Environmental sustainability essential for economic success, experts say

Jo Caruana - 7th September 2019

Increasingly, there are obligations on companies to achieve good environmental ratings as part of their CSR promises or production processes, says Professor Maria Attard, Director at the Institute for Climate Change at the University of Malta.

Today’s businesses have a major role to demand policy change to ensure environmental sustainability and protect Malta’s future, thus cementing its economic success, experts in the field and industry stakeholders have said in strongly worded comments to The Malta Business Observer.

Going into detail about why businesses need to be concerned about going green, Prof. Maria Attard, director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta, said that both large companies and SMEs have a responsibility to lessen their impact on the environment, as they both benefit directly and indirectly from its quality.

“Take, for example, the location choice decisions of large multinational firms that depend on financial but also quality-of-life considerations for their employees,” she stated. “Increasingly, there are obligations on companies to achieve good environmental ratings as part of their CSR promises or production processes. From environmental awards for industry to environment performance in buildings, all efforts point towards an increased awareness of the need to contribute towards sustainability.”

Prof. Attard highlighted that Malta’s economic success is linked to a number of factors. “Primarily (and historically) it is our geographic position and favourable environment with a mild climate, at least so far, and beautiful natural and man-made landscapes that enrich our product and attract foreign investment,” she stated.

Professor Maria Attard

Professor Maria Attard, Director at UoM Institute for Climate Change

“Financial packages and governance are also important factors and, hence, are important considerations when designing policies that prioritise the environment.” Prof. Attard also pointed to the fact that “many of the larger (foreign) industries that have opened shop in Malta adopt green business principles” and contribute significantly to making business in Malta greener. Despite this, since many of the island’s industries are made up of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), there lies a challenge.

“Many of these SMEs do not feel their contribution is significant and due, in part, to a lack of a general best practice framework, sustainability principles and green practices are misconstrued,” she underlined. Focusing on the future, Prof. Attard stressed that planning is critical for the sustainable development of our islands and underlined that businesses should be at the forefront of pushing for stronger environmental policies to ensure they continue to benefit from what Malta has to offer. “I like to use the example of land as a resource because it reflects the urgency that we need to plan well,” she said.

“Malta’s built-up area now covers some 33 per cent of the islands. We’ve extended our urban area significantly despite controls put in place in the early ‘90s. The current construction boom driving economic growth is benefitting from land that is slowly being taken up. If we continue extending the urban area at this rate, future generations will not have the same opportunities we have to make the most of the construction industry, tourism and foreign investment, which is based on quality-of-life principles. We will lose our heritage (natural and man-made), our coastline and our seas. Therefore, today’s businesses have a major role to demand policy that protects Malta’s future, as well as today’s economic success,” she stressed.

Adrian Mallia

Adrian Mallia, chairman of the Sustainable Development
Committee at the Malta Chamber of Commerce

Adrian Mallia, chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee within the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry echoed these sentiments. “Although Malta has managed to improve greatly in terms of waste and water management infrastructure, and the generation of energy from renewable sources since our EU membership, the growth of our economy in the last six years has come at a cost to our environment and societal well-being,” he said.

“This is exacerbated further when it comes to the sudden labour shortages that have resulted in thousands of foreign workers moving to our shores, as well as the increase in tourist arrivals. It has brought about challenges in the form of infrastructural needs, housing availability, increased waste generation, further depletion of our scarce water resources, a higher demand for electricity, more vehicles on the road (leading to the worsening air quality situation and pressures for road widening), and increased pressure on our public health and education systems.

These developments are outgrowing the pace of the investment needed in sustainable development, which now require a holistic plan that takes into consideration long-term sustainable growth,” he said. This is where policy should be stronger, Mr Mallia underlined, by reducing the cost of compliance and increasing enforcement. “The Chamber has consistently advocated regulation and policy incentives towards green procurement and resource efficiency,” he said. “The environmental sector, especially at EU level, is highly regulated and legislated upon, and these policy drivers aim to influence the modus operandi of public and private organisations, leading to a reduction of environmental impacts, improvement in performance, a more sustainable behaviour, and the betterment of society,” he stressed.

This is an excerpt of an article which featured in the August edition of The Malta Business Observer.

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