Business and Sustainability Development
Read the two case studies below and answer the question(s) following each case.
Case Study ONE:
LG Chem's India plant operated without clearance for 23 years. (Source: The Strait Times, May 14, 2020)
The South Korean polymer factory near Vishakapatnam, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which leaked toxic gas last week lacked mandatory environmental clearances. The incident left 12 people dead and hundreds unwell.
Experts said the revelation exposed a dangerous gap in India's enforcement of environmental laws. The LG Polymers factory, owned by South Korea's biggest chemical company LG Chem, admitted in an affidavit on May 10 last year that it had not obtained environmental clearance for its plant since 1997. The official document was submitted to the state Environment Impact Assessment Authority as part of the company's application for an expansion. LG Polymers wrote: "As on this date, our industry does not have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority, for continuing operations."
Under Indian law, the petrochemical-based factory is classified under hazardous industries. To operate, it needs a federal environmental clearance, granted by the Ministry of Environment after an environmental impact assessment, which includes measuring the ecological consequences to soil, water and air, and consulting residents near the factory. The assessment has been mandatory for such industries since 2006.
Ms Geeta Menon, joint secretary of the environment ministry, told The Hindustan Times that the polymer plant was "a very old project" established before the environmental impact assessment notification was applicable. Started in 1961, the polymer manufacturer was bought by LG Chem in 1997.
From 2004 to 2016, the factory expanded its production capacity from 280 to 415 tons per day. The only official permission for operations it had was from the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board. Such state permits are often automatically renewed.
In March 2017, the federal environment ministry announced a one-time opportunity for "violators" – old units that did not have permits - to apply for environmental clearance. LG Polymers did not apply during the six-month window.
Instead, in April 2018, the company applied to state environment authorities for clearance to expand its capacity further to 655 tons per day. The state agency asked for more information, which the company provided in May last year, admitting that it had never sought or received environmental clearance. In June, realising the unit was a highly polluting one; the state agency suggested the company apply to the federal ministry. Records show that LG Polymers did apply to the federal ministry for an expansion on Jan 2, 2018, but withdrew the submission in a day, citing "typo e
ors". Ms Menon said there was "confusion" on whether it should be assessed by the state or by the environment ministry.
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The state transfe
ed the application to the Indian government only last month, she added. The company thus operated for 23 years without environment clearance, and no state or federal agency closed down the unit.
The gas leak is now being investigated and a court has directed LG Polymers' management to make an initial deposit of 500 million rupees (S$9.4 million) towards compensation to the victims. Andhra Pradesh's Minister for Industries has now identified 86 companies in the state, which will be allowed to restart only after safety audits and government clearance.
Answer both of the following questions:
1. Therehavebeengrowingcallsforgovernmenttobetterprotectsocialandenvironmental interests by asserting more control over business activities. Discuss the various policy tools and critically analyse why the government policy in this case has not been effective in meeting these demands. Give real examples to support your arguments. (10 marks)
2. It appears that history constantly repeats itself as businesses continue to commit i
esponsible acts that harm society. Focusing on the role of business, governments, NGOs, and consumers as involved stakeholders, suggest how another tragic incident, such as the one presented in this case, can be averted. Your proposals should be explained clearly and must be substantiated by the concepts and theories from this unit. (10 marks)
Case Study TWO:
Will Covid-19 have a lasting impact on the environment? (Based on the news reported by the BBC, 27th March 2020)
Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Is this just a fleeting change, or could it lead to longer-lasting falls in emissions?
In a matter of months, the world has been transformed. Thousands of people have already died, and hundreds of thousands more have fallen ill, from a coronavirus that was previously unknown before appearing in the city of Wuhan in December 2019. For millions of others who have not caught the disease, their entire way of life has changed by it.
The streets of Wuhan, China, were deserted after authorities implemented a strict lockdown. In Italy, the most extensive travel restrictions were in place since World War Two. In London, the normally bustling pubs, bars and theatres have been closed and people have been told to stay in their homes. Worldwide, flights are being cancelled or turning around in mid-air, as the aviation industry buckles. Those who are able to do so are holed up at home, practicing social distancing and working remotely.
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In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. The proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China, according to its Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK.
It is all aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19, and hopefully reducing the death toll. But all this change has also led to some unexpected consequences. As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down; it has
ought a sudden drop in ca
on emissions. Compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus.
Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change so fast; at the time of writing, global deaths from the virus had passed 20,000, with more than 400,000 cases confirmed worldwide. As well as the toll of early deaths, the pandemic has
ought widespread job losses and threatened the livelihoods of millions as businesses struggle to cope with the restrictions being put in place to control the virus. Economic activity has stalled and stock markets have tumbled alongside the falling ca
on emissions. It’s the precisely opposite of the drive towards a deca
onised, sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades.
A global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly should not be seen as a way of
inging about environmental change either. For one thing, it’s far from certain how lasting this dip in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will ca
on and pollutant emissions “bounce back” so much that it will be as if this clear-skied interlude never happened? Or could the changes we see today have a more persistent effect?
Answer the following question:
3. Using the theories and concepts from this unit, how can governments, businesses, society and NGOs continue to leverage on the positive environmental impact that has been observed during the Covid19 lockdowns? (20 marks)
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