“If you’re a business owner, you can’t afford to ignore the environmental action happening all around you. And I mean “afford” in both senses of the word.

Laws are changing every day and many are shifting towards the movement of supporting sustainable practices. This idea, called sustainable development, combines economic and environmental wellbeing. Below are three major pieces of legislation that set a framework for how business owners can ensure a better future. 

The Clean Water/Clean Air Act (CWA/CAA)

Although first enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act has been amended multiple times since to accommodate the expanding role of the government in regulating water pollution as it pertains to the environment. Specifically, the law regulates the discharge of pollutants in bodies of water within the country, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards regarding industrial wastewater and water quality criteria recommendations. The Clean Air Act, established two years prior dictated similar restrictions in order to protect human health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. So what does this mean for businesses? That will largely depend on a state-by-state basis: many have established their own to promote pollution clean-up strategies. In Texas, the Drive Clean Across Texas ensures that drivers — including those who help businesses manage shipment across the state and country — must keep their cars in shape and take the required steps to keep the air clean. 

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is a federal program that aims to protect our wildlife and natural resources by controlling hazardous waste “from cradle-to-grave.” Essentially, this means the EPA has set a framework for dealing with hazardous waste throughout the entire process: from generation, transportation, treatment to storage and disposal. The act also sets goals for energy conservation and natural resources. If your business creates any sort of waste, these regulations, available on the EPA, are a useful guideline for dealing with waste disposal. Likewise, each state has its own hazardous waste programs for managing solid waste.

The Endangered Species Act/Lacey Act

These two acts – The Endangered Species Act and Lavey Act – aren’t typically what businesses think of when they think sustainable business practices. But during the same time in which a number of other big environmental impact laws first became enacted, these two laws also came into existence: the first — the Endangered Species Act — regulates “both the taking of plants and animals whose numbers are diminishing dangerously, and the permissible uses of their habitats.” This means any endangered animal as well as their habitat cannot be “taken,” which certainly may have implications for the economy. Likewise, the Lacey Act was enacted to prevent poaching, interstate shipping of unlawfully killed game, or killing of birds, fish and plants. This law largely targets illegal logging in an effort to expand conservation globally while increasing the values of American wood exports. Again, for businesses who are involved in agriculture, forestry, or use wood in their products, it’s important to be aware of where the wood is sourced from, as well as what measures are undertaken to ensure sustainability. 

With that, I’d like to leave you with this short passage from Business Ethics by Rice University:

“Progressive corporate managers recognize the multifaceted nature of sustainability—a long-term approach to business activity, environmental responsibility, and societal impact. Sustainability affects not only the environment but also other stakeholders, including employees, the community, politics, law, science, and philosophy.”

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