Private sector’s sustainability drive laudable

Around 2005, I was involved in training judicial officers on environmental law and the role of the Judiciary in promoting sustainable development in Kenya. During that time, there was a consensus that the private sector was a great culprit in environmental degradation. They prioritised profit over the environment.

Despite the above as part of the training, we got an executive from the private sector with a legal background and interest in the environment to facilitate a training on the role of banks and other lenders in promoting environmental sustainability.

I remember the robust debate on whether banks should worry about how those they lend money to use it and even if they do whether you can hold them accountable for environmental degradation from such activities.

Seventeen years on, it was gratifying to see a bank, the Standard Chartered Bank Kenya unveil the 2021 Sustainability Impact Report 2021. This is the first time that the bank has launched such a report. In it, it documents the link between their work and sustainable development.

The report is a milestone not just because it is detailed in its exposition and clear in its link to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but more for its appreciation and commitment to sustainability. It answers the issue we were grappling with in the 2005 training for judges.

It is not just StanChart Bank. I remember too seeing the 2021 sustainable business report by Safaricom, the action that demonstrated the telco to environmental sustainability.

To read both this report and the one of StanChart and see they not only identify the SDGs that link to their work and that they contribute to but also have conversations captured linking to the most recent global discussions on climate change, which is the focus on Net-Zero.

The work of ensuring that the greenhouse gas contributors to the environment are balanced by the actions that remove them. It is a debate that in the past private companies would only be viewed from the negative side of the equation. However, the two reports demonstrate proactive action.

It is a recognition that the pursuit of profit and returns to shareholders is intrinsically linked to the economic development and operations of the company as part of delivering on its mandate. It is also an important step in aligning to the international discussions, including the UN Global Compact and the emergence of Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.

The ESG reporting requirement and the recent discussions of including ESG indicators as part of the international audit standards are an effort to ensure that sustainable development imperatives truly became as integral as they were envisaged. The balancing of social, economic and environmental imperatives is the foundation of sustainability.

The fact that Article 10 of the Constitution captures sustainable development as one of the principles of governance and values of society makes it a requirement for all sectors. It is not a preserve for environmental agencies and activists only.

The publication of the sustainability reports by both Standard Chartered Bank and Safaricom is a signal of the realisation that the private sector is an important catalyst in pushing for sustainability.

Moving forward, many more companies must follow suit and prepare their annual sustainability reports. Beyond the reports, engagement on strategies to ensure that Kenya meets the international SDGs and targets and how all stakeholders can both contribute to that process and collaborate with others.

The world is currently facing a triple crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution.

Addressing these challenges calls for innovative solutions and renewed efforts recognising that no single country, institution or stakeholder can go it alone.

It also calls for moving away from the era of blame game or viewing the quest for environmental sustainability as one that results in interference with the bottom line to one that sees that the cost of ignoring or polluting the environment is greater than the investment required to ensure sustainability.

The two reports have led the way in shaping the future relationship between business and the environment in Kenya. It is time others followed suit.

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