A need to be green: Businesses ignore environment concerns at their own risk

In the third of a five-part series, Douglas Chew learns from academia at JCU Singapore that businesses which ignore the environment are adopting short-term thinking

Dr Hutchinson and Dr Thirumaran exhort businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable practices for their organisations.
Dr Hutchinson and Dr Thirumaran exhort businesses to adopt environmentally sustainable practices for their organisations.PHOTO: TED KWAN

Brought to you by

Business activities impact the environment, but the environment also affects business activities. Companies have come to realise that in order to achieve their business goals, they need to operate in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way.

One obvious example comes from the tourism industry. Rising sea levels due to global warming threaten the existence of popular destinations such as the low-lying islands of Maldives or the already flood-prone city of Venice in Italy. Tourist revenues will clearly fall if there is nothing left to see.

Singapore is not immune from the effects of irresponsible environmental practices. The prolonged haze smothering the country last year, with its origins from illegal forest fires in Indonesia lit by errant companies, disrupted businesses and events, which saw declining visitor numbers at tourist attractions and even restaurants.

Ignoring the environment is clearly a risk for businesses.

“The public is increasingly aware of environmental issues and less tolerant of companies that exhibit a poor environmental track record. Whether impacts are directly triggered by a business, or their suppliers, end-customers may well vote with their feet rather than be associated with poor environmental practices,” says Dr Neil Hutchinson, a lecturer in environmental science at JCU Singapore.

This heightened green consciousness of consumers can be a boon to businesses that adopt good environmental practices and sell products that meet standards such as the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme.

Those producing energy or water efficient products, such as air-conditioners or refrigerators with good energy ratings, will be able to better draw customers to their offerings. Companies can find funding support from government schemes such as PUB’s Water Efficiency Fund or the National Environment Agency’s Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance Scheme as they look for ways to conserve water and electricity.
Countries including Singapore are also constructing green buildings, incorporating novel designs and architectural elements such as green walls and plant features that serve to beautify as well as reduce building temperatures naturally, lowering energy costs.

Besides changing the way existing companies do business, environmental sustainability has spawned new industries in the green space, such as solar and wind energy, organic agriculture and eco-tourism.

In addition to environmental considerations, market cycles, politics, security threats, emerging technologies and the evolving tastes of consumers are just a few of the challenges businesses face all the time. To continue to survive, and grow, companies need to be resilient.

Developing resilience

“The ability of businesses to withstand changes external to its production or services is what we mean by resilience,” says Dr K Thirumaran, associate dean of business and IT at JCU Singapore.

“In order to develop resilience, every strata of a business has to be adaptive and alert to external impacts and competition. To achieve this state of resilience, innovation or a culture of finding new ways and enterprise thinking is essential.”

To remain competitive, businesses have to find opportunities amid the economic changes and structural shifts, such as the one underway on the environment.

The university has been preparing its students for this. JCU Singapore offers a multi-disciplinary Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science degree, which produces graduates ready to tackle challenges in the two domains head on.

Dr Thirumaran notes that since the degree programme began in 2010, enrolment has consistently been growing.

“The combined degree allows students to focus on ways green practices can be embedded in business organisations as well as ways of profiting from it,” he says.

In addition to studying business subjects such as Accounting for Decision Making, Statistics, Economics and Business Communications, students cover a wide range of environmental science topics including Biodiversity, Sustainability in Practice, Marine Ecology and Conservation, Environmental Economics, and Aquaculture.

To reinforce the lectures, seasoned business practitioners are invited as guest lecturers to share their experience. Field trips are organised to factories and business centres to understand organisational and strategic operational set-ups.

One subject, Tropical Marine Ecology and Coastal Impacts, is actually taught in Phuket, Thailand, where students examine human impacts on coastal ecosystems for themselves, with boat and snorkel surveys of coastal reefs and mangroves.

Graduates from the programme will be well-placed to fill positions in the sustainability job market, in roles such as environmental advisers to businesses, and as advisers and managers in aquaculture and natural resource industries, and non-governmental organisations.

“Businesses need to systematically incorporate sustainability as a core of all of their businesspractices, and adopt a ‘triple-bottom line’ approach that accounts for the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability,” says Dr Hutchinson.

Check out JCU Singapore’s Open House on May 14. Go to www.jcu.edu.sg/openhouse to sign up.