Climate change has become an important political consideration, as highlighted at the climate change summit in Bali and the ANC Polokwane conference. Both events emphasised the role the business community has to play in protecting and enhancing the environment.
Business played a pivotal part in meeting the goals of the World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg 2002. At that summit the business community pledged that:
- Sustainability is the opportunity that we embrace;
- Responsibility is the standard by which we should expect to be judged;
- Accountability is the obligation that we assume; and
- Partnership is the pathway we pursue.
So were those mere declarations or are businesses taking serious action?
Events within the world order dictate that companies, big and small, consider environmental issues in their strategic planning and operations.
South African companies are realising that ”going green” can lead to cost saving and, more importantly, competitive advantage.
Consumers are beginning to demand that companies produce socially and environmentally responsible goods and services. It is only a matter of time before sustainability reporting, on a mandatory or voluntary basis, becomes a standard business practice. Shareholders are also asking their chief executives to specify how they are addressing both the risks and market opportunities presented by global warming.
All companies listed on the JSE are required to comply with King II corporate governance codes, as well as Global Reporting Initiative guidelines. Government has also passed legislation requiring companies to improve their environmental performance. Enforcement has been weak, but pressure is mounting on government to penalise those that do not comply.
Companies need to be proactive and unveil their environmental management plans before being asked to do so by the respective stakeholders, be it customers, regulators or shareholders.
When asked ”What is your business doing to minimise the environmental impact?”, companies need to report on the progress made rather than the challenges ahead.
Companies are at the mercy of consumers. By not buying a company’s products and services, consumers are placing a vote of no confidence in the business, which will collapse.
So, if the assumption is that more customers are concerned about green issues, have you thought about your own company’s carbon footprint or impact on the environment? Do your employees and shareholders understand the competitive advantage that lies with taking the green path? The answers to such questions will determine the future success of your company.
For the business community, sustainability is more than window dressing. It is clear that by adopting sustainable practices, companies can gain the competitive edge, increase market share and boost shareholder value.
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the chairperson of Indalo Yethu, the South African government’s environmental campaign