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Corporate Environmental Responsibility: Who cares?

by elberichachim

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Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh like many other mega cities of the world sees a good number of development works every year but environmental havoc created due to such development projects gives a broad grin to the much talked theme on 'green living'.


If anyone visits the on-going large construction of flyovers and other development projects in any part of the city or the country, he or she could see the onslaught of environmental havoc due to the air pollution caused by dust and mud.


The chock-a-block Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover construction area is the best example where thousands of people face the worst experience while commuting through this area every day since the biggest project undertaken under the Public-Private Partnership began three years back.


The Corporate Environmental Responsibility (CER) of the stakeholders involved with such project actually shows their 'rude feeling' on the theme, a part of the broader area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).


"If the authority keeps the construction materials clean, wrap them with simple papers or sack-cloth or polythene papers, the environment remains less polluted, but who cares," said Md Zahirul Quayuum, a local inhabitant.


Some 1.0 million people live in the surrounding areas of the flyover project and the environmental havoc rubbed salt into their wound.


The CER of the stakeholders of the flyover project gives a broad grin to the theme when Communication Minister Obaidul Quader himself termed the project 'an embarrassment.'


"Though it's not a project under the communication ministry, it's an embarrassment for all of us, mainly because of the concerned officials refusing to get out of their hibernation," the minister said after a meeting held at the ministry's conference room recently.


A significant part of the nine-kilometre flyover remains unfinished. The project has given rise to heavy traffic congestion, muddy and broken walkways and random bus stoppages in the surrounding areas.


Similarly, a good initiative taken by a telecom company at Hatirjheel project in the capital is yet to reap the full benefit because of mindless construction works inside the newly-opened public space. Around 4,500 saplings of various categories are being planted at selected spots in Hatirjheel area but everyday a good number of trucks carry tonnnes of soil and thus hamper the afforestation drive inside the newly-built space considered as one of the finest and rarest civic facilities Dhaka dwellers have ever had.


"Trucks carrying the soil and mud should be banned to ply inside the area and if necessary, wheels of the mud-carrying trucks should also be cleaned ahead of entering the paved roads," Nazrul Islam, an environment-conscious student of nearby East West University said.


The 302-acre Hatirjheel project scheme offers an aesthetic public space including wetlands, eye-catching fancily illuminated stylish bridges, overpasses, walkways, gardening, plantation, leisure benches and viewing decks giving an exotic aura.


The student who lives nearby the project area said everyday he counts at least five trucks carry the sticky earth inside the area and thus disgrace the 'enduring beauty space' opened only few weeks ago.


When contacted, a project official told this correspondent that since it was the rainy season, the mud would be washed away naturally! He, however kept mum whether the wheels of the trucks could be cleaned after picking up the soil loads.


Environment and Forests Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, however recently said the government has initiated a 'massive campaign' along with policy initiative and formulation of a new law to reduce air pollution.


"We are implementing a number of projects to control and prevent air pollution for protecting our environment," he told the 7th regional stakeholders meeting cum coordination meeting of Male Declaration on control and prevention of air pollution and its likely trans boundary effects for South Asia in a city hotel.


The Minister said owners of the brick kilns have been asked to adopt new technology by the end of this year aiming to reduce air pollution.


Brick kilns are responsible for 30 percent air pollution in the country, he said adding 60 percent energy of brick kilns will be saved, if brick burning is done using modern technology instead of traditional methods.


According to a recent study, Brick kilns are the most dominant source of air pollution in the country while vehicular emissions have been identified as the second largest contributor to air pollution.


There are about 5000 brick kilns in Bangladesh, which are largely responsible for air pollution, and increasing number of vehicles is creating concomitant pressure on air quality, it added.


In Bangladesh, about 132,000 premature deaths are caused annually due to air pollution, experts said adding indoor air pollution is responsible for 70 percent premature deaths.


According to the World Bank, up to 10 percent of respiratory infections and diseases in Bangladesh may be attributable to urban air pollution.


In another example of giving a broad grin to CER, the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) Building in Dhaka threatened a network of lakes that form the natural drainage system of Dhaka city.


The tower surrounded by water, accessible by a small bridge reflects the poor commitment of many of the garment owners' towards CER.


