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Zimbabwe: Public Sector Has a Role in Environmental Sustainability

All Africa   
April 9th, 2012



Credit: David Mulder/Creative Commons

By Rodney Ndamba

Over the past years, practical environmental sustainability response has been driven by the private sector. Active participation of both the private and the public sectors is crucial for national economic performance and welfare of the society.

The evolution of environmental sustainability in countries like Norway was actually driven by the Public Sector. Norway was one of those countries to come out with the first green national accounts reflecting their national government’s impact on environmental matters.

This approach and practice helped Norway to display a high level of accountability and sustainability. To this effect, Norway is quoted as a leading country in the world in managing environmental sustainability according to UNDP-Human Development Report 2011. Over the years, Norway dominated the world in having the happiest lifestyle of its citizens. Rankings in the UNDP Human Development Report 2011 showed that countries like Zimbabwe have so much to learn about sustainability approaches.

It is interesting to observe the correlation between national sustainability approaches and economic performance. Nations that do not have sustainability practices and policies are associated with poor economic performance. While our national budget does very little to encourage sustainability approaches and practices, it may be crucial to understand whether the public sector in Zimbabwe have any primary role, in sustainability matters.

Even though the private sector has started waking up to sustainability matters; the public sector needs to appreciate the negative and positive impacts on economic, environmental and social issues. This article, however, shares a critical perspective on public sector environmental sustainability in Zimbabwe.

The public sector has a fiduciary responsibility when it comes to sustainability matters in Zimbabwe. It has regulatory and enforcement responsibilities in conserving the scarce resources for the next generation. This article focuses on public sector institutions such as government ministries, departments, local authorities and parastatals/state owned enterprises (SOEs). All these have economic impact through economic value generation, service provision, compensation and employment.

Environmentally, the public sector has impacts on material use, energy use, water, biodiversity, emissions, effluents, waste materials, products, services, compliance and transportation. Socially, the public sector has labour practices, products and service responsibility, and social impacts. These impacts should be viewed from both positive and negative perspectives.

It is important that the public sector has policies on sustainability, dealing with opportunities and impacts on economic, environmental and social aspects. Once policies and performance indicators have been formulated, continuous performance measurement, appraisal and improvement become necessary. Consequently, it has been quite strange to note from the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) 2012 data that there is no single public sector organisation/parastatal that is ISO14001 registered.

This raises a lot of questions on Zimbabwe’s possibility of achieving the UN’s Millennium Goal No. 7 on the environment, as the report for 2010 placed a lot of emphasis on public sector monitoring, policing and prioritisation of environmental sustainability (UN Millennium Development Goals, Status Report Zimbabwe, 2010).

Typical issues for the public sector relate to how the impact of operations on the environment are managed in relation to the national economy and social welfare. The United Nations has provided a manual for integrating National Economic and Environmental Accounting to help the public sector, because by not accounting, it is sending a wrong signal to the public and private sector. Typical local authorities like the City of Munich, Germany, have published sustainability reports reflecting their economic, environmental and social impacts and opportunities. For cities like Harare, there is a lot of technical development necessary to make voluntary public disclosure about its economic, environmental and social impacts, opportunities and strategy using sustainability reporting processes.

However, there are some incentives for adopting public sector environmental sustainability in Zimbabwe. The public sector can improve service effectiveness through efficient power usage. A commitment to sustainability approaches has potential to attract the best and brightest workers and graduates for the sector. The role of the public sector as a public steward can be fulfilled by upholding a fiduciary responsibility to conserve the scarce natural resources. Further, the public sector can promote green practices such as reduction in carbon emission, water recycling, waste management, energy conservation and use of solar energy for office and street lighting.

The public sector can approach sustainability in three ways, namely, procurement criteria, suppliers Criteria and energy efficient operations. The sector can use green procurement criteria as a basis for driving sustainability in a value chain system when purchasing capital equipment and other materials. Procurement can be assessed on the basis of energy-efficient, power consumption, carbon emission and use of renewable energy. A good sustainability procurement process can bring savings in energy use and other long term recurrent costs.

The public sector can encourage sustainability by considering and preferring suppliers with sustainable products designs, green business practice and strategy. In Harare , many offices are left with lights on overnight, wasting energy. The public sector can come up with a policy to ensure that lights in their offices are switched off and the plugs pulled off to save energy at the end of each working day.

Finally, the public sector cannot afford to underestimate its fiduciary role and responsibility in environmental sustainability and climate change. For a sustainable and competitive national economy, there is need to encourage sustainability responsibility and best practices with an active participation of the public sector. Active local authorities driving sustainable communities and businesses will attract tourists and foreign direct investment as is the case in Windhoek, Namibia. In many developed countries, household and business waste is separated at source.

Households in countries like Germany, UK, Netherlands and the Scandinavia have two litter bins for re-cyclable materials (Green Colour) and non-recyclable materials (Black Colour). This reduces the demand for land filling when some waste is recycled. In some cities in Japan, material waste such as vegetables is collected separately and used as biogas to generate electricity. Certainly, the public sector in Zimbabwe needs to start looking beyond the current quadrant for sustainable cities, towns, villages and a competitive national economy.

Rodney Ndamba is an ACCA member and Vice Chair of the ACCA Zimbabwe Executive Network Panel.

[Source: All Africa]

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