South Africa’s National Development Plan: Vision 2030 highlights the importance of accelerating the development of the green economy in the face of climate change, global warming, enormous biodiversity loss, and increasing pressure on natural resources.
This future-focused theme was discussed at the Trialogue Business in Society Conference, 2023 in partnership with Nedbank, whose CSI strategy is based on four pillars of the green economy: agriculture, energy, water and waste.
The keynote speaker, Dr Morne du Plessis, has headed WWF South Africa since 2007 and serves globally and continentally on WWF network committees and working groups. The panel discussion ‘Driving impact in the green economy’ included Maluta Netshaulu from Nedbank, Gaylor Montmasson-Clair from Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), Dr Mao Amis, founder and executive director of the African Centre for Green Economy, and Hleziphi Siyothula-Mtshizana, founder of KP Cares. Read insights from the talks and watch the videos below.
Finding opportunity amidst crisis in the green economy: Dr Morne Du Plessis
As climate change and environmental issues rise to the top of the list of economic risks facing us in the next decade, the pressure is on business to integrate its response to the crisis. It is the opportunities presented by the green economy that could shape this response, according to World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) CEO Dr Morné du Plessis.
The climate and nature crisis
“We cannot continue with business as usual,” he told delegates attending the first day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference. Extreme weather events triggered by climate change are evidence of the ‘carbon loan’ we have borrowed from the planet but are unable to repay, while rapid and widespread biodiversity decline are warning signs that the ecosystem services upon which industries, economies and society depend are failing.
The value of these ecosystem services, whether provisioning, supporting, regulating or cultural, has been calculated as twice the size of global gross domestic product (GDP), or $150 trillion annually.
It is possible that human resourcefulness could circumnavigate some of these degrading systems, though this would come at a high financial cost. The social burden would come at an even higher price for the world’s poor who derive 50-90% of their GDP from ecosystem services.
The opportunities the green economy presents
Yet business opportunities exist amidst the climate and nature crisis, and it is at this intersection that the green economy holds opportunity. Du Plessis highlighted the importance of understanding the green economy, not as a mere part of the economy, but rather as all of it, where the green economy is a subset of human societies, embedded within the earth’s life support systems.
The green economy can be defined as a “system of economic activities that result in improved human well-being over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks or ecological scarcities.” In the South African context, the green economy supports two inter-linked developmental outcomes: growing economic activity in the green industry sector, and shifting the broader economy towards cleaner industries and sectors.
Du Plessis identified nine key areas of opportunity in the green economy:
- Green buildings and the built environment, including incorporating green technologies and sustainability in private and public buildings.
- Sustainable transport and infrastructure, including the development of electric vehicles and sustainable aviation fuel, as well as green public transport systems.
- Clean energy and energy efficiency, including upscaling solar water geyser roll-out, creating off-grid power solutions from renewable sources and creating energy access for rural communities.
- Resource conservation and management, focusing on creating more resilient ecological infrastructure, for example, clearing alien invasive species in water catchment areas.
- Sustainable waste management practices, such as waste beneficiation.
- Agriculture, food production and forestry, including regenerative agriculture and the reduction of food waste.
- Water management, including water harvesting, municipal water metering and reducing water losses in agriculture, mining and in municipal reticulation systems.
- Sustainable consumption and production.
- Environmental sustainability, such as greening of large events.
At the heart of du Plessis’ presentation was the need for a shifting paradigm, in which economic activities are only sustainable if they have the long-term interests of society at heart. Economic growth ought to be decoupled from natural resource use, and negative externalities to both people and nature considered in any business venture.
Driving greater impact in the green economy: Plenary discussion
The green economy has the potential to drive economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable. How to do this was the topic of a panel discussion that took place at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference. Recognising the urgent need to transition towards a more sustainable and environmentally conscious economy, the discussion shed light on the green economy’s potential to drive positive change.
Panellists included Maluta Netshaulu from Nedbank, Gaylor Montmasson-Clair from Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), Dr Mao Amis, founder and executive director of the African Centre for Green Economy, and Hleziphi Siyothula-Mtshizana, founder of KP Cares.
Dr Amis introduced the African Centre for Green Economy, which was founded in 2012 to support entrepreneurs across South Africa and the African continent, serving as both a think tank and a “do tank”. By connecting South African entrepreneurs with opportunities across the continent, the centre recognises the potential for Africa to lead the way in sustainable development.
Montmasson-Clair highlighted the need for a comprehensive and systemic transformation of the economy.
Montmasson-Clair also noted the contradiction between policies supporting the green economy and the continued allocation of substantial subsidies to fossil fuels. To accelerate the transition, policy instruments must be fully utilised and scaled up, channelling funds and resources into the green economy.
Nedbank’s role in fostering entrepreneurship in the green economy
Netshaulu explained that as a bank committed to responsible business practices, Nedbank recognises its role in driving change through lending, investments, and innovative solutions. The bank focuses on supporting existing companies in transitioning to the green economy, ensuring their resilience and efficiency.
By understanding the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and society, Nedbank develops tailored solutions to bridge gaps, such as providing access to clean drinking water and supporting the township economy.
“We are helping our clients to transition into the green economy, tailoring and developing innovative solutions, because it doesn’t help to create new enterprises if existing ones are failing,” explained Netshaulu. “When it comes to entrepreneurship and CSI, we see ourselves as a centre of excellence and innovation. So we are doing a lot of work and investing time in understanding the issues and how we can solve them,” he continued. Through these initiatives, Nedbank contributes to job creation, social upliftment, and sustainable economic growth.
KP Cares: Bridging the skills gap
KP Cares is a non-profit partner of the Netbank Foundation. Recognising the increasing demand for renewable energy and the associated shortage of skilled workers, KP Cares focuses on training local people. By equipping grassroots communities with the necessary skills, the organisation aims to enhance their employability and reduce unemployment. “
Policy, innovation and collaboration are key
The panel discussion shed light on the crucial role of African organisations in driving the green economy. While challenges remain, such as the need for comprehensive policy frameworks and the skills gap, the opportunities for entrepreneurship, job creation, and economic growth are significant.
By leveraging resources, fostering collaboration, and aligning policies and actions, organisations and leaders can play a pivotal role in realising a greener, more prosperous future for all.
The key insights identified by the panellists were:
- Policy is key to enabling the transition to a green economy, and there is a need for comprehensive and systemic changes rather than piecemeal approaches to policy development
- The allocation of resources for renewable energy and other green industries needs to be scaled significantly for a more impactful transition
- There is a significant opportunity for Africa to lead in the green economy due to its abundant resources and the potential for local value chains
- Existing businesses can play a crucial role in transitioning to the green economy by implementing innovative solutions, and contributing to job creation and societal issues
- Collaboration between the private sector and civil society can help bridge some of the skills gaps and support the development of local expertise in renewable energy and other sectors of the green economy
- Local communities, especially those in grassroots areas, should be targeted for training and employment opportunities to alleviate poverty and unemployment while ensuring skills transfer