Sustainability that works requires voluntary steps

Don’t wait for policy deadlines to do the right thing such as reducing pollution. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The ban on single-use plastic bottles on Kenya’s beaches comes into force in June with several hotels on the Coast having eliminated plastic use a year earlier.

In a rare move, dozens of coastal hotels early last year chose to self-impose a ban on use of plastic bottles and straws within their premises. It was the most powerful ammunition yet to be deployed by the private hospitality players in the fight against pollution.

The hotels instead turned to refillable glass bottles to serve mineral water among other alternatives.

When businesses voluntarily embrace sustainable practices, it doesn’t just make their brands responsible, it also comes with less interruption to their operations and budgets.

Voluntary mechanisms give enough time to think through, plan and set aside resources unlike being coerced to beat mandatory policy orders.


The voluntary steps will be in the shape of activities like what the hoteliers are doing or can be a companywide effort such as being ISO-certified or being a UN Global Compact signatory.

The June 5 — the World Environment Day — action will see plastic bottles banned in protected areas such as national parks, forests and beaches even as their use continues elsewhere in the country.

This is a follow-up to the August 2017 ban of single-use plastic carrier bags in Kenya.

For the sustainable coastal hotels, whether the ban takes effect or not would be the least of their concerns, having toed the line ahead of time.

They had adequate time to communicate to their clients the shift in practice as well as to organise new supply chains for the eco-friendly alternatives.

Contrary to beliefs that such alternatives add an extra layer of costs, companies volunteering have over time recorded drops in costs, increased revenues and had better management of risks.

These companies discovered the missing link was their guiding hand in leading consumers towards more responsible behaviour.

Besides the planning and budgeting advantage, voluntary green behaviour tends to resonate well with customers who are more likely to view the brand as more responsible and caring.


It simply separates brands that have the interests of the people and planet from those that wait for policy changes to do the right thing.

Alongside climate change, plastic contamination has emerged as one of the most pressing long-term challenges for modern economies. Plastic waste litters dumpsites, clogs drainage channels and gets washed into rivers and the ocean, hurting marine life.

In light of multiple options and modern-day challenges, consumers are increasingly getting discerning, with their purchase decisions guided not only by prices and quality but also the reputation associated with a brand.

Therefore, to click well with the public, corporations have little option but to do the noble thing in eyes of their customers.

With a more enlightened and exposed customer, marketing spins through public relations gimmicks and greenwashing campaigns just won’t hack it today.

And besides consumers, employees nowadays want to associate with proactive brands; ones that strive to be a step ahead of the competition. Companies that innovatively embed sustainability features in their operations on their own come across as dynamic, liveable working environments, attracting and retaining top talent.


To this end, businesses are better advised not to wait for changing times and policy changes to force them into the sustainability space. They should act on their own, for the good of their businesses, and for the collective good of the society and the environment.

For if policy change doesn’t force them to toe the line, technological changes and market shifts certainly will, risking being swept into extinction.

For instance, as the world increasingly moves towards green energy use, covering electricity to transport, companies that insist on traditional fossil-fuel technologies risk being elbowed out of business. It’s perhaps why old-time oil majors like Total are making forays into renewable energy.

The global market is ever in a state of flux — if it’s not the shifting sands of changing customer tastes, then its technological disruptions or global challenges-induced shifts.

To survive, businesses should study the market ahead of time and take voluntary efforts to enable them stay at the tip of the curve amid multiple changes.