Why invest in social and environmental sustainability?
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for companies, regardless of the sector in which they operate. Their stakeholders expect it of them but, beyond that, it enhances their competitiveness and allows them to create long-term value in society.
Corporate sustainability – which springs from the concept of sustainable development – is no longer a niche activity for a handful of companies concerned about sweatshops and child labour. It embraces every aspect of what a business does, from strategy and supply chains to customer relations and giving back to society. It means tracking environmental and social movements and adapting business practices to improve outcomes for both the planet and the people who live on it.
Key sustainable development drivers and activities that companies can get involved with include mitigating climate change and global warming through initiatives like pursuing net zero carbon goals, protecting biodiversity, investing in renewables, implementing cleaner production processes, closing the gender wage gap, ensuring workplace diversity, changing corporate culture, governing fairly, and leading through innovation.
South African companies already invest in environmental initiatives. However, support for environmental activities should be part of a larger integrated sustainable development response. Social benefits like poverty reduction, the protection of livelihoods, and ensuring food security should be part of the overall picture. The examples below consider the environmental impacts on society and how these can be mitigated.
How to invest in social and environmental sustainability: Models of intervention
Applying frameworks for environmental sustainability
Different institutions have developed sustainability frameworks to help governments and organisations work towards the creation of a more sustainable future. This model of intervention can help to improve business practices by showing companies how to apply frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Global Compact (UNGC) or the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in a structured and informed manner. These frameworks make it easier for companies to measure and monitor their operations, as well as mitigate their impact on people and planet.
Examples of this model:
- Climate Disclosure Project implementation: The National Business Initiative (NBI) is the local partner to the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP), which brings climate change into mainstream business thinking. The CDP is the global standard for measuring and reporting on climate change information. The CDP requests information on climate change risks, opportunities and integration from the top 100 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The NBI has produced a series of reports and infographics highlighting key findings from CDP South Africa.
- Ninety One in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund launches Climate and Nature Sovereign Index: The Climate and Nature Sovereign Risk Index will harness the potential of the $50 trillion sovereign debt market to support countries in their sustainable transition.
- FTSE/JSE Responsible Investment Index Series: The Johannesburg Stock Exchange launched its Responsible Investment Index in 2004, and in 2015 it partnered with the FTSE Russell to help promote corporate sustainability practices. It has launched the FTSE/JSE Responsible Investment Index and FTSE/JSE Responsible Investment Top 30 Index with the aim of highlighting companies that demonstrate best practice in sustainability.
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Implementation: The National Business Initiative (NBI) has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a strategic framework to guide work towards a sustainable and inclusive socio-economic transition for South Africa. It has developed a methodology that guides companies on how to prioritise and align their core business strategies to the SDGs to amplify their positive impact while reducing negative impact on the environment and society.
- The SIZA Environmental Pillar of Sustainability: SIZA, WWF-SA and Blue North Sustainability has developed an Environment Standard and tools to support improvement in environmental indicator measures and management in agriculture. The SIZA Environmental Assurance model assists growers in evaluating their current compliance and environmental risks. One of the eight principles is to prevent contamination to soil and water bodies, which will safeguard human health.
Job creation through environmental projects
This model helps to unlock green jobs and create sustainable livelihoods for communities through various projects in the environmental sector. The green economy is expected to be a significant employer in future, with direct green jobs emerging from natural resource management, green energy generation, energy and resource efficiency, and emissions and pollution mitigation. The IDC’s Green Jobs report has estimated that the South African economy has the potential to create more than 460 000 new direct jobs by 2025.
Examples of job creation through environmental projects:
- World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF SA) and the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) have teamed up to work with Cape Town-based waste reclaimers to help them self-organise.
- Rand Water’s War on Leaks programme drives job creation for youth within the water and sanitation sector, with the aim of reducing non-revenue water. Trainees receive stipends and acquire valuable skills.
