Calling All Allies in the Fight Against Pollution

August 15, 2012


Smokestacks against the skyline in Estonia. 

Curt Carnemark / World Bank

  • Pollution management is shifting from sole reliance on government regulators to involve communities, civil society, and the private sector.
  • The new publication "Getting to Green – A Sourcebook of Pollution Management Policy Tools for Growth and Competiveness" reflects this shift in discussing tools for multiple stakeholders.
  • The sourcebook includes 23 guidance notes on key policy tools, such as land use planning, environmental impact assessments and environmental licenseing.

In 1995, Indonesia put in place a voluntary, public disclosure scheme that encouraged firms to self-report their contributions to local water pollution. The government checked and assigned a color-coded rating (black for those factories that made no effort and gold for adhering to international standards). These ratings were made public, bestowing shame or honor on the companies. This information sharing led to behavior change on the part of the companies, and eventually resulted in lower levels of pollution.

When the Indian capital city, Delhi, was choking with high levels of smog, a civil society group, the Centre for Science and Environment, asked the Supreme Court to enforce the Clean Air Act that had been passed 15 years ago. A public campaign followed that involved releasing quantitative data on the health impacts of pollution. In 1998, the Supreme Court compelled the Government to enforce its own regulations pertaining to air quality, reducing the ambient levels of respirable suspended particulate matter.

These examples point to a different approach toward pollution management: one that does not rely solely on the government as the regulator but involves the community, civil society, private sector, and even the courts in pollution management. In Indonesia, although the Government had mandated lower pollution levels, it was the public "show and tell" that helped the community get involved and forced firms to clean up. In India, the judiciary, prodded by civil society, played an important role.

A new World Bank Group publication, Getting to Green – A Sourcebook of Pollution Management Policy Tools for Growth and Competiveness reflects this shift in pollution management from the traditional approach that relies solely on public regulatory instruments to acknowledging that every stakeholder has important tools and levers at its disposal. A strategy that engages additional actors in the pollution management effort, each in parallel using their own policy tools, can get to clean air, water and land, while ensuring growth and competiveness.

The sourcebook builds upon and broadens the scope of the policy advice in The Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook: Towards Cleaner Production, a World Bank publication from 1998 which has served as an important reference source for policy and technical guidance ever since.

“The sourcebook highlights the advantages of approaching pollution management through multiple stakeholders,” said Mary Barton-Dock, the World Bank’s environment director. “This can bring about positive outcomes more quickly. It ensures a balance between growth and competitiveness objectives and pollution management objectives that help to maximize public welfare and ultimately, greener and more sustainable growth.”

To make this approach a reality, the sourcebook presents 23 short guidance notes on key policy tools that each of the actors have at their disposal. The toolkit is organized by the primary user of a particular policy tool, making it easier for users to access tools that are specific to them.

For example, land use planning, environmental impact assessments, environmental licensing, are all essential government tools for pollution prevention and control. The private sector can use sustainable supply chain policies and environmental management systems. Financial institutions, from banks to investors, can enforce environmental and social policies in their investments and lending. Active citizens, through civil society organizations, can promote access to information, citizen participation in decision-making, and public access to the courts.

An important factor that increases the effectiveness of all tools and empowers different players is information sharing. Publicly available data on pollution works in two ways: it provides information to the community and consumers who may exert pressure on polluting firms to clean up, and plant managers have better information to design strategies to manage pollution. This could be data on the water quality in local rivers, or hourly air pollution levels or even the resources used in manufacturing a product.

Consider the licensing system. By itself, it does not strengthen the capacity of non-government stakeholders. However, by ensuring that all licensing information is available freely, civil society and the private sector can seek redress and hence ensure accountability.

The private sector, traditionally seen as a player on the receiving end of government regulation, is an important actor in pollution management. By December 2007, almost 130,000 companies in 140 countries were certified as compliant with ISO 14001, an internationally accredited tool for managing corporate environment and social responsibility.

Through supply chain management, private sector companies can extend their influence in pollution control and abatement beyond their own operations and into their supply chains – which can include suppliers, intermediaries, third-party service providers and customers.

There are also examples where the private sector has indirectly encouraged the government to take a more prominent role. In Chile for example, mining companies, in line with corporate requirements, prepared Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and submitted them to the government. This has led to the formation of CONAMA, a national environment commission set up to review EIAs, institutionalizing the process for all mining companies.

The sourcebook is a collaborative effort of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and reflects the practical experience and changes in the external environment in the last decade. It is a living document and will be updated to reflect the lessons learned from its application.