When my Aspirations come to Life…The role of business in environmental and climate justice


Compiled by Kudzaiishe Seti

28 October 2021

Adoption of Environmental Social Governance for greater accountability by businesses in Zimbabwe

When my aspirations come to life, I hope to see businesses becoming responsible to safeguard the environment and act on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Zimbabwean businesses have for long been irresponsible in the environment they operate in and thereby negatively impacting vulnerable communities such as rural areas. If not curbed the environmental implications can transcend and result in astronomic climate change disasters in these communities. When my aspirations come to life, I want Zimbabwe to establish laws and policies which make businesses responsible and accountable in geographic areas they would be operating in. Environmental accountability should not be only a matter of compliance, but responsibility embedded in the organisation structure to protect the environment.

Organisations should implement Environmental Social Governance to protect the environment and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. Environmental Social Governance entails to the consciousness of an organisation, company or institution of environmental consequences of its operation and existence . It entails to looking at all pillars of sustainable development which include the social, economic and biophysical environment and taking responsibility to curb current and future environmental challenges.

The financial sector, banks and financial institutions should mainstream implementation of Environmental Social Governance to protect the biophysical environment in the present and in the future. Financial institutions are strategically positioned to mainstream Environmental Social Governance considering the fact that they are the major funders of companies including the construction, mining and extractives industries . The construction, mining and extractives industries rely heavily on financing from banks and financial service providers hence they should mainstream Environmental, Social and Governance. Banks have globally funded mining activities which include unsustainable coal mining activities, fracking, oil exploration and unsustainable alluvial gold mining and processing . Through implementation of Environmental Social Governance, financial services can be able to use environmental tools such as the Environmental Impact Assessment to check the scope of the organisation, its intended product life cycle and waste and dump management plans. Through the bank policies, all potentially harmful products in the life cycle of the mining and construction processes, the financial services provider should not release funds until it deems the project sustainable, environmentally friendly and climate conscious.

Adopting climate policies is also a critical tool to ensure there is environmental consciousness in supporting funding to industries. Mainstreaming Environmental, Social and Governance by banks will ensure that Zimbabwean rivers, terrestrial ecosystems and environment at large will be saved as banks will engage mining and construction organisations and businesses with sound environmental protection plans.

The energy sector has undoubtedly caused multiple challenges to the environment. The energy sector, however, can be transformed and spearhead environmental protection. Globally, 84 % of energy comes from fossil fuels and 30% of global emissions come from coal powered stations . Unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s top energy provision companies are still delving deep into further investing in coal energy . Renewable energy is not only clean but more affordable to low-income communities . Coal fired power plants present multiple environmental, economic and social challenges in Zimbabwe which may continue to haunt it in the near future if players do not invest in clean renewable energy. The extraction process of coal is damaging the environment. It is noteworthy that most coal fields in Zimbabwe are adjacent and fall within national parks or protected areas.

Mining of coal presents multiple challenges which include exposing dangerous gases and substances to the environment, structural failure of tailings facilities and pose threat to ground water. Coal mining is also responsible for fugitive dust which harms the local wildlife, workers and communities. Zimbabwe is home to diverse wildlife species which need to be protected from anthropogenic forces. The production of energy from coal fired power plants also emits carbon dioxide which is one of the major greenhouses and hampers the efforts other sectors are putting in place to protect the environment and propel net zero ambitions . Zimbabwe is one of the countries with optimum climatic conditions for harnessing solar energy. Zimbabwe can tap into the opportunity that is at its disposal through investing in solar energy . Solar farms across the globe have gained traction and provided energy to vulnerable and remote communities such as remote rural areas. The presence of bio-waste also calls for energy businesses to invest in biogas especially in national parks and rural areas. Globally energy companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total Energies are embarking on a shift from producing fossil fuel energy to clean energy and even facilitating clean energy in automobiles and other forms of transport . Energy company operating in Zimbabwe should make a sustainable and just transition to clean energy.