- Installation, Repair and Maintenance Initiative: Green Skills TVET College Intervention
- The National Business Initiative (NBI) and the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI) have partnered to initiate the Installation, Repair and Maintenance (IRM) programme, which will develop sustainable and scalable pathways through TVET into employment, with specific emphasis on pathways into the Green Economy.
- Fresh – the Fountain River Environmental Sanctuary Hennops – cleans up pollution in the Hennops River: River clean-up campaigns help to create livelihoods from waste collection – but more financial aid is needed to purify the water and rehabilitate the ecosystem.
- AECI’s Wise Wayz Water Care project in the Mbokodweni catchment in eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal addresses broader community employability by developing green skills and ensuring sustainable livelihoods in historically disadvantaged communities. The project, funded through the AECI Community Education and Development Trust, trains beneficiaries in a range of environmental subjects, from basic vegetable production to water safety, and has developed two commercial agri-businesses, in poultry and vegetable farming, to support food security and increase sustainable job opportunities.
- Coca-Cola Foundations RAIN to replenish 15bn litres of water in South Africa: The Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) is funding five projects in South Africa to help restore priority water catchments areas by removing invasive alien plants while creating employment opportunities for women, youth and families. Its aim is to help Africa achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals on clean water and sanitation access.
Education and skills for environmental issues
This model looks at how the private sector can play a role in advancing sustainability education, particularly in partnership with stakeholders like government and communities. Companies should also consider promoting investment in ‘green’ skills, which will drive future job creation – and ‘green’ industries will require human capital.
Examples of this model:
- Environmental sector skills plan: The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has issued a skills plan on trends influencing skills development within the sector, including scarce and critical skills. Focal areas include climate change, mainstreaming of the environment into development, the green economy, and new science and technology directions in South Africa.
- AECI Eco-Schools Water Education Project: AECI has partnered with WESSA on its Eco-Schools Water Education Project since 2017. These projects highlight key environmental themes like water and energy, climate change, waste, health and wellbeing, and taking care of school grounds. This booklet contains information about the Modderfontein project.
- Skills Development for a Green Economy (SD4GE): This programme focuses on supporting a dual system pilot project to help the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to develop artisans that are prepared for the new green economy.
- Nestle three-pillar sustainability initiative: Nestle has called for collaborative efforts in driving the circular economy. It aims to educate the public in how to better serve the environment, with emphasis on water conservation, recycling and sustaining environmentally responsible practices.
- The National Business Initiative (NBI) in partnership with Nedbank and the Carbon Trust launched the Energy Efficiency Guide: This guide helps business to reduce their energy bills and increase their competitiveness through energy efficiency and renewable-energy opportunities.
- Vodacom and WWF South African work to save our oceans: This initiative focuses on using digital innovation (SDG 9) to address sustainable patterns of consumption and production (SDG 12) to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for the benefit of future generations (SDG14).
- A solar photovoltaic green skills, enterprise development and sustainability research programme implemented by Future Africa (University of Pretoria) and Nepoworx, a skills development training provider.
- The C.A.P.E. Conservation Education Programme has produced a Teacher Education Workbook for Environment and Sustainability Education, with the support of the UNDP, Wessa, SANBI and Rhodes University.
Advocating for environmental sustainability
This model promotes efforts to raise awareness about environmental sustainability. It allows companies to showcase their own work and/or partner with other stakeholders to bring about change within their areas of expertise, or reward innovative sustainability initiatives.
- The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and UNDP Accelerator Labs South Africa are partnering to launch a programme for entrepreneurs who would like to scale their food waste solutions. The challenge is supported by WWF South Africa and the V&A Waterfront, both of whom will provide successful entrepreneurs with real-life applications for their solutions.
- Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards: These awards have seen African companies recognised for their long-term efforts towards sustainability. They are an extension of Nedbank Capital’s Green Mining Awards. The awards recognise the link between business longevity and social and economic relevance.
- ‘The nexus between social and environmental sustainability‘ : a discussion and insights from the Trialogue Business in Society Conference
- Research and policy to inform your investment in social and environmental sustainability