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International Earth Day 2017: Environmental considerations - Not a luxury of rich corporations

13.12.20 | 11:02  

On 25th April, "Earth Day" was celebrated in Israel. However, while once they asked us to turn off the light for an hour to mark the international event, this year has passed relatively quietly. According to Advocate Gal Snir, our firm's director of environmental regulation, it sometimes seems that environmental considerations are perceived by some managers as a kind of 'luxury', or as a privilege for businesses that 'can afford it'. Nevertheless, Advocate Snir explains that we have recently seen positive steps being taken to promote the issue. Read his full article that was written in honor of 'International Earth Day'.

This week "Earth Day" was celebrated around the world. As everyone knows, this is an international event designed to raise awareness of man's ability to influence, through his day-to-day conduct and through efficient consumption of resources, his own fate, the fate of the future generations, and the entire ecosystem and environment.

While the international day passes relatively calmly here in Israel - without demonstrations and mega-events like in the rest of the world - it can be said with relative confidence that in Israel, too, there has been a growing understanding in recent years that the actions we take have an impact for better or worse on our environment. Despite the importance of each individual's personal conduct, those primarily responsible for the exploitation of natural resources are corporations and governments which provide human beings with most of their needs. These bodies have the ability to control the regulation and balance of resource utilization, inter alia by taking steps to reduce the utilization of natural resources.

In an attempt to contend with the environmental consequences of industrial and human activity, and in the wake of global regulatory processes, Israel has also enacted new environmental laws in recent years, especially in the areas of waste and air pollution, although some argue that these laws have not assimilated adequate mechanisms to ensure more efficient use of natural resources.

The lack of regulatory incentives on the one hand, and the incessant pursuit of increased profit margins (which is usually the only parameter for examining the success of a commercial enterprise and the viability of its continued existence) on the other hand, means that most businesses in Israel have no incentive to add environmental considerations to the range of factors which they take into account when conducting their business activity.

In fact, it seems that the issue of nature conservation and its inclusion amongst the array of considerations facing every business is primarily a voluntary matter, which is often perceived by managers as a kind of 'luxury' matter designed to improve the company's public image. It sometimes seems that giving consideration to pressing environmental issues is regarded as a privilege of successful businesses which 'can afford it' financially, in the knowledge that those considerations will not harm, at least not significantly, their profit margins.

A few years ago the government realized that it had to play a significant role in the task of protecting nature, its resources, and the species living within it. In 2003, on the initiative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Government of Israel decided to adopt a policy based on the principles of sustainable development, with each government ministry preparing a strategic plan for sustainable development. As a result of the Ministry of Environmental Protection's strategic plan, the national plan for the conservation of biodiversity in Israel, which was published in 2010, came to fruition.

Although the plan was published several years ago, only recently have we seen steps being taken to promote the issue. So for example, at a conference held at the end of last March, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced that support would be given to companies and local authorities for promoting programs that combine nature conservation considerations and biodiversity in their planning considerations. The announcement is expected to be published in the coming days.

To the delight of those involved in the endeavor, what is unfolding is not merely the indulgence of government officials and a few private individuals, but a trend which is being fostered "from the ground". A comprehensive global survey conducted by the firm of McKinsey & Co in 2010 showed that 55% of CEOs believe that biodiversity considerations should be included amongst those having pride of place in the companies' business considerations. A considerable number of Israeli companies are undertaking projects designed to help them streamline their use of natural resources, reduce the damage to nature, and also maintain the biological diversity that exists in their areas of activity. Recently, for example, the Southern District Planning and Building Committee pioneered a program that, among its other planning considerations, gives weight to nature conservation and biodiversity issues.

The Supreme Court has also already ruled (in Administrative Petition Appeal 9654/06 Society for the Protection of Nature v. The National Council's Appeals Subcommittee) that the preservation of natural assets and landscapes ​​are considerations that must be taken into account in any planning process and that "environmental protection is an important component in determining quality of life and a major societal concern." In that case, the Court also emphasized that "quality of life is determined by the quality of the environment. If we do not protect the environment, the environment will not protect us. Hence the pivotal importance - for every individual and for society as a whole - of preserving the quality of the environment in which we conduct our lives."

While there are many more examples from recent years of the ascension and importance of the value of nature conservation, it is important to understand that these trends do not operate in a vacuum. More and more businesses are taking responsibility for their environment and including environmental issues in their considerations. Ultimately, the starting point should be that nature and the species living in it are a trust placed in our hands for future generations and the public expects businesses to respect this value as well.


* The author served as an advisor to the Director General of the Ministry of Environmental Protection between the years 2013-2016 and currently serves as head of the environmental regulation department at Shavit Bar-On Galon Tzin Witkon & Co.