Posted 16 May 2011, by Keishara Perera, Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), print.dailymirror.lk
The quarterly Global Compact Sustainability Knowledge Hub was held on the 11th at Ceylon Continental, and was attended by Sri Lanka’s corporate and public sectors and civil society.
Global Compact Sustainability Knowledge Hub events which aim to “Drive Economic Growth Sustainability” by equipping the Sri Lankan corporate sector with the necessary knowledge and skills. It is organized by the local network of the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative, the Global Compact.
The Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. Global Compact counts over 8700 corporate participants and stake holders from over 130 countries.
Justice Christopher G Weeramantry, the Founder/Trustee of the Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research and Former Vice President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), made the keynote address on the topic of “The need for Environmental Trusteeship as a Pre-requisite to Sustainability”.
Excerpts from his speech;
I want to touch on how modern civilization has lost some of the wisdoms of the great cultures of the world. These cultures are embodied in all the religions as well as all the customary systems of the world. The result is that law tends to reflect rights rather than duties, individual rather than the community, ownership over trusteeship and we get a lopsided view of our duties towards the environment and towards future generations. Now this concept of sustainability is based on trusteeship, which is the key factor. It means you are not the owner, of course you can enjoy it, but you can’t destroy it. You must preserve it for the future. Trusteeship is inherent in everything that we think we own, we don’t own anything but we hold it for the benefit of those who are entitled to enjoy it in the years to come.
It so happens when I was on the ICJ, I found that international law as administered in that court was largely euro-centered, mono cultural and loosing sight of the ancient perspective that came from global views. I did what I could in my tenure of office there to open up the closed doors of international law to the wisdom of all the worlds’ cultures and religions. This immensely strengthened some of the principles in international law. One of the examples I use is that we are not the owners but only the trustees. I wish to point out that over 2000 years ago King Dewanampiyatissa was told that you may be the king of this country but you are not the owner of this land. You only hold it for the benefit of the persons to come in the future. Also in the ICJ we used to sit in a wonderful building called the palace of justice which was donated by Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world at the turn of the century. He had been to Sri Lanka and India and spoken to Buddhist monks and he went back to Europe with the idea that it was wrong for him to have so much wealth. He said he didn’t own a scrap of land and it was a disgrace to die so rich and he wanted to give it all away, thus this donation. These are all principles which touched the entire civilization which modern civilization loses sight of. The question of sustainability is deep rooted in all these cultures. The red Indians and the ancient Africans are no exception. They always considered it mandatory to preserve the benefits they enjoy for the future.
These are the principles we need to bare in mind and I’m sorry to say that modern civilization looses sight of this all the time. All the religions too point this out and I want to share a lovely point from Islam, where one of the Hadiths of the Holy Prophet gives a wonderful summary of what the world is doing to it self. It’s called the parable of the two decked boat. Imagine a boat with two decks, upper and lower. As it is the human custom people of both decks start quarrelling amongst each other. They couldn’t resolve this conflict so the people of the lower deck had no access to water, since they had to go to the upper deck to get water. One young man said “If water is what you wanted then I’ll give it to you,” and with that he took a pick axe and was about to make a whole in the bottom of the boat. This is the sort of thing we humans are doing to our mother earth. Our earth is our only home and we are destroying it. We humans are fond of quarrelling; we have major quarrels between the rich world and the poor and different religious groups and so on. We need to settle these disputes if humanity is to survive.
Notion of trusteeship
It is therefore important that we inculcate in the minds of everybody the notion of trusteeship of the environment. We are all interwoven in to one web and we are not little strands independent from each other but we are all connected in to one organism. Thus whatever one does will affect every one else. As Christ specifically said, “If you do any thing that damage the interest of the children, it is better for you to have a mill stone around your neck and thrown in to the sea”. That is precisely what we are doing to the next generation.
