Learning, partnerships key to future of business

Ideas & Debate

Learning, partnerships key to future of business

green office
A green office. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

More than ever before, businesses must now take a hard look at their existing models and rethink their role as there is a distinct possibility that the next global pandemic will be related to climate risk.

Disasters related to climate are already here with us, such as the locust invasions, floods, famines, and disease outbreaks, making the role of businesses more critical in the quest for sustainable solutions and livelihoods.

Sustainable development is going to be critical in building resilience and ensuring that the environment in which we operate benefits as a result of our interaction with it. At Absa Bank Kenya, we call it being a ‘force for good.’ Sustainable development cannot be about ‘quick wins’ only and small-scale initiatives that can be easily retrofitted into business as usual.

Companies must transform their existing value chains and operations, grow existing business by embedding sustainability while scaling up new disruptive opportunities through technology and innovation.

We must relook business through the lenses of social and environmental impact as we create economic value because business, as usual, will not get us where we need to go. If anything, we must get out of our comfort zone.


Education for sustainable development is a simple yet critical aspect of accelerating the sustainable development agenda in Kenya. Education is power.

When you educate someone, you liberate and empower them. Sustainable development education was a game-changer for me towards the end of 2018 and if one empowered employee can impact an organisation and community, imagine just how much more 100 empowered employees would do.

And if just one SME can change a company for the betterment of society, consider the possibility of how much more 500 SMEs can impact our society.

I am a firm believer in education for sustainable development.

At Absa, we have committed to being a net-zero carbon company by 2040, as we drive to having more sustainable cities and communities. What better place to start than within? In partnership with the Kenya Green Building Society, Absa Bank Kenya has assessed its 90 facilities on energy, water and built material efficiency using the EDGE tool offered by the International Finance Corporation.

EDGE is a quick, easy, and affordable online application for assessing resource efficiency to scale up green building growth. It has given us an understanding of where we are and where we need to go.

We expect to realise the benefits through a reduction in the cost of operations, efficiencies in energy use which as a result reduces emissions, improving the health and wellbeing of our staff. The assessment will also help us re-think our products and services as we look to drive the green economy, including green buildings.

Climate change cannot be solved without tackling building emissions. Buildings account for 19 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN, the world population will top 9.2 billion by 2050, and 70 percent of those people are expected to be living in urban areas.

In just 10 years, global demand is expected to increase by 35 percent for food, 40 percent for water, and 50 percent for energy. As such, the focus on the implementation and creation of innovative and low-risk financial products to drive resource efficiency and the green economy will further facilitate Absa Bank’s ability to respond directly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One of the key resources consumed in all buildings is water, which requires transportation and storage of plastic bottles. To reduce our workplace carbon footprint, we signed a partnership with AquaVita Limited for the installation of an on-site point-of-use drinking water solution which is eco-friendly.

These water purification units eliminate tasks such as planning water delivery, storage, and removal of plastic bottles from our workspace.

We have also embarked on a journey to educate and train our colleagues – in partnership with Amani Institute—on principles for responsible banking. Over 100 sustainability champions, who represent all business areas across the bank, will not only learn about the concepts but also explore how the bank can positively impact society.

The champions will also drive the embedding of sustainable development principles into the fabric of the organisation’s culture by training others and through work practices, policies, and procedures.

The sustainable development agenda lends itself to the mantra ‘leaving no one behind.’ At Absa Bank Kenya, we have also partnered with the Strathmore Business School to launch a supplier’s sustainability leadership training which will help businesses re-think and re-imagine their current models in the ever-changing macro-economic environment.

Education for sustainable development helps protect the environment and addresses social challenges such as reducing inequality and poverty.

William H. McRaven once observed that “if you want to see change, start off by making your bed.” We each have a part to play as individuals, organisations, the government, civil societies, media and shareholders.

We have to be intentional to drive sustainable development starting with the simple things in life that are within our control before we make a huge impact. You and I must bring possibilities to life by making a difference in the companies we work for or run. Organisations must strive to impact the society where they operate and leave it better than it was before they interacted with it.

Similarly, governments must commit to driving policy changes that move from the old ways to a new future. Shareholders must practice patience in an environment that glorifies short-term returns over long-term value.

The fight against Covid-19 has brought more collaboration among competitors and the same lessons should apply in driving sustainable development. If we tear down the historic silos for partnerships that can drive more sustainable businesses, more progress will be achieved. Do not be left behind as we make the world a safer, healthier, better and more sustainable home for us all.

The writer is Head of Sustainability & Responsible Business Partnership at Absa Bank Kenya.

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