In climate change dialogue, private enterprises and industries in particular have long been criticized for sacrificing the environment in pursuit of profit. They consume scarce natural resources and chug out smoke, liquid effluents and hazardous solid wastes that damage the environment. In many developed countries, strict environmental regulations and de-industrialization has greatly reduced the visible symptoms of environmental degradation. However in the developing world, the uncontrolled industrialization and lack of environment friendly practices are causing severe air, water and land pollution. The resulting environmental damage is often blamed on the inherent greed of private sector.
The advocates of private enterprise reject this blame. They point out that there is no evidence that industries are less polluting when they are publicly owned. Given the right incentive, private sector enterprises can be encouraged to research and adopt environment friendly technologies and practices. They further point out that majority of private sector enterprises are already trying to change their image from environmental villains by adopting environment friendly practices. Moreover, many private sector enterprises are actually making profit by assisting other enterprises in adopting environmental friendly practices.
Both of the perspectives noted above have some truth. However, we won’t get into the debate of whether private sector is actually a villain or a partner in environmental protection rather we will focus on mainstream debate on how private sector enterprises can ensure environment protection.
From a cleaner technology perspective, production efficiency and pollution control are two steps through which sustainable industrial production can be achieved. From this perspective, private sector needs to adopt a holistic approach that takes into account the environmental risks associated with each phase in the production process and curtail environmental pollution through adoption of end of pipe measures. Occurring at the end of production process, End of Pipe measures refer to methods to remove already formed contaminants form air, water, soil, waste, product, etc. Once measures have been taken to reduce the hazardous pollutants, next step is to improve production efficiency. Higher energy and material efficiency not only improves the production levels but also keeps down the environmental burdens.
However, it should be kept in mind that this is not the perfect solution. End of pipe measures only provide a short term solution by reducing exposure levels of local residents. These measures often change the form of the pollution rather than eliminating it. For example, tall stacks only displace air pollution over greater areas rather than eliminating it. This approach can be contrasted with preventing contamination from occurring in the first place. We need strategies that solve the problem before they get into the pipe. We need both the source control (keeping pollutants out of the environment) and treatment (removing pollutants from air, water, etc). We need to find new ways of making industrial production environmentally sustainable without compromising the economic gains. For this purpose, we need a combination of government regulations, public – private partnership, research in environment friendly practices and pressure from civil society.