When the nuclear weapons case was argued before the ICJ, one of the lawyers representing the anti-nuclear party said, “If Stone Age man has been able to damage the environment in such a manner that we are suffering today, we would say to them what barbarians they were. But today we are doing the same thing to generations to come. The difference between the stone aged man and us is that we are doing this with the full knowledge of the consequences and yet we continue to do so to earn quick profits, economic or otherwise”. You are the people who can correct this and put our generation on the right track. The corporate establishment in Sri Lanka, through this wonderful organization will be able to get that movement afoot.
In my very own small way I have been doing this at our centre, where what we do is we get together students from all the universities in Sri Lanka, and we put them together for one week and instruct them on the principles of trusteeship and tell them the teachings of all the religions on this matter. At the end of this session, the students who didn’t know each other tell us that they are going to be friends for life. That’s what we need in this country. No body can say that they own a single square inch of land as we are only trustees and we can’t loose sight of that. I have written a book on this called “Tread Lightly on the Earth”, which is a quotation from the Holy Quran, where it says the true followers of the prophet are those who tread lightly on the earth. As a matter of fact all the main religions teach us the same thing; look after the earth because the earth sustains you, you have no right to destroy the earth or plunder it, because it belongs to generations to come.
Dispelling darkness of region
This year for our seminar we are hoping to have 60 students from all the south Asian countries, which mean our ideas are going international. Sri Lanka has been a cultural centre of the region if not of the entire world in the past. Thus let us be a beacon of light and carry forward to the entire region, these principles of trusteeship and sustainability.
I’m delighted that the corporate entities are getting involved in this. The Aborigines have an idea that people and mother earth are linked with an umbilical cord and if we damage the earth we will in turn damage harm our lives. In fact there has been talk today of using nuclear energy, but I have been very opposed to that, because the after effects of a nuclear energy station, damage the environment for over 20,000 years and there is no known way even today for the safe disposal of this waste. Thus let us not bring such burdens on our selves and our children, because the greatest responsibility we have is to transform this beautiful country to a pristine condition for the generations who are yet to come. I invite all of you to join hands and carry this message forward to the entire country and to the entire region and make Sri Lanka a shinning light to dispel the darkness of the region and propagating a doctrine that will ensure the survival of humanity.
Rajitha Kariyawasam, MD of Haycarb PLC also shared his experiences, views and ideas on promoting, establishing and maintaining environmental sustainability in the industry. Excerpts;
Primarily our role would be to tell you as corporate leaders about leading corporates in Sri Lanka, how we have contributed to the earth and more importantly how we shape our company strategies for the future to encompass the environmental sustainability principle in the global context.
Let me first introduce the magnitude of the environmental crisis we face today. Today the world’s consumption is 30% more than it’s regeneration capacity, which means we consume 30% more than what earth can sustain. If this trend continues, by year 2030 we will require the capacity of two times the planet earth to sustain our lives. There is significant exploitation and the breach of trusteeship, we’re creating in fact a significant debt, what you call an ecological debt. I fully agree with Justice Weeramantry, in that the corporates, governments and civil society which are the three pillars who have equal responsibility and equal power to address this situation.
Reversing action trend
We need to ask our selves what is our role? Obviously we need to reverse this trend by the actions of the government; the multi lateral forums and agreements, by the corporates and as individuals. To convert this ecological debt that we are facing today is an enormous challenge. There has to be sustainable environmental policies, provisions and principles, that need to take this daunting task of reversing this trend, firstly because of the rate we are going at consuming the earth and secondly due to the vast disparity between the rich and the poor.
One country can’t blame another for the emission, because if you look at today’s multinationals which are headquartered in the US but the factories are in developing countries. In that sense it’s very important that the intergovernmental forums decide on the CO2 emission cut back. In the meantime, developing countries need to realize that we can’t go on this race by emitting more and more but in our path for progressive development we need to introduce sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies. The government policies need to establish a sustainable environmental frame work for the society and for the corporations.
