Businesses can achieve both environmental and economic benefits by implementing sustainable business practices and that should be done in a just transitional process, speakers noted during electronics company Epson’s ‘Towards a Greener Future’ webinar on November 27.
Industry body, the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (Pamsa) executive director Jane Molony emphasised that companies that score well on environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects had been proven to perform up to 25% better than those that did not.
She mentioned that companies could start off with simple things, but emphasised that merely “window dressing” in terms of ESG was not enough.
Molony said the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided a good metric for companies to follow for implementing sustainability in their businesses. She also pointed out Pamsa was assisting its members to do a deep dive into their businesses and to use the SDGs to measure where and what they could change.
Epson South Africa senior sales manager Tamzin Gray said the company continued to deliver on its commitment to a sustainable long-term future by constantly addressing and improving every aspect of its global footprint.
Moreover, she noted that Epson was aligning its business activities to the SDGs.
Epson South Africa sales manager Roxanne Pierrus stated that South Africa was a risk adverse country that was scared of change, with many misconceptions about sustainability.
One of the misconceptions was that the change to more sustainable practices was costly. However, investor and operator of commercial scale renewable energy generation facilities Nesa Investment Holdings technical director Peter Frolich emphasised that businesses could benefit from going green, not only in terms of profit but also cost savings.
For example, solar power could provide cheaper electricity for businesses than coal-generated power, while also engendering lower emissions.
He noted that the only caveat was that solar power generation required a long-term contract of about 20 years. However, he emphasised that if a business was serious about sustainability, it would generally see the benefits of such contracts.
Further, Molony mentioned that businesses could save on costs in terms of the carbon tax by going green.
She also emphasised that not implementing sustainability would be costly in the long term, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.
Another major concern in South Africa was that the shift toward sustainability would lead to job losses. This is especially the case with electricity, given how labour intensive the coal industry is.
However, Frolich said renewable energy could create more jobs than fossil fuel generated energy.
Malony emphasised that it was essential that the transition was just and, therefore, must be done in a phased approach.
Engineering consultancy firm Royal HaskoningDHV energy consultant and project manager Philip König said many companies looked at the amount of work that needed to be done, given that sustainability encompassed various elements across the business, and stumbled.
He advised that companies deal with the necessary changes in smaller chunks rather than leaping into one major change.
He suggested that businesses start with an energy transition plan and consider where they were trying to get to in the future and then work backwards and plan the small steps needed to get there.
Pierrus noted that there was a need to educate the corporate world, dispel misconceptions about the move to more sustainable practices and make companies more aware of the options available to them and what the advantages would be.