Is balance between environment and business attainable? | Steve Ellul

Quality tourism and greener urban areas are examples that can deliver more sustainable commercial profits on one side and better quality of life on the other

This week I came across Raphael Vassallo’s blunt opinion piece – an unrestrained and honest jab to the three-decade long narrative of trying to find the right balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

It is indeed very difficult not to agree with the argument that as a nation we have historically failed in achieving this balance. Proper planning and enforcement has been an endemic issue across different administrations since I can remember. On the other hand, I disagree with him when he puts everyone in the same basket. In this sector, a policymaker’s job becomes more arduous with the passage of time as it is way more difficult to correct wrong decisions or omissions of predecessors. The 2006 building development zone extension is a case in point – reversing that decision without inflicting injustices on many is impossible.

Beyond this however, I believe that we simply cannot, and we shouldn’t accept that the failures of the past end up dictating our ability to change the future. As a matter of fact, now more than ever, we simply cannot afford to abandon the idea that we can indeed create a prosperous economy which looks beyond greedy growth and truly delivers on the promise of a fairer deal for our environment and for a better society.

Am I an optimist? Undeniably so.

Is the idea of creating a fairer economic model Utopic? Absolutely not.

Through the years many have argued that environmental protection had to come at the expense of corporate advancement and vice versa. Unfortunately, this is still the predominant mindset in many of our corporations. Indeed, proposals for environmentally friendly investments are still met with an initial element of scepticism even in the private sector, as they are too often deemed as a costly necessarily evil.

It is this mentality that needs to shift and ironically this is where our generational opportunity lies. We need to cultivate the idea that an honest environmental commitment can actually be a driver of corporate earnings.

This might sound utopic but can actually happen the moment our business leaders realise the virtually untapped potential that exists by investing in quality rather than trying to keep on milking the same old way of doing things.

Take construction as an example. The sector which is widely and rightly blamed as being the major culprit for Malta’s environmental deterioration. Yet through the years, Maltese investors, big or small kept investing their savings in property and real estate. This will probably not change but we can change the kind of development we want for our islands. Better quality, truly green development can drive the value of investment property whilst giving back to the environment.

A factual example is the Bosco Verticale in Milan. A LEAD-certified green development composed of two residential towers which houses nothing short of 20,000 trees converting 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. This kind of green construction needs to be certified so this is no panacea for green-washers. These buildings use solar and renewable energy to neutralise their carbon footprint and effectively attain energy self-sufficiency creating no harm to the environment.

The apartments were sold at a substantial premium when compared to the going rates for conventional apartments in the Lombard capital.

It is this premium-isation of green projects that can drive the notion that attaining the balance between doing well and doing good is indeed attainable.

The same notion can be applied to other sectors, quality tourism and greener urban areas are other examples that can deliver more sustainable commercial profits on one side and better quality of life on the other.

Just like the most of us, Raphael is damn right to be livid about the current state of play. Yet we are still in time and we have practical opportunities to change this path and make it up to the generations to come.

Steve Ellul is a financial analyst