Are the Green Scorpions after you?

I just read a very interesting article in today’s Star newspaper entitled “Keeping polluters in line no easy job, says Green Scorpions boss”

This article spells out an increased potential for reputation risk for organizations. The role of the Green Scorpions, the huge profile of global warming and green issues coupled with increasing stakeholder demands for 3rd party verification of environment and Corporate Social responsibility; will create problems for organizations.

The article also raises questions about an organization’s commitment to environmental impacts. My advice is that organizations need to clean up their act and pay special attention to the lessons this article spells out.

Outgoing director of government’s environmental policy enforcement body, Melissa Fourie is opposed to growth models which do not consider long-term consequences. She points to China as an example that South Africa should avoid. She says “We don’t want to end up like China. But if we don’t check up on industry, we stand to lose things such as our water resources….”

However South African companies have a long way to go. Of the 11 companies that the environmental management inspectorate investigated in the last year, Fourie says that only one came close to compliance standards setup by the inspectorate. “They other 10 were grossly non-compliant,” says Fourie, who leaves the inspectorate this month.

The inspectorate is is just under three years old. It rides on the powers given to it by the National Environmental Act. But even up to 2003, the act made no criminal provision for taking environmental polluters to task. Fourie though believes that the Inspectorate’s legal and technical muscle has started to take shape sufficiently for them to concentrate on the key areas of focus which are pollution and waste, biodiversity, protected areas, marine and coastal management and the monitoring of environmental impact assessment processes.

The inspectorate is currently made up mostly of lawyers and those with a technical and science backgrounds. They also collaborate with the police as well as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Currently there are just over 860 inspectors, most of them in SAN-parks. The planned deployment of inspectors to municipal structures is expected to bolster on the-ground inspections and initiatives to involve the public in their projects are also on the cards. Fourie,  is confident that in the next three to five years the Green Scorpions will be able to “show big results”.

(*** Warning – you will be targeted. ”Getting the public involved” –  I believe that the role of citizen reporters will increase. People today have mobile phones with cameras and with blogging technologies, social networking and other technologies, so bad news regarding an organization’s environmental practices can easily spread.)

I fully agree with her sentiment that it’s about getting to a point where companies take on true corporate responsibility; not committing to cleaning up only when they are caught out and forced to comply. An organization that cherishes its reputation will take efforts to adhere not just to minimum legal standards, but to act beyond the norm.

Currently the Scorpions are conducting Operation Ferro, an investigation into the iron, steel and ferroalloy industries. There will also be a focus on the paper and pulping industries. The priority air pollution zones of the Vaal Triangle as well as the Highveld will also get renewed attention. There are also increased efforts to enforce accurate on-site air quality monitoring so that companies are not able to hide behind ambient air quality monitoring, as is currently the case.

Fourie says it’s not only about issuing fines. “What hits companies more than a fine is a directive that forces them to change the way they operate and to change their facilities. It will mean that they are compelled to take the steps that will stop them from being polluters months and years down the line”

I recently addressed this issue in part on one of my Stakeholder Reputation workshops. If an organization derives its reputation from its stakeholders, and stakeholders value environmental issues highly, then it will be business suicide not to adhere to international best practices.

As I told my delegates, there is a definite link between stakeholder relationships, organizational behavior and social responsibility.

Some organizations, display:

  • Reactive behavior – They deny responsibility and do less than is required
  • Defensive behavior – They admit responsibility and do the least that is required
  • Accommodative behavior – They accept responsibility and do only what is required
  • Proactive behavior – They anticipate responsibility and do more than is required

What is your organization’s approach to environmental issues? Do you cherish your Reputation? Are you a Market Leader or a Follower?

These questions needs to be addressed if you want to protect your organization’s reputation.