Iran's Business Leaders Must Do More to Protect the Environment
In today’s energized, almost-post-sanctions-era Iran, so much has become possible. But as growth takes place, and as increased capital flows into the country, we need to expect more from our business community as contributors to human development.
Businesses are expected to make profits. That is how wealth and jobs are created. That is how lives and livelihoods are transformed. But, along with profits, comes an expectation that the business community must act responsibly in terms of the social, environmental and economic improvement of the communities in which they make these profits. Most notably, businesses must focus on their responsibility to protect our environment.
Facing Grave Challenges
At present, our fragile, endangered planet faces many grave challenges. One of the greatest human development challenges we are witnessing in Iran is the threat of an increasingly hot and dry environment. The environment is being degraded through our actions. Climate change, coupled with the poor environmental decisions of the past, is making Iran hotter and drier. We see a country that is water-stressed, losing its forests, polluted by sand and dust storms, and energy inefficient. We see dramatically less biodiversity than even a decade ago.
The government is trying to reverse environmental degradation, but without the overall level of success required. Due to the scale of the problems and the nature of the causes, these problems can only be successfully addressed when all stakeholders who have had a share in creating them commit to finding solutions.
We all need to start acting sustainably. Governments need to do more. Citizens need to do more. And yes, frankly, the United Nations must also do more. We need to speed up our responses. Fortunately, the governments of the world, including Iran, have agreed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which came in to effect in January 2016. These goals strive to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity and peace for all through partnerships. We all need to take the time to learn, understand and apply these goals.
The United Nations is already working closely with the Iranian government to tackle many of the challenges identified through the SDGs. Encouragingly, Iranian authorities, along with most governments worldwide, are starting to frame a response to SDG targets.
Now is the time for the Iranian business community to also become more involved and visible in sustaining our environment. I believe that the business community must get involved both directly and indirectly in order to protect our environment. This can come in two ways. Direct and indirect.
Business efforts to reduce the environmental impact will increasingly become a matter of self-interest. Iran has committed, under its draft sixth Five-Year National Development Plan, to implement a low-carbon economy. Given this, plus the global commitments to which Iran has signed up to under the Paris Agreement, the Government will increasingly pass laws and policies which mandate emission reductions. Businesses therefore have a profit incentive to anticipate the regulations which will inevitably be imposed by an Iranian Government increasingly needing to comply with its own international carbon-reduction obligations.
In line with this, businesses should be innovative. Innovation brings about new opportunities and thus benefits the company and the society. “Sustainable innovation” can include such elements as a reduction in water use for production and the encouragement of companies to incentivize their customers to use less water by recycling.
Next, businesses should switch to more cost-effective techniques for their infrastructure. For example, when operating a business, one of the biggest burdens can be the cost of energy. Thus, in order to reduce these costs, the following steps can be taken:
- Buy energy-efficient appliances and devices.
- Switch off equipment when not in use.
- Monitor your corporation’s energy usage by installing the necessary equipment (and act on what the numbers show)
- Switch to using renewable sources of energy where possible (such as wind and solar).
But we also need to start with ourselves. And so, another step forward for businesses can be the engagement of employees and customers in sustainable behavior and actions. These actions entail raising awareness about a company's own “sustainable goals,” so that more people can become involved in supporting and helping to achieve those goals. It is the responsibility of every business to send the same message and encourage others to join these efforts.
But there is another – indirect – way in which businesses can act to improve the environment. This is through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Across the planet, CSR is becoming recognized as a strategic management tool for guiding corporate decisions. The ethos of CSR should also filter down to operations. In the end, and if done well, CSR will powerfully enhance a company’s corporate image in a world where, increasingly, if you are not visible, you are not relevant.
We are no longer in a position to choose pure profit. Our growth must be inclusive. Our development must be sustainable. And our environment must be safeguarded. These ideas were what drove former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to create the UN’s Global Compact in the year 2000. The Global Compact brings together business, governments, civil society and UN agencies to advance universal principles in the areas of environment, labor, human rights and anti-corruption. This initiative is the world's largest voluntary corporate citizenship pact. At present, over 4,100 companies from over one hundred countries participate. CSR is at the very center of our Global Compact. But there are hardly any Iranian companies represented in the Global Compact. The time has come for this to change.
CSR can contribute to overcoming human development challenges in all countries. Through CSR, companies can financially (or in-kind) support environmental causes and donate to organizations and charities that are working to overcome some of the challenges facing our planet. Irrespective of size, businesses can get involved and send a positive message to others to participate in CSR.
With this in mind, I urge business leaders in Iran to explore CSR and engage in partnerships to make growth more inclusive and more environmentally-sustainable. Living in Iran, I am encouraged by the number of private sector organizations, public corporations, and banks who wish to collaborate with entities – including those like the UN – to promote environmental initiatives and inclusive growth. Although I see encouraging signs within the private sector towards these goals, much more needs to be done.
Today, the world is demanding that companies behave responsibly vis-a-vis the environment. The spirit of “partnership” within the corporate community is at the heart of the SDGs. One goal in particular—Sustainable Development Goal 17—calls on all states to “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” This is a direct call-to-action for the private sector. In order to attain sustainable development we need more hands. Each and every citizen has a role to play.
The UN stands ready to assist Iran's robust business community in promoting CSR.
Photo Credit: Newsweek