Public enterprises join the trend

One of the pleasant surprises in this second year of the Greening the Future Awards is that we received a number of entries from state enterprises. In particular, submissions were received from Telkom, the National Ports Authority, National Roads Agency (NRA), eThekwini Municipality and Umgeni Water.

These submissions suggest that public enterprises are cleaning up fast as they compete for the same market as private enterprise. Corporate watchdogs have expressed some disquiet that public enterprises are not demonstrating the same level of corporate responsibility as private corporations. In fact, accusations of procrastination in the implementation of socially responsible policies and practices could be the result of ignorance and a lack of information.

I, too, have been ignorant of developments in the public sector, so it was enriching to read the submissions.

Corporate social responsibility is unavoidable, even for those who would like to hide behind the label of ‘public institution”. There are different factors driving change within the private and public sectors — this, too, is worth a comparison. No doubt, though, the influence of the King II report is starting to percolate through the corporate governance system.

The comprehensiveness of the King II guidelines make them a useful framework in which to implement a variety of governance measures. This bodes well for the future, and could make South African state corporations compare favourably with their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

What is also evident, is that South Africa’s legislative and policy framework for the environment is starting to have a grip on corporate consciousness. For instance, the NRA — which is also subject to environmental impact assessments — has had to develop innovative engineering solutions to deal with damage to wetlands, or specific species of plants or animals.

Whether their efforts are sufficient, holistic enough or meet the litany of check lists that corporations get blasted with, such as the schedule of questions posed by the Global Reporting Initiative, is another matter. Perhaps the expectations and demands will always be larger than can be accommodated.

What is important is that corporate social responsibility is not just a public relations exercise but truly reflects commitment and good ethics. All one can suggest is that there is always room for improvement and innovation.

The Greening the Future team would like to congratulate state enterprises on making an effort and setting an example.

We hope there will be more submissions from them next year and from the non-profit sector as a whole.

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