Addressing South Africa’s Environmental Challenges While Running a Profitable Business


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It is no longer a question of knowing if, but when.

The pressure on nations to reduce their carbon emissions as climate change tightens its grip on the planet is no longer a topic carried solely by environmental activists.

At the end of October, world leaders gathered for the critical climate negotiations at COP26, aimed at accelerating the 2015 Paris Agreement in which it was determined that global warming should preferably be limited to 1.5 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels.

US President Joe Biden has no illusions about what lies ahead unless the climate crisis can be stopped. Recently released climate adaptation reports from 23 US agencies suggest that every part of life will be affected, from housing to food.

Of course, the South African government is concerned.

As a result, it has proposed to limit its annual greenhouse gas emissions to between 350 and 420 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, although that will be easier said than done.

On the one hand, the electricity company Eskom has been identified as the largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the world.

According to a new report from the Energy and Clean Air Research Center, in 2019 Eskom produced 1,600 tonnes of pollutants, which can cause everything from asthma to heart attacks.

A Bloomberg report said that amount was greater than that of any company, “and the total electricity sector issuance of any country except India.”

This is not good news for the private sector.

With Eskom in the spotlight, local businesses will be under increasing pressure to follow suit and make significant reductions to reduce their carbon footprint.

For many industries, making cuts in line with government proposals could be a bridge too far, and could seriously affect profitability and lose shareholder confidence.

At least that’s what they might think.

Failure to comply with climate legislation poses an even greater threat to businesses, as failure to comply can cost businesses hundreds of millions of rand in penalties.

But compliance should not be viewed in a negative light.

In fact, says Muhammad Ali, Managing Director and Principal Auditor at the South African Standards Training and Implementation Specialist at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) WWISE, adherence to environmental standards can actually increase the business turnover.

Each standard in the ISO family indicates the tools needed – policies, process flows, procedures, work instructions, form reports and statistical analyzes, for example – to help the organization achieve its goals.

ISO 14001: 2015 is the standard program that helps organizations develop an environmental management system (EMS).

The objective of an EMS is the use of an environmental lifecycle approach, where each activity within the scope of the organization’s processes is managed by a process of identifying environmental aspects and impacts aligned with a risk methodology.

“The Paris Agreement can actually help when companies are trying to get shareholder buy-in in terms of environmentally friendly controls,” Ali said.

“Shareholder buy-in stems from the fact that legal liability costs will be reduced by aligning the ISO standard with legal requirements. This means that companies can avoid fines from Green Scorpions in South Africa, for example. Legal penalties for non-compliance with the national environmental management law can reach hundreds of millions of rand, which can obviously cripple or bankrupt an organization.

Some companies have already recognized the value of environmental compliance in their operations.

Unica Iron and Steel, a well-known manufacturer of light and medium structural steel based in Hammanskraal outside Pretoria, started operations in 2007 and markets in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) region. .

Its 36,000 m² plant includes a smelting plant, a water cooling system and a billet forming plant.

Unica was keenly aware of the changing landscape of environmental compliance and, as such, was determined to achieve ISO 14001 certification.

“It made a difference to our business,” says Lesego Mashaba of Unica.

“[We were struggling] with the development of process flows, procedures, forms and templates, training, skills assessments, process and system implementation, continuous monitoring and improvement. But we have now standardized and implemented systematic processes, which has reduced

incidents, improved customer satisfaction and improved legal compliance.

The implementation of Unica standardization took approximately two and a half years.

Ali says the process was focused, which has produced great results for the company.

“We spoke their languages ​​and broke the legal requirements down into simple, secular terms,” he explains.

“We started implementing policies through awareness training and providing benefits, explaining the damage that can result from not applying the standard. We included visuals with posters on what might happen, held daily discussions about staff members’ environmental responsibilities, showed videos summarizing policies, processes and procedures in different languages, and provided infographics for employees can understand the benefits of being environmentally friendly.

“We also looked at the repercussions of non-compliance and what other African countries like Rwanda are doing to move forward. We emphasized the importance of senior management setting an example for others. “

WWISE has also established an environmentally friendly waste management and recycling culture.

“We have also put in place incentives. Reporting and action on environmental observations were rewarded. In this way, we have established a proactive culture in which controls to manage waste and reduce pollution have been integrated. “

Mashaba says the process was very informative in terms of what companies needed to do to come into compliance.

“You have to do in-depth background work, define your business strategy, develop detailed process flows,

code of practice, system procedures, standard operating procedures and work instructions, employee training and retraining, ”she said.

“You need to implement controls to ensure employee buy-in and compliance. This can be done by including a health and safety, environment and quality clause in the employment contract.

The ISO 14001 standard can be implemented in small and large businesses, although the costs vary widely.

For a company with 15 to 30 employees, the implementation of a complex standard can be around 350,000 Rand, rising to around 650,000 Rand for two of these systems or standards.

“Large companies can reach R10 million or more due to legal obligations, investment costs to monitor environmental conditions, etc.” Ali concludes.

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