Keeping an eye on the climate

Winner — Carbon and energy management: National Business Initiative

This year’s winner in Greening the Future’s carbon and energy management category is the National Business Initiative (NBI) for its scope, reach and effect on environmental issues and climate change.

An independent, voluntary business coalition of 140 members, the NBI has been working towards sustainable growth and development in South Africa since its inception in 1995.

The organisation’s work includes capacity-building, local economic development and municipal governance. In 2004 it added an environmental focus to its agenda with the Sustainable Futures Unit.

Valerie Geen, the director of the unit, is passionate about the NBI’s mission to ‘inspire and mobilise business leadership towards a sustainable future”. ‘The NBI recognises that, as a developing nation, we must pursue our economic growth path but we also have to be aware that we live in a global society — Wherever possible, we must take into account long-term sustainability issues and strive to be environmentally conscious,” Geen said.

The NBI has identified climate change and energy efficiency as two key areas in which this can be achieved. It advocates for responsible business leadership through various initiatives.

The judges singled out both NBI’s voluntary energy efficiency accord and its carbon disclosure unit as good programmes. The energy efficiency accord is a voluntary agreement between business and the department of energy aimed at reducing energy consumption.

More than 50 leading South African companies are signatories to the accord, which was initiated in 2005 and aims to increase energy savings by about 15% by 2015.

Eighteen of the signatories have made a R9-billion investment in energy efficiency and accumulated a significant saving of 24 000 GWh of electricity.

As an acknowledgement to business, and to offer examples of best practice, the NBI participates in the annual eta awards, held by Eskom and the department of energy, by awarding accord signatories that have made significant progress in energy efficiency.

Last year’s winners included Woolworths in the commercial category, Afrisam in the industrial category and Xstrata-Merafe in the mining category.

The NBI is also the lead partner in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The London-based not-for-profit organisation seeks to gather data on greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s largest companies on behalf of investors with a combined $55-trillion of assets under management.

The CDP’s objective is to obtain, process and make responses from corporations publicly available so that analysts, policymakers, accountants and marketers have the information at hand to make decisions within their disciplines based on companies’ disclosures of their emissions.

In South Africa, the 2008 CDP report examined the top 100 companies on the JSE. The NBI received an above average 59% response rate, as well as an improved quality of responses compared with the previous year.

The survey found that more than 80% of responding companies consider climate change a risk, with more than 90% of them seeing opportunities in climate change. There was 100% disclosure from insurance and industrial sectors, 83% from banks and 75% from mining and metals.
The 2009 report is due to be released soon.

Geen identified the media, tourism and property sectors as the only industries not disclosing their carbon footprints. ‘We’ve made a lot of progress since we initiated the CDP in 2007, but there is still a lot of work to be done. While we are seeing a growing awareness and commitment from business on climate change, there’s still a long way to go to achieve an overarching commitment from South African business,” she said.

She highlighted the need for financial resources, better data management and increased staff skills to improve business commitment to the environment.

As many South African companies do business with their international counterparts, Geen said there was a need for local business to take voluntary steps towards energy efficiency and reducing emissions.

‘International companies may be wary of trading with South African companies that are environmentally unaware — We need voluntary action from [local] business so we do not find ourselves susceptible to trade barriers.”

The NBI’s work on climate change also emphasises that the effects of climate change are not limited to the environment. ‘There’s a bit of green in every person’s job. From the risk manager and the engineer to the accountant, they all must think about what climate change means for their sector and plan accordingly,” Geen said.

The organisation has a history of engagement with government on climate change policy and legislation. With the government preparing for the final round of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December, Geen said there was a need for a coordinated position from business.

‘We do not yet have a united voice from business to inform the country’s position on climate change. We also still have to translate this into action,” she said.

She added that more effort must be directed to raising consumer awareness about climate change. ‘We need better communication on climate change across all sectors and within our communities in a language that everyone, including the rural dweller, can understand.”

Judges commended the NBI for its successful work in the areas of climate change and the environment, saying: ‘You do need a body like this to come up with innovative programmes to help corporates. ‘The scope and reach of the NBI’s initiatives are fairly phenomenal.”

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