The recent spate of devastating incidents of environmental pollution in eThekwini and KwaZulu-Natal such as the spill of oil and caustic soda wash into the Msunduzi river system by the Willowton Group, the noxious industrial gasses that escaped Safripol Durban’s Mobeni plant and toxic fires at two industrial sites is a cause of great concern. At the Durban Chamber’s recent Environmental Affairs Business Forum, it was highlighted that more emphasis should be placed on environmental awareness and compliance. South Africa has relatively progressive environmental legislation; however, we fall short in the implementation and enforcement of these laws and its legal framework. Environmental pollution has been an ongoing bane on our society causing adverse effects on our beautiful natural environment as well as the health and wellbeing of our people, with our vulnerable and disadvantaged communities most often being disproportionally affected by non-compliance with and poor implementation and enforcement of environmental laws.

This situation is not unique to South Africa and is a challenge faced the world over but locally we face a two-fold problem of being a developing country, whose key priorities are economic growth and infrastructure development as well as addressing socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and rural and township development. The government needs to create and implement innovative strategies that ensure environmental compliance and enforcement as well as address these socio-economic challenges and encourage inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development.

This includes reviewing legislation and policies that inhibit sustainable practices that benefit our environment. More importantly, the government needs to empower the Environmental Management Inspectorates (EMIs) across all levels of government involved in environmental compliance and enforcement with the training and development, equipment and technology, and personnel to enact their duties and constitutional mandate. This also includes shoring up the legal framework to create a responsive, pro-active environmental enforcement system suited to the socio-economic needs of a developing country while delivering effective compliance and enforcement services to deal with the complex nature of environmental crime.

Moreover, the role of organised business cannot be underscored, and all organisations need to introduce proactive environmental policies and procedures that ensure regulatory compliance in keeping with international best practices and standards. Businesses, large and small, have to implement tactics and strategies to reduce their overall carbon footprint and impact our natural environment. This will empower organisations to manage their environmental responsibilities in a systematic manner while promoting sustainable business practices. Workers want their companies and communities to transition to a green economy that supports environmental sustainability and promotes compliance by reducing energy usage and water waste to improving recycling and reuse efforts to ensure our collective future.

For South Africa, this transition to a green economy is not only about resource efficiency and decarbonisation but reducing inequality and poverty through inclusive development and the creation of pro-poor jobs and opportunities. The informal sector should be incorporated into the planning and policies of South Africa’s transition to a green economy by reducing barriers and challenges through changes in policy and processes, ‘formalising’ the informal economy through organisation to ensure compliance and connecting informal businesses with green economy opportunities within the value chain of larger organisations. This will aid us in achieving our inclusive and sustainable economic growth goals as well as ensure that we are ”in business for a better world”.