By Timi Olubiyi
IF living and business operations continue as usual in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, the available resources will be overstretched, which may pose enormous economic, environmental, and social challenges. The continent’s biggest environmental challenges are water pollution, air pollution, and deficits of all types, directly impacting the populace’s health and living. For instance, a child born in Africa today risks not receiving proper education or adequate healthcare due to a lack of adequate resources.
Not only that, around 340 million Africans have no access to safe drinking water. In addition, more than 672 million live in poverty, which is significant compared to other continents, and these numbers continue to increase yearly. According to records, about 65 per cent of Africa’s arable land cannot sustain viable food production due to damage.
Therefore, it is time to develop sustainable strategies to restore, preserve, and manage African resources and living for the benefit of humanity. Sustainability is not just a buzzword; a sustainable society is one in which development and human actions meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This applies to virtually everything, public life, education, housing, agriculture, sanitation and energy needs,including the environment and planet Earth.
There has been a rise in unsustainable actions. Chronic diseases are linked to these actions, including reduced water, poor air quality, climate change, global warming, plastic waste mismanagement and pollution.
The average daily temperature continues to increase, and even carbon emissions from power-generating sets, production companies, cars and commercial vehicles continue to exacerbate without adequate checks, posing an increase in unsustainable actions. Sustainability is now a business imperative. Environmental and social crises confront the world, and consumer demand continues to change in that light. To remain competitive and relevant, businesses must commit to sustainability, assume clear responsibility and act in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, UN SDGs, but Africa is yet to tap into this significantly. As it stands, African regions are unlikely to meet the SDGs set for 2030 because the continent has decelerated in recent years, and SDGs seem more like a mystery, despite the widespread adoption worldwide.
But not surprisingly, in Africa, many professionals and citizens are unaware of the need to adopt sustainability practices, and many do not know about the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals. Most African countries have zero or few regulations for sustainable development goals, SDGs. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the world’s extreme poverty is concentrated, their SDG ranking and scoring are extremely low. Regarding corporates and small businesses, only a fraction of organisations has sustainability strategies which is worrisome considering the negative impact on the planet and environment.
A sustainable business engages in green or environmentally friendly practices to ensure that all processes, products, and production activities adequately resolve the environmental concerns of the present while remaining profitable. For sustainable development to occur, environmental, social, and economic factors must be taken into consideration. In Africa, companies, particularly small businesses, largely prioritise short-term gains over long-term planning and innovation because they are often pressured to maximise profits and satisfy shareholder demands.
As a result, sustainability actions are disregarded, including the suppression of creativity and eco-innovative products, services, and technologies that could fuel long-term growth and success. Business practices and operations have adversely affected the immediate business environment and the planet. Recall small businesses play a crucial role in boosting the economy and creating employment, also significantly; these small businesses contribute largely to the unsustainable practices on the continent due to the less regulations that exist, yet attention has not been given to this.
High population densities, poor waste management, absence of large-scale recycling and reuse mechanisms, carbon dioxide, Co2, emissions, consumption in an unsustainable manner, complicated and unregulated transport networks, and dense commercial and industrial areas are some of the reasons unsustainability practices are on the increase in Africa. The continent accounts for a high percentage of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and the biggest contributors are South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria.
While much has been said about the damage to weather patterns, increased heatwaves, increasing temperatures, flash floods with other natural disasters, pollution, noise, soil contamination, and unsteady crop yields are some of the outcomes of unsustainability. In actual fact, the climate crisis is the greatest health crisis of our time, surpassing even the recent COVID-19. The effect of a warmer or hotter world on our health is less well understood in Africa. Yet, many remain unperturbed about the level of unsustainable practices within the continent.
The consequence of public health concerns is rising. In summary, unchecked human activities and businesses’ unsatiable need for profit and dependence on fossil fuels are Africa’s primary causes of unsustainability and climate change.
The continent’s environmental problems threaten its public health, economy, and social fabric. To combat these dangers, Africa’s leaders should assess various policy options. Sustainability-focused leadership is key in Africa, and businesses should be made to consider environmental values at the core of their strategic route. There are several methods for businesses to be sustainable. Reducing waste, preventing pollution, adopting clean energy, conserving water, utilising energy-efficient materials, adopting sustainable business travel policies, caring for employees, collaborating with local suppliers and services, recycling and reusing products are some of the most important actions to become sustainable.
Businesses need to make a huge investment in energy efficiency and waste management projects. This will reduce business costs significantly over time. The direction for the future should be for strong coordination amongst legislation, governance, companies, and academia to get involved and change the personal behaviours and mindsets of the populace. I believe education and awareness should drive increased participation and sustainability-oriented culture in Africa.
More so, businesses should consider integrating sustainable action plans into their business strategies. Government can make at least structured companies to generate sustainability performance reports that can help track, measure, and monitor the environmental impacts of the companies, demonstrating transparency and accountability, which often leads to better compliance. Good luck!
*Dr. Olubiyi, an entrepreneurship & business management expert, wrote from Babcock University, Nigeria via email: [email protected]