Pollution is a constant to the Caribbean Sea as is the daily tide, but it doesn’t have to be so – not if the private sector gets involved say key stakeholders involved in a recent meeting held by the United Nations Environment Programme.
The Grupo Punta Cana (GPC), which owns and operates the Punta Cana Airport, three hotels and various residential properties in the Dominican Republic, demonstrates this well.
The group engages in and encourages ecological and sustainable development practices in the provision of all services, from electricity to water, water treatment, and waste management. And by considering the local community one of its key stakeholders, interacts with them carefully. Its sub-companies must conform to local environmental licenses and permits, high standards having been introduced in the groups early days, even before the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Environment was established.
As such, it led by example and was well prepared to conform to the legal and regulatory framework developed subsequently by the national authorities. It was a founding member of the Partnership for Ecologically-Sustainable Coastal Areas (PESCA), which promotes sustainable fishing and tourism in particular.
GPC’s enlightened approach has allowed it to have a good working relationship with the government and the local community and to be authentic in its representation to the public as practicing sustainable development.
“The company sees sustainable use and development as a competitive edge. It aims to influence the mind-set of other businesses in the area. Tourism is an image business,” Jake Kheel, the group’s Environmental Director.
They see themselves as investors with a long-term commitment which is good for the community, the environment and the company. It is no accident that all of the area resorts have water treatment plants, that no buildings are more than three stories high, that water reuse is being introduced in the area for irrigation, that two tonnes of garbage is recycled each day, and that biomass is used to fuel a steam laundry.
“Long-term commitment works,” said Kheel.
This example was seen as a model at the first Conference of the Parties to the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Activities (LBS Protocol), held in late October 2012 in the Dominican Republic. As part of the meeting activities a panel of experts from different sectors reflected on their individual experiences with marine and coastal pollution. It allowed all participants to appreciate various perspectives – private, industrial, Government, NGO, and donors at national as well as regional levels – as they identified the barriers to achieving greater progress in managing land-based sources of marine pollution.
Those barriers included lack of consistent funding for preventative actions, clean-up efforts and monitoring; lack of trained personnel; lack of co-ordination in the face of limited resources and time; poor information management and sharing; inadequate coverage in terms of proper solid waste and wastewater treatment; lack of knowledge on best practices and existing initiatives.
They situation, they said, is such that the pooling of effort is therefore key to successfully tackling marine and coastal pollution.
It was a sentiment earlier echoed at the first LBS Scientific Technical and Advisory Committee Meeting, held in April in Aruba, where it was recommended that more effective partnerships between sectors were critical for controlling, reducing and preventing pollution of the Caribbean Sea.
The private sector, it emerged at the Dominican Republic meeting, has a key role to play in this effort as it partners with the public sector to help guarantee a positive outcome. Consider the progress that could be made if private tourist resorts co-operated with governments to ensure more universal coverage regarding waste water treatment, said Antonio Villasol, Director of the LBS Protocol Regional Activity Centre (CIMAB) in Cuba.
“The signing of Cleaner Production Agreements, as was done in the Dominican Republic under the Global Environment Facility-funded Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management (GEF IWCAM) Project is a way to gain support for, and agreement to use, better practices up front instead of trying to penalise and clean up afterwards,” Lourdes Geronimo, Director of Environmental Quality, Ministry of the Environment.
“The private sector often sees itself as progressive and as a leader – e.g. in Haina, where the Industries and Businesses Association saw itself as being environmentally aware and therefore receptive to the Cleaner Production module of the GEF IWCAM Project in 2008. The Association met monthly, bringing the area’s enterprises together and, furthermore, included community-based organisations with a view to solving such long-standing problems as solid waste pollution. They provided a forum for consultation and a platform for agreed collective actions, ” added Donna Sue Spencer, Communication Specialist with the Global Environmental Facility Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management.
Volunteer agreements were also identified as having the capacity to make a difference.
“They are the result of early consultation and subsequent agreement on desired outcomes, and, can lead to excellent cooperation between the public and private sectors, as was evidenced in the number and quality of responses to the industrial practices questionnaire administered by the Ministry of the Environment to the private sector industries in the Lower Haina River Basin,” noted Spencer.