The mining industry has globally caused untold environmental damage. Whilst the industry is responsible for massive foreign currency earnings in the country, some of the mining endeavours have left irreversible damage on the terrestrial ecosystem, aquatic life and enormous land degradation which has led to impoverishment of nearby communities and destruction of livelihoods. The mining industry should commit itself to protecting the environment through ethical use of legal and regulated reagents, construction of standard tailings facilities, suppressing dust, afforestation and avoiding contamination of fresh water sources. Adopting Environmental Social Governance by the mining industries enables them to be conscious of the environment and avoid disastrous endeavours. The adoption of this critical tool will see proper Environmental Impact Assessments, and these being ethically done. This will put into perspective how to safeguard indigenous vegetation and champion afforestation especially of indigenous trees. Mining organisations will also ensure that they protect their workers and adjacent communities through standard construction of tailings and slime dams. Tailings and slime fails have seen some of the worst environmental challenges which include groundwater pollution, land degradation and fugitive dust the recent one being the catastrophic collapse of the tailings dam at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in the town of Brumadinho in Brazil leaving 230 people dead and large sections of agricultural land destroyed . Some of the closest examples are the depreciating Mvuma tailings along the Masvingo-Harare highway which is rampantly polluting nearby streams and groundwater and producing insurmountable amounts of dust to the Mvuma community and travellers .

Embedding Environmental Social and Governance in mining businesses allows mining company to religiously implement Environmental Impact Assessments and avoids the exploration of minerals in national parks and protected areas. The mining industry should be environmental conscious and help the country in meeting its Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063 targets.

The construction industry has been on the rise in being one of the top emitters. The construction industry has been blamed for urban river pollution, land degradation, environmental pollution, air pollution and emission of greenhouse gases. There is need for shift in the construction industry. Some cement and bricks producing companies have caused landscape damages along rivers and, mountains with little or no rehabilitation processes. Fugitive dust has been a cause of concern for both the employees of these companies and nearby communities. The companies need to put in place environmental plans and best practices to ensure the safety of the environment, their workers and the communities they operate in. Zimbabwe is developing and the construction industry has emerged as one of the major culprits in illegal dumpsites in urban and rural spaces. Construction companies should have environmental plans on how to safely dispose waste and scraps, engage massively in recycling and also consider utilisation of 3D printing which help in sustainable use of resources in construction whilst avoiding excessive losses . Major funders of construction companies, construction materials producers, banks and land developers should invest in massive timber plantations to ensure that the next generations have enough wood for construction of houses and other infrastructure to cut the use of concrete, steel and cement which have a huge footprint in the production processes. The construction industry should adopt environmental plans, rehabilitation plans and modern technology to curb environmental pollution.

The agriculture sector should be a sustainable sector, poised to meet Sustainable Goals 1 (End poverty), 2 (End hunger) and 13 (Climate action). The agriculture sector has significantly caused the propagation water hyacinth in Zimbabwean rivers. The use of fertilizers and pesticides has undoubtedly increased yields but at a cost. Environmental degradation has been rampant amid bad agricultural practices which include unethical use of fertilizers and pesticides, dumping of agricultural waste into rivers and deforestation without any significant efforts to embark on afforestation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noticed that Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses have significantly increased carbon emissions . The IPCC also came forward with measures to limit emissions and agriculture a sustainable sector. Zimbabwean agricultural companies should invest in smart agriculture which includes precision agriculture which assures of optimum use of fertilizers, pesticides and water resources. There is a need for a bold shift into organic fertilizers to limit environmental pollution especially by big agricultural companies. Smaller farm holders wish to implement smart agriculture but are barred by shortage of funds to implement such progressive technology. In the spirit of safeguarding our environment, a shared responsibility and Ubuntu, huge and successful agricultural companies should help small emerging agricultural farmers to invest in environmentally conscious technologies and practices.

