A tipping point may have been reached in the rise of environmental awareness worldwide. The massive amounts of scientific data gathered by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has led governments to set targets for their countries to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel use.
Big business is following suit with companies around the world committing to ambitious plans about how they operate. For example, major car companies in Europe will end production of the internal combustion engine in popular models in twenty years or so. Some broad implications and opportunities for SA companies arising from the EU’s Green New Deal are unpacked here.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has given people time to reflect on priorities and values, and their connection with nature. And why, how and where they make their purchasing decisions.
Sustainability is a journey
This major shift in awareness around environmental sustainability is creating business opportunities in many sectors. For companies in South Africa interested in taking the greener route but uncertain how to go about it, here are some general pointers.
Two principles to remember are that it’s a journey not a destination and that it’s done from the inside outwards. This means firstly, a long- term commitment by leadership to follow the path to sustainability. So board and management must be behind it all along the way, and ready to provide adequate financial and staff support.
Secondly, a company should be getting its own house in order before telling the outside world that it is going green. A declaration of intent, pledge or policy, followed by a plan of action enables a company to start raising its green flag.
A three-pronged change process
Greening involves three processes: organizational, technical and communication. The organizational side involves the CEO or MD publicly stating that sustainability is a company objective, while empowering a champion and team to drive the process, with staff training at all levels.
The technical side begins with an in-depth assessment of how much energy, water and raw materials are presently being used. This focuses on finding eco- efficiencies and reducing usage over time.
Communications are essential to spread awareness and achievements to inform and motivate staff, as well as to share the news with customers and suppliers. Content can include milestones achieved along the path and product innovations which are environmentally preferable and give green ‘added value’.
It is vital however to ensure that claims about the environmental sustainability of achievements or product promises are authentic. The Advertising Regulatory Board of South Africa in its Appendix G, has a set of guidelines that outlines what is and isn’t acceptable. Any member of the public or competitor can make an objection to a dubious claim. If successful, this can cause serious damage to company and brand reputation, with resulting loss of revenue and market share.
Green business benefits
The benefits of going green include cost savings from reduced energy, water and waste. In addition, customer loyalty and brand reputation increase, as does staff motivation and productivity. Going green enables product innovations that are eco-friendly to expand existing product ranges. It also opens up new business opportunities in the fast-emerging conscious consumer market.
The sustainability wave is undoubtedly growing. Companies who will benefit most are the ‘first movers’ who gain cost savings to their bottom-line while creating competitive advantage in the marketplace.
- Hugh Tyrrell is an independent sustainability consultant and writer at www.greenedge.co.za