each year for hundreds of years until, by the middle of the 20th Century, the levels of pollution were jaw-dropping.

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In December 1952, London was hit by the Great Smog. The pollution was so heavy that within days, 4,000 were killed and 100,000 more sickened. Meanwhile, the US experienced similar smog events and uncontrolled water pollution with rivers oozing with pollution and some even catching fire in Ohio in 1969. This drew attention to the problems, with citizens asking for new environmental protection laws passed to deal with the worst of the air and water pollution. The US and Britain passed their first clean water and clean air acts to regulate the worst of these abuses starting in 1948.

Industry was forced to pay fines for damages due to pollution and install expensive treatment facilities. Companies that failed to comply with the law were shut down, while others suffered financially due to penalties. Many more moved their production facilities offshore to China or other developing countries where environmental laws were less enforced. It became apparent that protecting the environment was a cost to business, and so the battle lines were drawn between business and environmental lobbyists.

It was clear from the historical perspective that government regulations alone were not enough, what more when a dualistic line is drawn between business and environmental lobbyists.

It is vital for businesses to embrace their own sustainability challenges. There is a need for Malaysian corporate leaders to reflect from the history of pre-compliance to compliance, which was forced upon it by the government, to beyond compliance, where there is internal working condition and eco-efficiencies leading towards sustainable enterprise, where sustainability is integrated into strategies and culture.

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Sustainable business goals that integrate wholly with sustainable development goals should be the way forward for Malaysian businesses.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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