It is a symbol of the power of Bangladesh's garment industry, the headquarters of the country's most powerful association of garment company owners. It is illegal, according to Bangladesh High Court which said that the land had been illegally obtained, the building had been erected without proper approvals. The High Court called the building "a scam of abysmal proportions" and ordered it demolished within 90 days.


That was two years ago. The building still stands. The case is now in a legal limbo - more proof, according to critics, of the power of the BGMEA Members control the engine of the national economy - garment exports to the United States and Europe. Many serve in Parliament or own television stations and newspapers.


"You can't put the fox in charge of the chickens," said Rizwana Hasan, an environmental lawyer. "BGMEA has no regulatory authority under the laws of the country. It's a clubhouse of the garment industry."


Environmentalists have long protested and argued that the building's location on a de facto island inside a city lake impedes the natural drainage network and contributes to flooding in the capital during the monsoon.


Illegalities abounded, according to the High Court ruling: construction started before the group had won final approval on a building plan; the land transfer from a government agency violated national laws on usage of public land. Yet the group's leaders argue that the building's status has been validated at the highest level: two prime ministers led different inauguration ceremonies at the site.


"It is not illegal," said Annisul Huq, a former BGMEA president. "We have applied to the government for the land. The government has given us the land. Two prime ministers have opened it."


For now, the case is stalled. The Supreme Court is supposed to hold a final hearing, but with elections coming, the government has shown little interest in confronting the country's most powerful industrial body which fetches around 75 per cent of Bangladesh's annual export earnings. It is unclear if a hearing will take place.


"It has gone to the Supreme Court," Annisul Huq said. "That could take forever. It is Bangladesh. We have full trust - as long as they give a verdict in our favour."


Shah Md Ahsan Habib, a Professor and Director [Training] of Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM) while talking to this correspondent on CER said in Bangladesh, a very few corporate entities are found to have notable initiatives on the theme. As a sector, the initiatives of the banking sector are remarkable.


"In Bangladesh, we have formulated a number of regulations and policy documents. However, enforcements of all these are very weak. So, weak enforcement of regulation and absence of appropriate incentive structure [both positive and negative] are the main obstacles on establishing CER," Mr Ahsan Habib said.


Replying to a question on CER affect on industrial development, Mr Ahsan Habib said in the short run it may not but in the long run all sectors as a whole will be affected. Rather if we adopt clean technology in all sectors then some sectors and economy as a whole may be even negatively affected. Thus, we have to identify the right areas where we should focus our attention. However, for promoting exports in developed countries we are to follow some environmental standards. Otherwise, our trade may be affected.


Some notable initiatives taken by companies, institutions


Bangladesh Bank (BB), the central bank of the country is upholding financing flows to output and employment generating SMEs, and to green initiatives like renewable (solar/biogas's based) energy generation, effluent treatment, adoption of energy efficient, emission minimizing in-house practices an processes in banks and financial institutions themselves.


Bangladesh Bank has established a new department on Green Banking and Corporate Social Responsibility to take this socially and environmentally financing forward in line with global expectations.


Md. Touhidul Alam Khan, Team Leader of Green Banking Unit of Bank Asia Limited said Bangladesh Bank issued a circular on 27th February, 2011 on Policy Guideline for Green Banking towards banks stating "to adopt a comprehensive Green Banking Policy in a formal and structured manner in line with the global norms so as to protect environment degradation and ensure sustainable banking practices". In line with the instructions of Bangladesh Bank, all banks are supposed to take initiatives to formulate its Green Banking Policy with an aim to inculcate practices towards optimum usage of natural resources and make every effort for environmentally friendly activities.


As per circular of Bangladesh Bank, banks are to implement Green Banking guidelines under three phases: Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Phase I and Phase II has been successfully completed and most of the banks are undergoing Phase III at this point of stage. In Phase III, banks and financial institutions are supposed to design and introduce innovative products and reporting to be performed in internationally acclaimed standard formats like GRI and Triple Bottom Line Reporting as part of their Phase III activities. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a non-profit organization that works towards a sustainable global economy by providing sustainability reporting guidance.


