Imagine for a moment, a factory producing goods using recycled materials, treating its own wastewater in-house, operating using renewable energy, maybe even producing more clean energy than it uses. Science fiction? Not really. Unrealistic? Not at all, quite the opposite - these are elements that are becoming increasingly common among the business community's front runners.
Elepac, a family-run plastics goods factory in Malta, produces a large part of its energy consumption through its rooftop solar plant. Many other factories also produce renewable energy, some are even considering plants that would render them net energy producers.
It is wasteful to produce clean energy if a factory's operations are wasteful of energy. The national hospital in Malta upgraded its cooling and hot water systems to modern efficient technology. The result is 200 tons of monthly CO2 emissions saved.
Technology and knowledge are constantly improving. Apart from commercially available solutions, there is a wealth of information available to those who need customized solutions. Trelleborg's Malta factory designed and built its own in-house water treatment plant, treating all of its process wastewater.
It would be easy to consider these developments and conclude that significant investment in equipment is needed for businesses to make environmental improvements to their operations. This is not always the case. DHL, a multinational, implemented a new product in Malta - drop off and pick up boxes in various accessible localities for domestic mail. The result is a CO2 emissions reduction in vehicle transport for the company, achieved through a procedural development.
These are just some examples of businesses taking concrete environmental action which has led to improved environmental performance.
This improved performance is a critical part of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Our societies need goods and services. This need will not go away. Goods and services are mainly produced by businesses. The biggest contribution that the business community can make with regards to climate change, is simply focusing on producing more with less.
There is also a very strong business case for such actions. The financial savings arising out of energy, water, and materials savings are significant. In some cases, companies can see savings of double-digit percentages on current utilities or materials costs. It all adds up to increased competitiveness and profitability for businesses taking such action.
Three key challenges are common for businesses wanting to take such action. The first is knowledge - few businesses are aware of the latest solutions, be they energy, water or materials solutions. The second is priorities - businesses often get caught up in struggling to get new clients, meet demands, and retain clients. The third is financing - money is always limited and there are always more uses for it than there is money.
The first two challenges can be tackled through coordinated action. Chambers of Commerce, or other business representative entities, have very successfully supported businesses to improve their environmental performance, through dedicated projects forming part of longer-term strategies. Incorporating such entities into any long term strategy would be a worthwhile objective, likely to help bring about a stronger transition to sustainable business.
Financing can be more challenging and requires a strong policy and financial institution support. Various models have been tried in different countries, depending on the circumstances faced by, and needs of, the business community. Solutions that have worked well include development banks providing commercial banks with loan guarantees for sustainable projects, increasing commercial bank appetite for financing such projects. ESCO type initiatives, where suppliers finance solutions and recoup their investment from the savings arising from these solutions, have also worked well. In both cases, a national policy framework, as well as development bank support, are important.
In short - businesses can be excellent allies in the drive for improved sustainability. Achieving successful action depends largely on understanding business needs and opportunities, and on providing businesses with the right support. It is doable.