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Sustainability is the best way to help steer business towards a better planet

By Mark Boshoff, Nedbank Head of Transformation and Sustainability

Over the past decade ‘sustainability’ has become a global buzzword.

But the imperative behind the word is more than a tickbox exercise. Adopting environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria should become part of a company’s business ethos rather than be used as just a marketing tool.

While its impact is broader, franchising in South Africa is already embracing ESG criteria to ensure the industry becomes a better steward of the planet. South Africa’s franchise sectors such as food, fuel, retail and automotive rank among the world’s top five for economic output as a percentage of GDP.

According to the Franchise Association of South Africa, the country’s franchise industry contributes around 15% (R721 billion) to GDP, putting it on par with the likes of France, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. What’s more, on average the franchising industry contributes 2,7% to the national GDP of nations in which members of the World Franchise Council operate.

Therefore, it makes business sense for investors, shareholders, employees, consumers and society to adopt responsible consumption and business practices collectively. The key climate change principles that franchises should focus on involve identifying and quantifying the risk, as well as resilient strategies that would allow for portfolio tilt, ie moving away from sunset sectors towards new sectors emerging from the climate change movement. Transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewables would be a first step. Another step be to reduce the business’s carbon footprint by lowering transport costs.

These changes would send a clear message that the company is seriously relooking its own operations and activities in line with its sustainability commitments, to ensure perceptions change and that they are seen as a caring rather than an exploitative enterprise. This not only makes business sense, but it would also make an employer attractive to like-minded workers: Businesses would be better able to retain employees who are aligned with sustainable business practices, having hired them in line with recruitment policies aimed at identifying applicants who would ultimately foster the company ethos, and training them to practise responsible ethics in business and operations.

One of the main legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic is remote working, which forced businesses into changing the way they operate while also showing resilience to overcome unprecedented challenges. This has made the need for sustainability on all fronts clear.

Many fuel and retail franchises have shifted their focus to embracing renewable energy. Solar technology in particular has come a long way and grid-tied solar plants offer cost-effective solution to forecourts by drawing on renewable energy.

In 2015 the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, according to Euromonitor International, a London-based market research company, there are five key trends affecting the global sustainability agenda one must be wary of. They include climate action, circular economy, commodity price volatility, resource security and environmental pollution.

Keeping abreast of these trends as they evolve beyond the pandemic and understanding the link between them, and business performance will help companies identify risks and new opportunities related to sustainability.

As part of the launch of its Commercial Banking climate resilience digital campaign, Nedbank is playing a key role in supporting sustainable business practices for the future, with the emphasis on funding solutions in respect of renewable energy, clean water and sanitation, and waste management.

Delivering sustainable-development finance to the right business at the right time creates a positive change to ensure that not only businesses prosper, but also the people and planet too, and that further harm to our environment is halted and reversed. The franchising sector is primed to play a key role in this regard.

Join us in the fight, because #GreenMatters!

Mark Boshoff is Nedbank Head of Transformation and Sustainability.

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