"Industry must invest in clean projects "

Brian Robinson , chairperson, Australian Environment Protection Authority (epa) has enabled the Australian environmental enforcement system to free itself from the command and control regime into a more participatory management mode. He introduced the "accreditation of licences", a system that endorses non-polluting units. On a recent visit to India he spoke to Pradeep Dutt and Max Martin on the need for environmental protection in an era of liberalisation

Published: Sunday 15 February 1998

On the role of the industry in environmental issues:
The industry's only concern is with products and profits. By not involving people, environmental goals cannot be achieved. At the epa, I realised that the industry knows much more about production than government officials. Companies, when directed to comply with prescriptives, blindly follow the rules and regulations. If freedom is given to the industry to monitor air quality and water quality, the industry has its own methods to combat pollution and most of the times they do a good job of it. They integrate environmental management into their production management.

In order to introduce the "accreditation of licences" in Australia we had to change our licensing procedure. At the same time, public confidence in the industry is important. We asked every industry working in a particular area to have a good environmental background and a good record of compliance with rules. They had to have an environmental management programme, an environmental audit programme and an environmental improvement plan. Though employed by the companies, auditors are appointed by the epa after a rigorous testing process. If auditors fail in their assignments, companies are punished. Sometimes their accreditation is taken away. In the interim, they had the freedom to operate but have to share information with the local community.

On the percentage of the industries shifting to the new system:
Despite being a recent development, a great number of companies were very keen on shifting to the new system. We now have about a dozen companies who have achieved these standards. And many more are wanting to be a part of the process. It takes a few months to get the accreditation. At the epa, there is a basic training programme for the staff of the companies to educate them what the process is.

On how the local people keep a watch on the promises of the industry:
The companies meet the community representatives regularly to inform them about the reforms they have introduced. Queries on environmental issues can be asked by a community hotline. With this system in place in Australia, the industry has a positive outlook and seems to benefit.

On whether illiteracy is a hurdle in tackling environmental issues:
Writing up differential equations on a blackboard will not explain to the local community why the dark fumes from a particular chimney behave in that way. It is not necessary. The people are intelligent to understand pollution. At the epa, we engage a social worker who represents the community's interests. The social worker conveys to the local community understands what we are tying to do. The industry also works in a similar way.

On whether the expenditure on environmental improvement is recovered:
Traditionally, environmental management has been considered an additional cost for the industry. If you invest in a treatment plant, there won't be any returns. So the likelihood of buying one willingly becomes less. Investments of shareholders' money have to be in something that brings bigger returns. The management will also not want to invest in something which will not give returns. The alternative is that instead of spending money on a (end-of-the-pipe) treatment plant, the company should invest in a clean production project. In this way the overall requirement of the shareholders, management and environment protection is met.

On whether the control regulatory mechanisms the world over will undergo a transformation:
Earlier, the command and control was the only way to combat pollution. But considering the incremental impact on the environment, one will have to go much beyond the command and control mechanism. The pressure to have an environmental system for countries which want to confine only to the national market will not be much. But for those industries dealing in imports, an environmental system is important. If managing the ecosystem comes in the way of business, then how can economic development be achieved? Economic development should be achieved without affecting the environment. The industry must adopt various approaches so that environmental regulators accept their environmental credibility on line rather than the rule book.

On the role of ngos and green parties in bringing about this change in Australia:
ngo s have a very important role in raising community awareness. They put pressure on both government and industry on the problems that concern common resources. But after this process the ngos in Australia have had a different role to play in society. They have become a part of the system. For example, the Conservation Foundation, a large ngo in Australia is running training programmes for the industry on clean production and environmental management.

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