Corporates need to look at the economic, social and environmental performances equally. I don’t think we can go on saying that we will address this 3 but when we actually structure it is the economic aspect you give the priority and if the times are good you address the 2nd and the 3rd. That’s why I say we need to give equal priority to all these aspects.
Individuals like you and me have a significant power to elect governments that structure this frame work. We need to elect governments that have environmental sustainability at the fore front of their national development policy. We have the power to purchase environmentally friendly products as consumers.
Let me share some insights as to how we at Haycarb are contributing to environmental sustainability. Haycarb manufactures and exports activated carbon. We offer coconut shell based activated carbon solutions in granules, powders, and pellets. Our company’s products are used for various applications in water and air treatment, personal protection, automotive, petroleum and gas, food and beverage, and chemical industries. We also engage in the distribution of activated carbon adsorption products and technology in Europe and Australia, as well as coir fiber pith and soil ameliorants for horticulture in Australia; and regeneration of spent carbon in Thailand. In addition, Haycarb involves in the distribution of Lignocell coir fiber pith in the United States; and environmental engineering, the manufacture and export of rubber flooring, charcoal making, power generation, and tourist resorts businesses in Sri Lanka. We are anchoring this responsibility locally by providing environmental solutions to the Sri Lankan economy.
Kapila Jayawardane, Group MD/CEO, LOLC Group, too shared his experience about an environmentally sustainable office;
You may wonder why a head of a financial company is addressing you today. We don’t directly involve ourselves in polluting the environment through our business operations. But we belong to the service sector which contributes largely to the local economy. Therefore in order to sustain this industry for the future we need people who are capable of doing so. Thus let me share with you some steps which we have taken in the direction of environmental sustainability in our operations.
We have established forward thinking programmes to ensure environment compliance by targeting conservation of energy. For this we have implemented internal recycling of paper, such as minimizing printing as much as possible and using both sides of the paper when we do print. We have also maximized the use of natural lighting resources and employed energy saving lighting. Another bold step we have taken for this purpose is the harvesting of rain water for internal use. We are also planning to replace our fleet of internal vehicles with Hybrid cars for our management.
Code of conduct
In addition to that we have an environmental sustainability code of conduct. For example, the company which we are funding has to confirm to us that they are not polluting the environment through their operations in any sort of way. Also we have taken the initiative to fund various environmentally friendly projects. We financed 4000 solar panels in the rural areas for a very reasonable pay back price. We have established a modern vehicle service centre and one of the specialties is that its operations are in keeping with LOLC Group’s ‘green’ ventures. The new facility is designed to operate as an eco friendly motor garage and vehicle service centre. It implements vehicle repairing and maintenance mechanisms which significantly impact the environment positively. The new facility has a micro biological media system on waste water and rain water recycling; eco-friendly paint booths; and air-conditions recovery machines to prevent release of refrigerant to the atmosphere. In addition, the unique design of the facility is structured to utilize maximum natural light.
The Grid Connect Solar System we have brings in new dimensions of environmental sustainability to the local financial services industry. This 48KW Grid Connect Solar System contributes to 15% of the Company’s daily energy requirement, thereby significantly reducing the dependency on power from the national grid. This system contains solar cells, which are made up of eight arrays with eight inverters, which contain an individual capacity of 6KW. The setting up of this Grid Connect Solar System will be of great use as a source of energy to meet with our daily electricity requirements.
We have invested in a Bio Mass company in Kalutara and the fuel for the plant is obtained from Ginicilia. We are producing 6mw at present but in another 48 months we hope to increase that to 10mw. The investment we made here is Rs. 900 million and we have also leased a 1500 acre plantation to grow only Ginicelia but we plan to increase that number to 4000 acres in the near future.
In the Mathurata and Pussalawa plantations, we have invested 2 hydro power plants. The investment we made is 10 million each per plant and both these plants are registered for carbon trading only. Further more we have revitalized the Higurana sugar plant in collaboration with the government by starting to grow sugar and using bagase as fuel, generating 2mw for the time being but we hope to increase that to 6mw by September of this year.