The haze that has engulfed Singapore and Malaysia over the last several days has become a very visible reminder that environment and economics are inextricably intertwined.
Environmental destruction as a result of burning rainforests in a neighbouring country can have huge economic impact on businesses in Singapore, by way of employee health costs, absenteeism, loss of productivity, loss of revenue and in some cases, loss of reputation.
In response to the haze, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Press Conference on 20th June 2013, said “if any Singapore companies are involved, or any companies present in Singapore are involved, then we will take up this matter with the companies.”
Indonesia has so far indicated that eight companies, including Singapore-based Sinar Mas and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL) are responsible for the fires. Though the evidence is yet to be confirmed, it is hoped that some action will be taken against errant companies.
Half the fire hotspots this year, according to Greenpeace International, are in areas that should have been protected by Indonesia’s forest moratorium. These include primary rainforests and peatlands, the clearing of which could lead to significant loss of biodiversity and increase in carbon emissions, both of which will also entail long term costs for Singapore businesses, by way of resource losses and climate change.
It’s easy to think that the underlying problem due to lack of governance in granting permits by the Indonesian government, is ‘out there’ and ‘beyond our control’. The haze, however, is not only about companies which have directly invested in plantations that are causing fires.
Every company that in some way uses paperor palm oil, directly or indirectly in the products it makes or trades in, bears a responsibility for the haze, because it is the collective demand for paper and palm oil that leads to rainforest destruction.
What can companies do?
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has “called upon companies who buy palm oil to use only certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), whether they produce it or purchase it.” The CSPO process is not 100% failsafe, but it is the only one in the industry to come anything close to certifying that palm oil comes from sustainable sources.
WWF also calls upon financial institutions to invest only in companies that operate in an environmentally sustainable way.
Taking cue from Walmart’s initiatives in the US, which is enforcing strict third party standards, retailers in Singapore can also take measures to only stock brands and products whose ingredients come from sustainable sources.
What can consumers do?
Small steps can make a huge cumulative impact. Use less paperas an individual or corporate consumer. Print only when absolutely necessary. A simple act such as printing double-sided can reduce paper usage in half.
Use paper that comes from sustainable plantations, with certifications such as those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Paying slightly more for a sustainable product doesn’t necessarily weigh more on the budget, if usage is reduced.
Palm oil is trickier as it is such an ubiquitous ingredient that is found in so many products under the guise of names that arequite hard to decipher. Nevertheless, as consumers we can read labels and purchase those products that indicate they have certified palm oil that does not destroy rainforests.
This effort is critical to make sure we don’t get a repeat of the haze. The haze has taught us that our breaths are connected withthose of trees hundreds of miles away.
It has also reminded us that Nature, economics and the collective wellbeing of both current and future generations, are deeply interlinked in ways that we can’t afford to ignore. It is necessary for all of us in the societal ecosystem to act - as individuals, as civil society organisations and as corporate players - to do our bit to avoid rainforest destruction and the haze.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Bhavani Prakash is a speaker, trainer, facilitator, and writer engaging with individuals and companies around sustainability, emotional intelligence, and positive psychology. She has presented at both TEDxSingapore and TEDxSingaporeWomen and in a multitude of forums and organisations. She founded and runs the green jobs portal Green Collar Asia as well as the non-profit website Eco WALK the Talk.