Society

Sustainability journey a product of right strategy

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Companies must take action towards becoming sustainable if they are to maintain their competitive advantage in the future. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The sustainability movement in the continent is picking up momentum. Recently I assessed the level of interest by customers and the results indicated that 61 per cent of consumers want to be buying from sustainable companies by 2023.

According to UNDP, two-thirds of people around the world believe that we are in a global emergency when it comes to climate change. Business and individuals are, however, faced with a dilemma, which they are aware of, but do not know what to do.

Other than the consumers coercing companies towards sustainability, government legislation and employee interests are also playing the same role. In future sustainability will become increasingly important to business strategy and management and the risks of failing to act are growing.

Embracing sustainability principles is not just a trend and it is not done to “feel good” it is indeed good business. Cultivating sustainability helps organisations become more efficient, competitive and profitable.

It is more than simply “a good thing to do”. Corporates, as well as SMEs, are realising the many practical short-term and long-term financial benefits of implementing sustainability-conscious improvements.

This intention-action gap gives rise to the opportunity for brands/companies to step up and help their customers to have sustainable products and services.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not help the situation for companies that were shying away from sustainability- clearly the sustainability movement holds true across Africa, across generations and more strongly for individuals with post-secondary education.

It is clear now that companies or brands impact cannot be hurting people or the environment any longer which means sustainability is becoming mainstream in the corporate world.

Businesses are grasping just how much potential profitability and value are on offer as well as the risks of inaction. Integrating positive environmental and human impact are strategic drivers for businesses and will also help in the reduction of costly risks to brand and reputation.

Failure to embrace sustainability is leading to some problems. A case in point is Kakuzi PLC which recently received a temporary ban on the sale of its avocados in the UK’s largest supermarket chains Tesco, Lidl and Sainsbury's over allegations of human rights abuse in its plantation in Kenya.

The same tragedy has befallen, Boohoo, UK online fashion retailer whose products faced a boycott from customers due to claims of poor working conditions in factories making clothes for Boohoo as well as claims of workers being paid as little as £3.50 an hour (less than half of the minimum wage) and wearing little in the way of protective equipment.

Companies must take action towards becoming sustainable if they are to maintain their competitive advantage in the future. This is how.

Development of a sustainability strategy

This will be a key step towards becoming sustainable. The strategy should result in a prioritised set of actions. It will provide the company management and staff with an agreed framework/blueprint to focus investment and drive performance, as well as engage internal and external stakeholders

Design environmentally friendly products and services and communicate actions your company is taking.

This will call for use of sustainable materials, and recycling. Observance of the carbon footprint of material and products will also be key towards sustainable products and services.

On the other hand, companies must engage their customers on how to use their products and services in the most energy-efficient and material-minimising way possible. It is how the customers use the products that matter most as statistics shows that the largest part of a product’s carbon footprint will occur post-sale.

Information disclosure

By showing your customers the sustainability impact of the product or service will enable customers to make better decisions. For example, at the retail level, companies can provide customers with carbon estimates for their purchase as a way to help nudge better decisions. This also extends to a companywide view where companies should provide sustainability reports as way of showing how sustainable they are.

Companies will also need to make a genuine commitment on sustainability which will need to be tied with the values of your business and your overall business mission hence incorporating your commitment in your policies and business strategy. Finance and other resources will be needed to make things happen which calls for sustainability being taken into account in decision-making processes at every level within the organisation.

Develop new capabilities and characteristics

This includes the ability to operate on a systemwide basis and collaborating across conventional internal and external boundaries; a culture that rewards and encourages long-term thinking; capabilities in the areas of activity measurement, process redesign and financial modeling and reporting; and skills in engaging and communicating with external stakeholders.