By this time, some financial institutions including Bank Asia has already published Sustainable Report reportedly under GRI Guidelines to start the process initially as per Green Banking circular by Bangladesh Bank.


Grameen Shakti reached its first landmark of one million Solar Home Systems (SHS) installation in the rural areas of the country on November 30, 2012.


Grameen Shakti (GS) is the first in the world to install solar home systems in a million homes. It is the largest non grid program in the world. During this historical journey, GS reached quarter million homes in April, 2009, half a million homes by the end of 2010, a million at the end of November, 2012. At the present rate of expansion, GS will reach the second million homes in the next four years, by the end of 2016.


Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus established Grameen Shakti in 1996 with a vision to promote renewable energy technologies to the rural people to protect the environment and at the same time, improve standards of living.


Grameen Shakti has been very successful - it is one of the first renewable companies in the world to show that renewable energy technologies can be successfully promoted in the rural areas of a third world country.


The Tangail Forest Division, a government department turned 700 inhabitants of Madhupur forest from encroachers into volunteers, who now protect and conserve the once-endangered greenery.


The project is a glaring example of how community engagement can help save a forest if the locals are made stakeholders of an effort. The initiative has provided means of livelihood to around 5,000 families that previously used to depend on the forest for earnings.


The Butterfly Park Bangladesh Ltd, the country's first butterfly-themed amusement park and entertainment zone of Intraco Group is remembered for its effort to protect the fast reducing population of butterflies and attract people towards nature in the seaside town of Patenga in Chittagong.


Kenpark Bangladesh Apparel (Pvt) Ltd, a leading readymade garments manufacturer is mentionable for installing energy-efficient equipment and integrating sustainable procedures like usage of natural light, water treatment plant, proper waste management system, complete recycling policy and extensive vegetation in its factories, as part of its plan to cut the emission of greenhouse gases by one-third.


Rural Services Foundation, a non-profit organisation of Rahimafrooz Group is working since 2006 to make renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies accessible to remote rural communities.


British American Tobacco-Bangladesh (BATB) started afforestation programme when the multinational company joined hands with the Forest Department in 1980 to conserve the forests and combat the negative impacts of climate change. Till now, the company planted around 75 million saplings throughout Bangladesh. BATB runs the largest private sector driven afforestation programme in the country.


Viyellatex Group, a top textile and garment conglomerate made a significant contribution in the areas of green economy by adopting green and energy-saving technology in manufacturing garments.


Viyellatex Group is going to set up Bangladesh's first "carbon-neutral" factory on the outskirts of Dhaka by end of this year.


Companies like Grameenphone Ltd, Energypac Electronics Ltd, Bengal Glass Works Ltd, Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IIDFC) Ltd, Bank Asia Ltd, Eastern Bank Ltd and Mutual Trust Bank Ltd made notable progresses as far as CER is concerned.


Energypac Electronics Ltd took a pioneering role in promoting, popularising and manufacturing energy efficient lights in Bangladesh.


Energypac also established an energy-saving building at Tejgaon in Dhaka.


Bengal Glass Works Ltd won national recognition for their ground-breaking work in reducing energy consumption, heat/carbon emission, water and paper recycling and waste management.


Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IIDFC) Ltd won the prestigious HSBC-Daily Star Award for financing the country's first green brick project. It helped introduce a technology that uses 50 percent less energy in making bricks.


Some 100 green cars are now plying the Dhaka city streets with the launch of Honda's Civic Hybrid since late-2009.


DHS Motors Ltd, the local distributor of Japanese Honda vehicles, brought the hybrid cars with 'green technology'.


In a hybrid car, an electric motor and an internal combustion engine are installed so that they can both individually or together power the vehicle.


Concluding remarks


A polluted environment is far worse than an inept and corrupt government. In fact, while political parties, government officials come and go, environment is far more permanent. Only by ensuring an effective, independent and professional regulator can we ensure that the environment we inhabit are trustworthy and safe. The problems will not disappear overnight, but with an effective regulator that can ensure firm implementation of the existing rules and codes, we can hope for a Green Bangladesh where corporate environmental responsibility will be the bedrock upon which our corporate world will operate and grow.




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