ISRAEL ECONOMIC FORUM ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Twelve years following the dramatic change in man’s attitude toward his environment, heralded by the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, an equally radical change in man’s understanding of the relationship between environment and development occurred. The year 1984 witnessed two dramatic developments: the First World Industry Conference on Environmental Management in Versailles and the establishment of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The latter’s report, Our Common Future, published in 1987, proved a landmark in instilling the concept of sustainable developmentdevelopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
The concept of sustainable development has led to major changes in the approach of industry to the issue of environmental protection. Best Available Technology is increasingly used to reduce pollutant emissions; environmental impact assessment for new industrial plants is a given worldwide. The Second World Industry Conference on Environmental Management, held in Rotterdam in April 1991, not only attracted the participation of 700 industrial leaders, but resulted in their endorsement of an industrial charter on sustainable development, outlining a set of 16 principles for environmentally sound management.
In light of these and other worldwide development, former MK Josef Tamir, chairman of the umbrella organization Life and Environment, invited 31 businessmen, representing the directors of Israel’s major industrial, commercial and economic organizations as well as the chief executives of a wide variety of commercial and industrial interests, to found a new body: the Israel Economic Forum on the Environment. Its object: to increase eco-environmental awareness within the business community, to deepen industry’s involvement in the advancement of environmental quality, to adopt the "pollution prevention pays" principle in lieu of the "polluter pays" conceptionin short, to promote the "greening of industry."
The Economic Forum’s founding ceremony, in June 1991, was attended by some of Israel’s major industrialists, bankers and of course environmentalists, including representatives of Israel’s Manufacturers’ Association, the president of the Israel Chamber of Commerce and senior staff of the Ministry of the Environment. At the inaugural meeting, Dov Lautman, President of the Manufacturers’ Association, informed the participants that in the years 1985-1990 Israeli industry invested $110 million on equipment designed to abate air pollution, purify water and treat hazardous substances. In 1991-1992, an additional investment of $60 million was planned.
Yet, despite these positive developments, the direct involvement of industrial, agricultural, building and commercial interests in environmental quality has been limited. The establishment of the Forum, an independent, apolitical body, represents an important breakthrough. The energetic coordinator of the Forum, Gavrush Shemesh, whose love of the land is combined with the organizational ability to turn dreams into reality, intends to encourage industry to incorporate environmental concerns into socio-economic development planning, alongside economic and operational concerns.
Mr. Shemesh believes that the greening of industry, agriculture, transport, and other economic sectors cannot be achieved by means of coercive legislation but rather through a process of cooperation and collaboration between government and industry in the drafting of legislation which will promote development while safeguarding the environment. "Our strategy is not to mobilize public opinion and environmental interests against industry but rather to mobilize industrial and commercial interests on behalf of the environment. To educate them so that they themselves will adopt environmental goals, willingly and voluntarily" he says. "We, at the Forum say ‘yes’ to industry, ‘yes’ to economic progress, but with one proviso: forethought. Only through ‘development with forethought’, the motto we have adopted, can we ensure that Israel’s scarce but precious resources will not be squandered, that our environment will not undergo irreversible damage."
Indubitably, market forces are impelling industry, both in Israel and worldwide, to undertake sound environmental practices. For Gavrush Shemesh, environmentally sound industrial practices are mandatory, but the greening of industry is more than a matter of good business alone: "Every human being longs for a better world, a better environment. If we cannot create such an environment in Israel, our children will seek a better world elsewhere. It is our duty to raise a new generation who cares.
It is our responsibility to safeguard our unique natural heritage for the benefit of future generations."