Before she was appointed Director of Communications, Public Affairs & Sustainable Development for Lafarge Africa Plc in 2016, corporate sustainability icon Folashade Ambrose-Mebedem worked for PriceWaterhouseCooper’s, Diageo Plc. Ford Motors and was the Management Consultant – Groombridge advisors appointed by DFID UK as gatekeepers working with the Ministry of Finance, Nigeria.
In their Ikoyi offices, she speaks with Funmi Ajumobi on why the organization takes pride in its role as a responsible corporate citizen.
Your organisation is well known for being sustainability aware. Why is this so?
Lafarge Africa Plc, a leading Sub-Saharan Africa building solutions company is a member of the Holcim Group, a world leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions accelerating our world’s green transformation. We believe that organizations can only fully thrive and achieve their business goals if they contribute to meeting the needs of the society in which they operate.
Delivering shareholder value is incredibly important, but it is no longer about just delivery on profit, it’s also about ensuring sustainability and value-driving, and essentially how you deliver your profit as well. We have a robust sustainability strategy that focuses on four key areas: climate and energy, economy, environment, and community. Our CSR and Sustainability programme are a major part of our business.
READ ALSO: Lafarge Africa posts 30.8% growth for 2020
Our empowerment programme cut across four cardinal areas of social intervention which include education, health and safety, youth and economic empowerment, shelter and infrastructure development, and other forms of support. Across different communities, our social investment projects and initiatives directly have impacted over 250,000 beneficiaries within and beyond our host communities in 2020 alone. In the last five years, over 1m people have benefitted from our investments.
Our social investment programs are very clear and strategic. Education is very important to us, health and safety for obvious reasons, economic empowerment, shelter, and infrastructural development. So far, we have impacted up to a quarter of a million’s beneficiaries in 2020 alone.; we have spent over 3 billion naira excluding the COVID-19 pandemic beneficiaries. Over the past 3 years cumulatively, we have impacted 500 thousand beneficiaries.
The national literacy competition started six years ago. This is essential for government school pupils in primary five and six in all 36 states of the country and is endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Education. We engage the pupils and design a curriculum for them in partnership with the Ovie Brume Foundation (OBF), established and led by the Chairman, Mrs. Evelyn Oputu and the Executive Managing Director, Ofowe Aig-Imoukhuede. We work with the pupils year in year out. So, we have the spelling Bee, essay writing, comprehension, and regional competitions. So far, we have impacted 700,000 pupils across the country.
Working with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), we also partnered with other multinationals which are basically SDG (Partnership for the goals) and we have worked with the likes of Sterling Bank, the British council, OANDO foundation because, at the end of the day, it is a collective issue we want to tackle together.
We are also a member of the United Nations Global Compact, we sit on the board. We are a member of the Private Sector Emerging Group which is a coalition of multinationals working together established at the behest of the President and led by the office of the Special Adviser to the President on SDGs, Princess Orelope Adefulire. Again, we think about what SDGs stand for, which is about,’ Leaving no one Behind’. There is so much to do in Nigeria, equality, poverty, quality of education, climate action, etc are some of the things we are tackling.
We are reinventing how we work to make it greener and smarter for all. We currently manufacture products that reduce Co2 emissions. At the group level, we have Ecopact, considering 3D printing for affordable homes whereby we build homes at a lower cost. We have Geoycle, our waste management business, where we focus on the co-processing of waste to energy.
Cement as a substance is said to be highly toxic to the environment. How does your organization work to preserve the environment?
We are very committed, responsible corporate citizens. Year on year, we always work to reduce our CO2 emissions and we are indeed proud of our efforts. Our ambition is to reduce our dependence on natural resources and fossil fuels by transforming waste into resources for all our production processes.
We continuously drive the reduction of our specific CO2 emission to achieve our group target of 550 kg CO2/t cementitious material by the year 2030. we reduce the impact of carbon emission on the environment by taking the following actions;
The use of alternative energy sources like low carbon fuel (biomass) in our clinker production process. We have been able to achieve a substitution rate of up to 17.3% total substitution rate in Ewekoro kilns, and a global substitution rate of 20.7 %, where we utilized alternative fuels in place of fossil fuels.
Reduction of cement to clinker ratio (clinker factor) within the acceptable quality limit to reduce CO2 emissions,
Implementation of energy efficiency best practices and initiatives to reduce power and fuel consumption, and hence overall CO2 emissions.
This is where our Geocycle operations come in. Geocycle is our global waste management brand with operations in more than 50 countries. We manage waste through co-processing and our technology enables the recovery of energy and recycling of materials. It contributes to the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the conservation of natural resources.
We recently committed a total of 5.3mCHF/ $8M to change the current ESP to a baghouse in our Ewekoro plant. To achieve this, we made significant adjustments including shutting down our kilns for at least 6 months in order to make this improvement.
In caring for our environment, on our quarry rehabilitation efforts, we have an approved rehabilitation plan in place, which is tailored to the restoration of mined lands to near original state with the aim of preserving/restoring biodiversity and ensuring a sustainable post quarrying land use for all stakeholders.
In 2020, we held the Sustainability Series, a four-week-long strategic engagement that brought thought leaders such as Sanda Ojiambo, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) CEO, Mr. Marco Van Der Ree of the Global Reporting Initiative, Mr. Andrew Venter of the University of Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership, His Highness Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Mrs. Bola Adesola of the UN Global Compact to mention a few.
The objective of the discourse was to chart a course for organizations to adopt in a post-pandemic era. Through the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, we are inspiring new ways of construction in a manner that meets global infrastructure demands, yet does not compromise on enabling the world to build better and safer.