Players in the manufacturing sector, should focus on net zero emissions and environmental protection. Some manufacturing companies are still using obsolete energy sources, equipment which are less efficient, and their waste disposal methods are not sustainable. Urban rivers have been marred with water pollution as evidenced by intense propagation of water hyacinth in important rivers such as Manyame in Harare . Environmental plans and waste management plans are clearly lacking in most manufacturing companies in Zimbabwe. Paper waste, oils, wastewater, scrap metals, plastics and various wastes are released into rivers which affect water quality not only in urban areas but particularly rural communities downstream which happen to be benefiting nothing from the polluting industries. There is need to thoroughly consider the life cycle of products being manufactured and make environmental plans on every stage of the processing. Industries need to invest in efficient machinery and modern mechanisation which ensures that there are water purification methods before being released into the environment, reuse of oils and facilitation of environmental collection and disposal of waste in communities they operate in. Manufacturing companies should consider supplementing their energy through the use of solar energy and other renewable sources to reduce their carbon footprint. Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has set a good precedence by moving from relying on the national grid to installing solar systems on some of its base stations to reduce its footprint . The manufacturing sector is responsible for a significant if not bulk of environmental pollution and emissions hence it should help the community it operates in to create a safe and clean environment. The manufacturing sector should lead in environmental protection, innovation which protects the environment and help communities they operate to protect the environment.

The retail, entertainment and tourism sectors have arguably the strongest connection with communities and people. More so, their influence and behaviour can influence greening of the economy and sustainable development. Globally, the retail sector is responsible for plastic waste which is clogging rivers killing aquaculture and the diversity of ecosystems[1]. The retailers preferred locations, services and products make the sector one of the most polluting as some use plastics bags, takeaway containers, plastic straws, bottles and all sorts of packaging causing a menace in Zimbabwean cities, countryside and resort areas. The retail, entertainment and tourism sectors can run a blitz on encouraging consumers to use useable carrier shopping bags, carry containers for refillable water bottles, discourage take away and invest immensely in paper packaging than plastic, glass and tin packages. These sectors can also give back to the community immensely by provision of bins and anti-pollution campaigns. The retail, tourism and entertainment sectors leading a blitz in behaviour change in environmental pollution control in Zimbabwe.

[1] Vadakkepatt,  G. & Winterich, K.P. ,Mittal, V., Zinn, W., Beitelspacher, L.,Aloysius, J., Ginger, J.,& Reilman, J., (2021). “Sustainable Retailing,” Journal of Retailing, Elsevier, vol. 97

Some businesses have over the years showed an unethical side by not supporting vulnerable communities they operate in. One of the main benefits of implementing Environmental Social and Governance policy at an organisation is taking into consideration environmental needs of a community.  Businesses should be at the forefront in spearheading environmental protection in the communities they operate in.  Companies should respect cultural, historical, and environmentally rights of communities. Business ethics embedded in Environmental, Social and Governance enable businesses to respect national, local and traditional laws and the environment. The respect of Zimbabwean legislation and cultural sites is important in achieving sustainable development. Wetlands, historic graveyards, significant cultural sites for indigenous people and other environmentally sensitive areas should be avoided and if any damage or interference has occurred, there is need for environmental, cultural and social compensation to return the environment to its pristine state. Businesses should have strong policies which involve social responsibility in communities they operate in. Instead of leaving villagers disgruntled and the environment disgruntled[1], businesses should help communities build climate smart communities, assist in clean energy provision, environmental pollution control, smart agriculture and cultural preservation[2] .Environmental justice hinges on protecting the environment and all inhabitants therein. Zimbabwean businesses should be responsible in respecting environmental laws, sites and cultural sites.

[1] New Zimbabwe (2020) https://www.newzimbabwe.com/chiredzi-villagers-face-home-displacements-for-grass-farming-by-chinese-investor/

[2] Mining Zimbabwe (2020) https://miningzimbabwe.com/mimosa-builds-vtc-and-hospital-in-zvishavane/

Businesses have so much to do in making Zimbabwe achieve net zero. Incorporating Environmental, Social and Governance Policy in the business framework is a step forward in achieving Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063. Climate financing adoption in the financial sector is also helpful in protecting the environment and building climate resilient communities. Such organisational policies drive a shift from mere compliance to rules and regulations to assuming responsibility as major players in environmental stewardship and justice. Businesses across all sectors should be environmentally conscious in propelling the country in achieving net zero and consolidating efforts in protecting the environment.

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