With the continuing degradation of the environment, private companies need to continue with corporate responsibility and sustainability despite the global economic downturn, said a sustainability expert.
During a community lecture held by the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) the need for greater adherence to corporate social responsibility in order to speed up recovery of the corporate sector from the global credit crisis and recession was highlighted by Ralph Thurm, Director of Sustainability Strategies of Deloitte.
Thurm has worked for the Global Reporting Initiative, mainly in the area of business engagement and development. GRI is now viewed as a globally accepted international standard for sustainability reporting.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been downsized by many companies, which demonstrates their lack of understanding of such internal policies, said Thurm.
Emerging markets and developing countries will be home to more than 90 percent of young adults under the age of 18, said Thurm, and if these countries are not helped to develop with CSR projects, amongst others, it could create a huge migration effect, war on resources and have an extreme effect on climate change.
The geopolitical advantage of the Middle East can become a disadvantage as the region is sandwiched between Asia and Africa, two continents with the fastest growing populations who are living on under $1 a day, said Thurm.
Sustainable urbanization challenges will be faced by many cities with 50 percent of populations already growing up in cities and 95 percent of another future 3 billion, by 2050, growing up in cities and disconnected by nature.
Thurm gave a nine point guide for companies to assess, re-plan and rebound towards recovery. He added the importance for a company to understand the current business climate and define a long term vision while keeping close its core business strategies.
The lack of involvement of people from all walks of life in environmental efforts is a major weakness, an environment protection officer said.
Speaking of challenges facing environmental efforts, Steve James, the senior environment protection officer at the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco), said that current efforts were piecemeal, with very little coordination and strategic approach.
"Lack of involvement of people at the bottom of the scale is a major weakness. They are the ones who know the ground realities. The 'not in my backyard' (attitude) does not help either. It is more about changing behaviour than creating awareness," he said.
Feeling powerless about issues is also not the solution, he said, adding: "Collective efforts could incrementally make a difference."
James was speaking at a workshop, organised by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), The workshop brought stakeholders from 42 sectors - including education, oil and corporate sectors, media, women and community organisations and government bodies - on a single platform.
Mohammad Al Jodar, who heads the Strategy Management Sector of EAD said: "Development comes at a price, but our leaders and government has made protection of the environment one amongst the 25 strategic goals the country is trying to achieve. This means economic and social development will be done in a sustainable way."
Participants worked collaboratively to determine the way forward in promoting environmental awareness.He said generating awareness, changing behaviour and sustaining it was made more difficult because of the transient nature of the city's population.
"The revolving door of expatriates creates the need to repeat the message from time to time to a different audience," James said. He also said that the oil and gas sector was not the environmental villain it was made out to be.
"The oil and gas industry is seen as the bad guy but this is a wrong perception based on incorrect information and needs to be changed. In fact, it is the consumers who are the biggest polluters," he said.
"The sector has been the leading light in environmental protection for some time now due to legislation and due to moral duty," he noted.
James was speaking on behalf of key oil and gas sector companies following a brainstorming session at the workshop on environmental awareness.
"It is the consumer who takes the product and turns it into pollution like by driving a vehicle," James said.
Acknowledging that the sector provides the 'raw materials' which cause pollution, James explained: "A person who sells guns cannot be held responsible if someone kills somebody. The same logic applies."
"Oil is not a sustainable industry and is an extractive industry. But it is the cornerstone of the country's development. With it comes a legal and moral responsibility& to do activities in the most environment-friendly way."
He spoke of ongoing water and energy campaigns, bio-diversity action plans, waste reduction campaigns, paperless offices, recycling and plans to capture and store carbon dioxide as examples of what is being done by the sector.