Sustainability is more than a box to tick, it is the foundation of a more positive and economically inclusive future for South Africa, says Jonas Bogoshi, Chief Executive Officer at BCX.
Sustainability has become the foundation for business growth and economic prosperity. The World Bank believes that organisations focusing on sustainability through measurable objectives and aligned environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals can change the wealth of a nation. Investopedia believes it is a route organisation can take to improve their own long-term viability while improving their investment profile and making a measurable contribution to society. And the Green Business Bureau, along with McKinsey, believe that achieving the objectives of a sustainable business is challenging, but has the potential to deliver long-term value and open up new opportunities.
McKinsey adds that the challenges are ‘urgent’ and that it is down to the organisation to find its shape within the sustainability landscape. It is time to move beyond sustainability as a tool for massaging reputations and engaging with investors and to instead invest in technologies and approaches that fully realise how sustainability can make fundamental changes across society and economies.
There are gaps, but these are not insurmountable. And if businesses can align their capabilities with the potential within communities, then sustainability can become the norm for doing business. However, this does ask that there is a shift towards more sustainable methodologies, technologies, and approaches to ensure that there really is change. And this begs another question – what does sustainable business actually mean for South African companies on a day-to-day, on-the-ground basis?
Companies need to build robust sustainability infrastructure that allows them to reduce costs while remaining contributors to economic growth and inclusivity. This cost conversation carries into investment into technology – how can companies remain ahead of the innovation curve with new technologies that allow them to remain competitive and sustainable without a high price tag? It’s a fine balance between the expectations of sustainability and technology and the reality of a fractured economy and budget tightening.
Companies need the benefits of new technology developments and intelligent ways of reshaping their legacy infrastructure, so it is more sustainable, but there is no such thing as an unlimited budget or cheap solution. This makes it possible for the enterprise to tackle sustainability head-on but can potentially inhibit high-growth startups that face the same sustainability and ESG pressures but with less equity. This is an important challenge to overcome, for both the government and the business, as a thriving startup sector is critical to the recovery of the local economy. Sustainability has to be a conversation that is as inclusive of the small business as it is of the global enterprise.
That said, sustainability doesn’t have to be an intensely complicated issue. It can be simplified and distilled down to core tenets that are achievable for organisations across South Africa, and it can potentially become the light that leads a country, currently struggling with a poor global reputation, into a more ethical space. Instead of corruption, dirty tricks and poor corporate behaviours, South Africans can instead tap into their resilience and ingenuity to set a global standard in sustainability excellence. South Africans can unlock the potential of this country and inspire the world by becoming corporate citizens of trust and creating sustainability best practice standards that redefine how the business tackles ESG and ethics, from within and without.
While there are challenges that lie ahead, South Africa doesn’t have to be defined by corruption and underhanded behaviours. If businesses step forward, they can overshadow the negativity with a commitment to inclusion, shared growth, and economic prosperity under the umbrella of truly transformative sustainability.