Redefining industries' responsibility for environment

Redefining responsibility of industries towards environment

Industrial activities are often associated with increased levels of pollution

Representative image. Credit: iStock photo

Economic development and human welfare is not possible without industrialisation and scientific innovation. Although agriculture contributed the maximum to India’s GDP and employed the maximum workforce all through the 20th century, the scenario in industrialised, modern India, is different.

The industrial sector contributes 30% to the GDP while the contribution from the agriculture sector is 17%. The industrial ecosystem employs more skilled/unskilled and marginal workers compared to the agricultural sector. In addition to the GDP and employment contribution, the industrial ecosystem enhances land, resource value, infrastructure and facilitates international trade, thereby elevating the living standards of people. Despite its huge contribution towards the development of society and the quality of life, and also despite contributing more for overall GDP than the agriculture sector, the industrial ecosystem is not yet considered as the backbone of the Indian economy.

People in and around industries are the ones getting the direct benefits of increase in real estate price, skilled/unskilled employment, benefits of better infrastructure facilities etc. Ironically, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) receives the maximum complaints against industries by these very people, who are the real beneficiaries of escalated urbanisation resulting from the industrial ecosystem.

Industrial activities are often associated with increased levels of pollution. Environmental pollution reduces the quality of natural ecosystem parameters like air, water and soil fertility — which are the basic needs for a safe and healthy living — thereby turning people against the industrial ecosystem in their neighbourhood. Any amount of economic benefit cannot compensate for the threatened ecological comforts of people. This may be a contributing reason why our society does not consider the industrial ecosystem as the backbone of the country.

Every activity in the universe has a product and a by-product. If an animal is breathing, energy is the product and carbon dioxide is the by-product. If a plant is cooking, food is the product and oxygen is the by-product. The industrial ecosystem is no exception to this universal phenomenon. During the course of the industrial revolution, the buzzwords in the sector were ‘increase production, increase profitability, increase revenue’ and so on. Currently, when industries start experiencing shortage in natural raw materials, we see other buzzwords like ‘reduce per capita water, reduce per capita energy and reduce per capita labour’.

Thus, industrial ecosystems always look at increasing or decreasing something, which is a completely linear approach. But the natural ecosystem that houses n number of activities, producing products and by-products, has been thriving for millions of years without an iota of pollution. If the by-product is not managed, it becomes a waste in the system. Hence, nature invents another activity to use these by-products as raw material.

When that activity produces a product and a by-product, nature invents one more activity to use the by-product as raw material. These processes continue till the nth by-product becomes raw material for the 1st activity, ensuring a cyclic movement of products and by-products without polluting the environment. In this way, nature follows a cyclic mode of assimilating waste, maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Thus, in the ecosystem, we always observe cycles like carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, etc.

Since the beginning of industrialisation, the industrial ecosystem has only paid attention to products, almost ignoring the accumulating by-products. The industry has not paid much attention to inventing diversification to use the by-products emanating from industrial activities as seen in the natural ecosystem.

This continued negligence of industries, concentrating only on industrial revolution rather than diversification, has resulted in the accumulation of by-products in nature as waste, leading to pollution. Hence, there is an urgent necessity for the industry to shift from a typical linear approach ecosystem to a circular ecosystem approach as seen in nature. ‘Industrial diversification’ rather than ‘industrial revolution’ is the need of the hour where the by-product (waste) of one industry becomes the raw material for another industry, following the principles of 5 ‘R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and replenish).

Brand value

“Porsche and Audi Safety Recall: Over 45,000 Cars and SUVs” was the headline in a newspaper. We often see that a product will be called back from the market even due to a small damage and dissatisfaction of customers, despite the huge cost on the industry. The industry does not cut costs when it comes to brand value/customer satisfaction. However, the same industry will not show a similar attitude towards waste management. Most of the large industries outsource certain polluting activities to small-scale industries or their ancillary units to maintain the brand value of their product. There is a need either to encourage such industries to carry out the outsourced activity with efficient pollution control systems and resource conservation or support ancillary industries to provide efficient pollution control systems.

Even though there are efficient pollution control systems, like ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, bio digesters/anaerobic digester, softeners, activated carbon filter, pressure sand filter, disinfection system to control water pollution and equipment like bag house, wet scrubber/venturi scrubber, bag filter, electrostatic precipitator etc to control air pollution, many a time, the industries look at the economics and feel that an investment on pollution control system will not yield direct profit/benefit, forgetting the tangible and intangible benefits accrued over a period of time on the environment.

Since ecological parameters like the quality of air, quality of drinking water, fertility of soil etc are threatened, the public agitates against the existence of industries in their backyard, despite industries taking up initiatives to ensure the economic welfare of people.

The industry must do everything to ensure that the quality of ecological parameters in their vicinity is maintained on par with other neighbouring areas without industries. Industries must become more responsible towards the community and nature by shifting their attitude from being economic-centric to environment-centric to achieve sustainability. They need to ensure that the quality of ecosystem parameters in and around the industry is maintained or enhanced. The industrial ecosystem should adopt principles of the natural ecosystem of cyclic approach rather than a linear approach. Only then will the society embrace industries with open arms and industrialisation will be viewed as a boon rather than a bane.

(The writer is Member Secretary, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board)

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