JOHN COCKAYNE: Delving into the environmental and good governance aspects of golf
Concluding our introduction on good governance for the golf industry, I am going to open the doors to the discussion about the environmental part of this requirement with Alistair Collier (AC) from the John Collier Survey.
JC: The two elements coexist in the workplace, but for the basis of mapping out our discussion I have taken the liberty of separating them.
AC: This makes sense and though the two do indeed coexist, the separation, at this stage, will make the introduction of the elements more digestible.
JC: If “good governance” is a buzzword, then being environmentally sensitive and involved with sustainable practices would be on an equal footing.
I believed that though as a sport we may not be perfect we are not as bad as the tree-huggers would have everyone believe and that their ire is fuelled largely by golf’s perennial inability to tell its own good news stories effectively. That said, and to use a golfing term, you don’t match your pace in the field against the four-ball behind you and environmental compliance is no longer a “nice to have” in global terms, but a “must do”, so are we coping against the new legislated norms?
AC: You are right about golf failing to tell its own good news stories, but just as with compliance with governance requirements, we are also behind in many key areas in environmental terms, so the short answer is “no”.
JC: Recently a golf GM said to me that if he can get to month end not too far in the red and still have a job then that is about as much sustainability as he can cope with. Given the monumental problems in SA, should we really be overly concerned about the letter of the law?
With seemingly endless layers of corruption being exposed daily, as a fellow golfer, I would like to believe that Cyril Ramaphosa has unwittingly become the de facto head of what could fairly be described as possibly the largest criminal organisation in Africa. He is the reason that the endemic corruption is being exposed. However, they say that no good deed goes unpunished and some argue that as the co-pilot, during the Zuma years, it is difficult to argue that from a front seat in the cockpit you did not see the plane being crash-landed.
For golf, even if we take the moral high ground, as we should (two wrongs not making a right, and so on), should we actually bother and are we setting ourselves up to fail, or is there an acceptable compromise level of compliance that is within everyone’s grasp?
AC: Yes, we seem to have challenges both on and off the golf course. Every business activity or organisation has various publics that it must deal with and to which it must be accountable for its environmental behaviour and affect. The activities can differ, but in essence these public’s for golf clubs would be to their members, homeowners in the case of a golf estate or shareholders, councils and statutory bodies. Understanding these responsibilities is the key first step.
JC: Many golf estates have at least one board member and some a subcommittee, dedicated to environmental matters within the estate. This remit will often extend to their becoming involved in matters that affect the broader community. Chris van der Merwe (president of the SA Club Managers Association) previously expressed concerns about staff resources re the governance requirements, especially at smaller clubs. Would these issues be duplicated here and what are the key goals and tools available for this task?
AC: Clubs and golf estates have a number of programmes they can select to use to keep them on track and up to date with their environmental responsibilities, which include the GEO (golf environment organisation) programme and Audubon.
JC: Where does the John Collier Survey fit into this mix?
AC: The Collier Survey is one option and offers a system to track corporate governance as well as what many refer to as corporate environmental responsibility. This focuses on the natural environment, taking into account economic, social and intrinsic reasons for preserving and enhancing the natural environment.
Over the past two decades a remarkable transformation has taken place between business and the environment. Under the banner of corporate environmental responsibility, a growing number of businesses are claiming to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
However, if one refers to the research published in the 2019 John Collier annual survey on governance and environmental compliance of SA golf courses, the compliance level stands at 30%.
JC: This must surely be of concern to the governing bodies.
AC: It should be of concern to GolfRSA, Saga (SA Golf Association), provincial unions and golf clubs. Under circumstances where a golf club’s core business asset is its golf course and one which is inextricably linked to the environment, it is questionable why golf leadership in SA has not crafted an environmental strategy that underpins golf environmental policies, so that golf can turn environmental strategy into a competitive advantage.
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