Business tribute to the environment

AT TIMES pundits and scholars in the business sciences conveniently forget that businesses are social entities or social constructs.

Businesses or firms are not an end in themselves; they exist to satisfy the needs and wants of people.

This implies that all firms have to be sensitive to the all-pervasive human craving for self-preservation and self-perpetuation.

Since mortality is the basic fact of human existence in the contemporary world, the only way in which human beings can live in the future is by procreating to populate the earth.

The current generation is a future generation of many past generations.

We owe past generations immeasurable gratitude for bequeathing us a lot of wealth in material and natural terms.

If past generations were as greedy and destructive as the current generation we could have inherited a poisoned planet; and an uninhabitable spacecraft.

We owe it to future generations to look after this planet properly and harness its productivity in a sustainable manner.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Umzingwane district.

I was in the process of celebrating the harnessing of water resources from Mtshabezi Dam to Bulawayo when my cousin reminded me that Mtshabezi Dam is not a permanent solution to waters woes currently besetting Bulawayo.

He also highlighted the degradation of Umzingwane River by gold-panning and stream bank cultivation activities.

When one imagines the future of the Umzingwane river system which is almost choking because of siltation, one shudders at the kind of heritage we are leaving behind for future generations.

It is the duty of the government, society at large, the private sector (both formal and informal segments) and the non-governmental community to take good care of the physical environment.

The logic is simple, if society does not make a collective effort to preserve the physical environment, the ecological system will not be able in the future to sustainably host human and animal life.

Famine, diseases, wars (political, social, religious and economic ones) and social unrest may be the order of the day in the foreseeable future.

This was aptly captured in the grim predictions of Thomas Malthus — an 18th and 19th Century British scholar and theologian — who argued that unbridled population growth without a commensurate expansion in sustainable industrial and economic capacity was bound to threaten the future survival of the human race.

The private sector — made up of mainly private enterprise and the private consumers of goods and services from the global industrial complexes of the developing and developed worlds — are the primary culprits in the pollution of the planet.

Since the quenching of human needs and wants is driven by self-interest, it is not difficult to see the link between the self-interested and selfish externalisation of private costs (in the form of pollution of air, water bodies and land spaces) to society at large.

It is in this regard that the efforts of government through Environment Management Agency and other agencies in rectifying and controlling environmental damage are to be commended.

A lot still needs to be done in this regard.

The green business message of restoring the physical environment and using it sustainably must be spread through all the means or platforms at our disposal.

Time is running out for the society at large to save the physical environment that is hosting our political, economic, social and private enterprise activities.

Streams in urban centres must be rehabilitated through joint government-private sector initiatives.

Taxes and other forms of penalties must be introduced to discourage the heavy pollution of streams through the release of poisonous effluent.

The effluent released by council (society), companies and industries into streams at times destroys some animal and vegetative life, thereby unbalancing the local ecosystem.

This is one of the reasons why mosquitoes and other parasites find it easy to breed in most urban streams and water bodies.

It is a fact that the main reason why local and central government institutions do not always act decisively to nip in the bud all activities that degrade the environment is the fear of losing short-term investments which reduce unemployment and other attendant economic problems.

But the question which government and its affiliated institutions need to address is whether as a society we have the luxury of destroying the immense natural wealth which we currently have for short-term economic and social gains?

A sober reflection on this fundamental question will inspire the present generation to abandon the destructive path of wanting to grow and accelerate everything even if it may not be sustainable and eco-friendly to do so.

It will take the concerted effort of many stakeholders to root out the selfish, self-interested and destructive behaviour of enterprise and other affiliated institutions which on the one hand pay lip-service to the use of the physical environment sustainably whilst on the other hand destroying the same physical space for profits, pleasure and benefits.

 Ian Ndlovu is an economics lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology.
His research interests cover business, development, economic and e-commerce issues. He writes in his personal capacity.

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