‘We’ve hit the tipping point’

Awareness of environmental concerns has certainly spiked in the decade since the Mail & Guardian launched its Greening the Future campaign in 2003, but has this made any difference to the state of the planet?

The awards and related sections published in the M&G rode a wave of optimism about environmental management being taken seriously in business. They came in the wake of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development hosted in Johannesburg and the publication of the second King Report on Corporate Governance in South Africa.

Both set new standards for environmental best practice in business, changing it from "nice to have" to an issue that could affect a company's bottom line. The motivation behind Greening the Future was, and still is, to debate and publicise innovative ideas that improve environmental performance without compromising social and economic good.

In order to sift out "greenwash" marketing from genuine best-practice models, independent judges with knowledge of the field have been asked to choose the Greening the Future awards winners over the years.

Reflecting on the past decade, members of the original judging panel said it was evident that "green consciousness" had permeated South African society from the boardroom to RDP homes.

This was mainly due to economic imperatives and extreme weather patterns, said Khungeka Njobe, who was director of biodiversity policy and planning at the National Botanical Institute when she was a member of the panel in 2003.

Greening the Future has helped to put environmental concerns in the mainstream and ecofriendly practices, though pressures from South Africa's rapidly industrialising economy and consumerist lifestyles mean "we are nowhere near the ideal situation in terms of looking after the planet", she said.

Now managing director of Aveng Water, Njobe said it was encouraging to notice growing recognition of environmental processes and compliance in government and corporate structures.

"Ten years ago green issues weren't in the boardroom, so this is progress. Environmental sustainability is now even part of the JSE Index."

Innovative mechanisms would be needed to push green practice to the next level, she said. "The challenge for the next 10 years is for environmental experts to make it easier to get compliance in the private sector. They need to speak a language that others can understand."

Getting to grips with complex problems such as acid mine drainage, which is an environmental legacy from mining that her company is tackling, required a pragmatic approach, Njobe said. "New generations are embracing environmental values; the professionals need to provide them with the understanding and leadership to implement them."

Paul Kapelus was director of the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship and was instrumental in establishing the JSE sustainability index when he was on the Greening judging panel in 2003.

"Greening the Future inspired companies to start the journey and gave them the language, tools and options to generate their strategies," he said.

"Awards are always a good way of getting companies to promote what they have done well, and also to do things well so they can get the awards. I think the awards need to become a world-class achievement. The bar has gone up and they must stretch companies and organisations to the next level."

Now director of Synergy Global Consulting, Kapelus said several factors had contributed to heightened environmental awareness in South Africa over the past decade. These ranged from the need to save electricity to the financial savings generated from solar geysers, and from government legislation on green buildings to the realisation that climate change is affecting food security.

"The thousands of solar geysers one sees on the roofs of RDP houses and the licensing of the first solar and wind energy projects to feed into the electricity grid are amazing advancements," he said.

"So is the growing disclosure over the past 10 years by companies of their environmental footprints and what they are doing to reduce them.

"I think we have not only reached the tipping point on green consciousness, but are actually moving beyond to be tipped over. Green is no longer a nice to have — it's absolutely essential."

Despite the inability of governments around the world to agree on a global compact to combat climate change, "there is an ongoing upswell of activity by the private sector and society", Kapelus said. "And there is still so much more that can be done to provide greater incentives to enhance the environmentally friendly options."

Heroes who are changing the face of our energy future
This year the Mail & Guardian's annual Greening the Future awards celebrate a decade of honouring environmental best practice in South Africa.

It is an occasion to look back and reflect on what has been achieved and how much progress has been made in achieving environmental sustainability, as well as a chance to look at how much still needs to be done.

For the past 10 years the Greening the Future awards have rewarded and publicised innovative efforts to create a cleaner planet without compromising progress.

In 2003 there were just four categories — for corporations, independent foundations and trusts, best environmental or sustainability report, and companies or organisations with the "most improved" environmental practices.

Over the years the categories have changed to keep pace with new trends in the field.

The categories have grown to 10, to showcase innovation in renewable energy, action to combat climate change and strategic management of natural resources.

This year, several awards have been added and new faces have joined the judging panel, which comprises of forward-thinking and experienced individuals involved in shaping environmental sustainability in South Africa.

We invite companies, parastatals, non-governmental organisations, schools, institutions and individuals to join in the celebration of the greening decade by showcasing their success stories in making the world a better place for those who live in it.

Entrants are welcome to enter more than one category. Awards will be made in the following categories:

Future leaders: This award celebrates individuals and projects breaking new ground for environmental sustainability. These are the pathfinders whose innovations will change the face of the future;

Rhino rescue: Recognising the heroes who are prepared to step in with practical, workable solutions to rhino poaching, this award honours companies, organisations, projects and individuals who are making a difference on the ground;

Community conservation: This award showcases the efforts of community groups and organisations that dedicate time and/or resources to environmental sustainability. The model should be innovative, inspirational and have the potential to be replicated;

Biodiversity stewardship: This award goes to communities, companies, organisations and/or individuals who assist government efforts to nurture biodiversity and environmental sustainability;

Business: Honouring company projects that demonstrate best practice in advancing environmental sustainability, and innovative companies whose core business strategies demonstrate corporate social re­sponsibility;

Non-profit organisations: Rewarding projects that demonstrate how an organisation has contrib­uted to the advancement of environmental sustainability. Awarded to organisa­tions that go beyond the conventional and inspire others to follow their example;

Water management: This award showcases innovative, effective measures taken to conserve water, recycle water and prevent pollution of water resources;

Energy efficiency and carbon management: For projects, organisations and companies that demonstrate best practice by reducing their carbon footprint and entrenching energy efficiency into their business practices;

Innovation in renewables: This award celebrates individuals and projects breaking new ground in renewable energy. These are the pathfinders whose innovations will change the face of our energy future; and

Schools and institutions: Honouring schools and institutions, including governmental and parastatal organisations, with projects that demonstrate best practice in advancing environmental sustainability.

To enter, go to greening.mg.co.za. Entries close on May 3

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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