“Disposable” plastic bags have become a ubiquitous element of retail shopping over the past several decades, with most consumers barely thinking about the volume or impact of their use and disposal. Thin plastic bags have become so inexpensive, that virtually all retail businesses offer them free of charge – at least where they are still permitted to do so.
Over the past decade, governments around the world have moved towards requiring businesses to participate in pollution-reduction efforts. Plastic bag bans are a good representation of such trends. Recognizing that the disposable plastic bags clog sewer systems, accumulate in unsightly messes throughout cities, seriously harm wildlife, and float around in massive oceanic trash “islands,” an increasing number of countries are acting to ban or limit their use. Earlier this month, Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources announced a regulation that will ban the “use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging” by September of this year.
Kenya is hardly the first to impose such a ban. A diverse array of countries representing diverse economies have imposed similar measures in recent years. Rwanda, China, India, Italy, and France are just a few examples, albeit with varying levels of success. Many other national governments now require, or at least permit, retailers to charge a small fee for plastic bags. A growing number of local governments throughout the United States and Canada have done the same in their respective locales.
Of course, plastic bags are merely an example of the rapidly changing face of environmental and pollution-related regulation. How can businesses that operate in, or seek to expand into, multiple markets maximize efficiency while complying with such diverse and fluid laws? While no single solution is applicable to all businesses, a good starting point is to understand a target market’s attitudes and pending legislation. This is because the present-day cost of minimum compliance doesn’t account for the likelihood that rising pollution-reduction standards may make your company’s present policies obsolete or illegal at any moment.
For companies looking to expand to new markets, particularly on the retail and cross-border internet front, feasibility and fiscal calculations of such a move should include an analysis of likely new regulations in the target market. Accordingly, it is crucial to understand recent trends both in the target region and at an international level. For example, much can be learned from a country’s reaction to the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, even if new regulations have not yet been enacted. Likewise, public opinion polls in countries with robust democratic institutions can help predict sweeping changes to environmental regulation, whereas changes to corporate taxation and fiscal reporting requirements generally aren’t predictable via public sentiment.
Naturally, any international expansion requires substantial market research in many areas, and environmental regulatory concerns may not be a deciding factor for your business. However, it is important to at least consider potential economic impacts of shifting regulations, and pollution reduction happens to be an area of particular focus throughout much of the world right now. As a result, many businesses are finding it easier to adopt policies that comply with the strictest environmental regulations and apply those measures around the world.
A unified global policy representing high standards of environmental stewardship can serve the dual purpose of saving your company money related to changing compliance regimes in individual countries and reaping a marketing benefit by showing customers that the company goes above and beyond minimum requirements. It is no secret that there is growing public concern about companies’ efforts to protect the environment. As your company grows, so does the likelihood that your customers, investors, and employees are part of that concerned public.
Although your company may not directly feel the effects of a plastic bag ban, all businesses are likely to feel the effects of at least some environmental regulations and increasing public focus. Therefore, it is important to understand more than just the current legal and economic climate in your target market. Staying ahead of the regulatory curve may produce substantial benefits unattainable by studying only industry-specific trends.
A quick internet search reveals a few for-pay services that track environmental regulations. Most are US or EU specific, and many are geared toward specific industries. For a more general overview of current trends, news, legislation, and other government action, EnviroSource maintains a comprehensive listing of news and information sources, including journals and blogs, categorized by public/private sector and specific industry sources. The site’s listing of news links may also help your business identify trends and important developments in the rapidly changing landscape of environmental action and regulation.