Lafarge Africa is a member of the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG). The group strives to share ideas across industry sectors and regions to ultimately create a connective platform for more impactful and local-driven solutions to achieve the SDGs. I sit on the Boards of PSAG and UNGC representing Lafarge Africa.
In business, sustainability is in the 3 Ps; People, Planet, and Prosperity. We are proud that sustainability is at the heart of what we do. The entire Holcim Group has been repositioned to reflect this.
What about the health of staff?
We are committed to the health and safety of all our employees and contractors. We have robust protocols in place at all our sites and locations.
Businesses, especially multinationals are taking CSR more seriously unlike before. What do you advise local businesses in that regard?
I mentioned earlier that shareholders are being more demanding these days. Analysts are now very conscious and aware of what businesses are doing and also asking questions regarding not just what you achieve by way of profits but how you showcase your commitment to corporate citizenship. They are now more concerned about delivering shareholder value. That has now become a global phenomenon.
CSR may not be the panacea to the world’s problems but it is a great channel to contribute your quota to ensure the world you operate in is safe and conducive for everyone. As I pointed out before, it goes way beyond ticking moral and ethical boxes; it is a necessity that requires all hands on deck.
To be specific, we frame our strategy around the Sustainable Development Goals because it delivers value, and recognizes the host communities in which we operate. We ensure we set up Community Relations Committees where community members nominate their leads. We also work with the state government to nominate their representatives. Health and safety are also represented in that committee and we work year in year out with the committee to identify projects and their needs which frame around education, infrastructure, housing, health, and safety, etc. We equally ensure that sustainable projects are delivered, quality assured with rigorous accountability and transparency.
As you can see, organizations must look inward and develop a strategy towards meeting this need and define the areas in which they would like to play in alignment with their core values. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a good framework for local businesses to identify areas where they want to actively play. Doing this will directly contribute to the attainment of the SDG tagline ‘leave no one behind on a global scale. Quite frankly, I am optimistic that through collaboration and partnership as outlined in SDG Goal 17, local and multinational organizations can implement initiatives that address fundamental issues in their local environment. This is a decade of action, we must ramp up our collective efforts in order to see visible results.
Stakeholder complaints & human rights issues have a strong impact on our ESG ratings, even if you are within regulatory limits. This means that an organization’s thrust should be towards ESG – Environmental, Social, and Governance as failure in these areas can affect an organization’s rating score by local and global organizations. You can see that the court of public opinion has considerable weight on ESG ranking whether allegations are founded or not.
In summary, I will say an organization should have a three-pronged approach which is best practice, and not just focus on social investments alone.
It’s been almost five years you have been on this seat, what have you learned?
An awful lot, I am pleased to say. My ability to lead and influence tops the ranks – why? Because this is the key to getting things done consistently. How have I mastered this well with my team, for instance, I consciously ensured everyone is empowered, inspired, and highly self-aware of themselves. Then I ensure the team is cohesive with a clear clarity of purpose i.e. our Mission statement is to proactively engage and innovatively influence all stakeholders to build trust, sustainable relationships and enhance business impact.
In your role, what do you do daily?
I deliver on our business Mission – Greener, Smarter for all and also on our team function Mission statement – which is to proactively engage and innovatively influence all stakeholders to build trust and sustainable relationships and enhance business impact. I coach and mentor others too.
When I took over the role, the first thing I did was to benchmark, look at the gaps and understand the terrain, and what we realized was that we needed to become a catalyst, and to be a catalyst, you need to be proactive. So, for us, it is about proactively engaging and innovatively influencing all our stakeholders internally and externally to build trust and credibility. So, I am building trust and sustainable relationships and it’s all about enhancing business impact as well. I also coach and mentor others too.
An inordinate percentage of top female executives seems to occupy communication jobs. Why is it so? Are women more competent in this area?
I think we need to move away from categorizing our agenda. I think it’s about leadership. So, what we can ask is why are there so many leaders that tend to be women in this field.
Maybe women tend to have more empathy. Many women leaders that I have encountered can communicate very well just as it applies to the way we communicate with our children through body language. I wear three hats. It’s not just about communications, I also manage public affairs and sustainability.
Looking at some of the percentages, in 2014, women made up 63% of PR specialists according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, and 59% of PR managers as well. If you also include the advertising world, people shaping media, 60% are females compared to 47% of the overall workforce according to the data compiled by the Atlantic Institute for Women Policy Research, and data from the 2019 report shows that women make up 70% of the PR workforce.
So clearly, women are persuasive and we get things done. I admire Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who passed away many years ago and people still talk about her as if she is here. That was a leader who has become a metaphor for a tough person. She said, ‘if you want to say something, ask the men; if you want to get things done, ask the woman’.
We are very deliberate and consistent. We also won the top HR awards in leadership and crisis strategy. We were not just celebrated internally, the group CEO also mentioned that he was proud of how Nigeria managed the COVID-19 crisis.
You are involved in many non-profit activities; which one is closest to your chest?
I am indeed and thoroughly enjoy being active too. I founded WiiN – focuses on enabling women to discover their best selves and achieve an indelible leadership impact. We hold webinars, post relevant empowering content, we partner the most recent being with Lean In – Challenging bias in the workplace. I am also a member of Wimbiz and support other charities too such as WARIF and have been invited to speak by many other NGOs too such as Exquisite magazine the founder of ELOY awards for international women’s day.
As a busy executive, what do you have in your bag?
My hand sanitizer, my face mask and my little notebook, my phone, and my headphones. I don’t use makeup anymore because of COVID-19. I also have my snacks and my water.