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Support key for sustainable transition

Released at: 09:43, 17/12/2019

Support key for sustainable transition

Photo: Viet Tuan

New policies from the government would support local enterprises and consumers in sustainable development efforts.

by Nghi Do

Never before have the global issues of climate change, water scarcity, and public health been so pressing, and sustainable development has become a catchphrase around the world. In Vietnam, the government has released a raft of policies and introduced a range of activities and initiatives to support organizations and companies in pursuing this long-term objective. 

Eco-friendly initiatives

At a June ceremony in Hanoi for a movement combating plastic waste nationwide, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc requested all ministries, branches, and other relevant agencies have a high level of political determination, conduct synchronized implementation, and effectively resolve, prevent, treat, and minimize pollution from plastic waste under the motto: “Houses restrict plastic waste, people prevent pollution from plastic waste, society says no plastic waste.”

Prime Minister Phuc also emphasized that Vietnam aims to see 100 per cent use of eco-friendly bags by 2025 and will restrict the importation, production, and supply of non-degradable bags. 

Many policies were adopted earlier by the government to develop a sustainable economy to protect the environment, according to Mr. Tuan Nguyen, Managing Director of ANT Consulting. Vietnam has introduced a number of laws to encourage environmental protection in parallel with the development of the country’s economy. In the Law on Environmental Protection 2014, in addition to regulations on environmental protection are specific policies for “creating favorable conditions for organizations, households, and individuals participating in environmental protection activities … providing financial and land incentives and support for environmental protection activities and eco-friendly production and business establishments …”

According to Electrolux Vietnam, recent policies from the Vietnamese Government have been a great move forward in raising awareness among the company’s customers about sustainability. “Indeed, they have been pretty much in line with the message we are trying to promote, which is everything starts with an empowered consumer,” said Ms. Ban Thuy Kieu Trang, Head of Marketing at Electrolux Vietnam. Its Better Living Program by 2030 focuses on better eating, better garment care, and a better home environment, and widens the scope of its commitment to sustainability and enables the company and its brands to contribute in a meaningful way to key global challenges.

Ms. Tran Thanh Phuong, Deputy Sales Director at An Phat Holdings, told VET that this is a good opportunity for local enterprises that produce eco-friendly products. Since 2013, its subsidiary An Phat Bioplastics has invested in research and development (R&D) to create AnEco-branded biodegradable bags for export and became the first Vietnamese producer to meet TUV and Ok Compost standards applied in the EU. 

The movement to shift consumers away from single-use plastics to eco-friendly alternatives is becoming increasingly widespread and supported not only by consumers but also by governments. An Phat Holdings and its subsidiaries have continually been asked by traditional customers to produce eco-friendly products. Its products are now present in almost all supermarkets in the country and in 50 countries and territories around the world, with average monthly export revenue standing at $20 million. 

“We continue to invest significantly in R&D to embrace new product trends from around the world, and one of our studies shows that governments globally are increasingly aware of the plastic waste issue,” Ms. Phuong added. “As at 2018, more than 90 countries and territories have imposed bans or taxes to limit single-use plastic waste. To address the root of the problem, governments have improved their waste management practices and provided financial incentives to change the habits of consumers, retailers, and manufacturers, and issued strong policies to promote the design and manufacture of recycled plastics.”

Having kept sustainable development at the core of its business, brewer Carlsberg has always operated in accordance with Vietnam’s determined attempts to move towards sustainability. Among the most recent progress, in October the Danish brewery group unveiled two new research prototypes for the Carlsberg Green Fiber Bottle, which it expects will be the world’s first “paper bottle” made from sustainably-sourced wood fiber. “This is a continuation of Carlsberg’s sustainable packaging innovation journey and a key part of our sustainability program - Together Towards ZERO (TTZ),” a representative from Carlsberg Vietnam told VET

With active support from the government, after three years of implementation in Vietnam, a program optimizing the Brewhouse Energy Recovery System, auditing thermal energy, installing new KHS Eco-washers, and strictly complying the global Carlsberg Operational Manual (COM) has posted remarkable success, with a 48 per cent reduction in carbon footprint and a 27 per cent reduction in water consumption.

“Having observed every sustainable move by the Vietnamese Government for quite a long time, we can see that ‘green industrialization’, including utilizing the green growth model, has been emphasized as key to ensuring a low-carbon economy,” the Carlsberg representative added. “Ministers and government officials have also taken prompt action to tackle urgent issues such as plastic waste.” 

Challenges remain

Contributing significantly by calling on local partners to use eco-friendly packaging for many years, Vietnamese supermarket chain Saigon Co.op has replaced single-use plastics with eco-friendly alternatives throughout its nationwide network. “Through campaigns promoting the use of eco-friendly products, we tackled the greatest challenge of changing consumer habits and identified replacement materials,” Mr. Do Quoc Huy, Marketing Director at Saigon Co.op, told VET. “Such a change takes time to materialize, but local manufacturers can transition and find alternative sources as well.”

Vietnam has specific regulations for production facilities to follow but they do not contain standards recognized around the world, such as TUV and Ok Compost, applied in Europe, and BPI, applied in the US. “This is a challenge we are grappling with and need to overcome,” Ms. Phuong from An Phat Holdings said. In order to further promote initiatives and programs aimed at sustainable development, the group has adopted a key strategy of focusing on self-control over raw material sources to reduce product costs and further promote fully biodegradable and eco-friendly products.

Mr. Luong Thanh Van, President and CEO of the Viet-Uc Seafood Corporation, said the government’s policies on environmental protection management are a lever for businesses like the corporation to promote technological achievements and research new solutions in aquaculture to contribute to the development of the shrimp industry in domestic and overseas markets.

In the context of increasing economic growth and consumer demand, the full and diverse development of alternative products should be encouraged to make this transition possible. Ms. Phuong suggested that ministries, branches, and regulatory agencies study international standards and introduce regulations that guide consumers about products that meet standards. 

The government needs to consider adopting economic tools such as raising taxes and fees on products that harm the environment, while reducing taxes and fees, increase subsidies and funding, and establish other funds to promote the development of businesses supplying eco-friendly products.

There is also a need to formulate a specific law on sustainable development issues and build environmental protection mechanisms for businesses, in which more specific provisions on priorities and support for businesses both domestic and foreign are regulated. It is also necessary to add provisions attracting domestic and foreign investors to the field, so solutions from developed countries around the world can be followed.

It will be challenging for developing countries like Vietnam to immediately introduce tough measures because of the pressure to maintain economic growth through attracting substantial FDI in various fields, including manufacturing, consumer goods, energy, and large-scale construction, according to Mr. Tuan from ANT Consulting. However, Vietnam takes part in international agreements to express its commitment to sustainable development, so there must be a law introduced to protect the environment as part of international integration. 

He added that a softer approach may be adopted by the government to harmonize economic development and environmental protection. A law to encourage a circular economy should be discussed and a balance struck for the economy, to secure the environment for future generations and not lose opportunities to be the most favored destination for investment in Southeast Asia. Such a law should not discourage business development but help Vietnam select and prioritize the right fields to develop, and could potentially create a competitive edge for the country in the future, when technological advancements could provide sustainable solutions at a reasonable cost. 

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