Small businesses also have a role in Earth Day

14th April 2021

Next week on Thursday 22 April humanity will celebrate World Earth Day. Apparently last year more than 100 million people took action in 192 countries to honour Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. Some call it the largest online mass mobilization in history.

The Earth Day web page claims that “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world,” aimed “to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.” Many of us would regard environmental impact as the greatest existential threat to our species – more threatening than Covid-19.

What can small businesses do? Internally one can introduce environmentally friendly practices in your business. Invite volunteers to be a “Green team” to champion the cause. They can advise about reducing, reusing, and recycling materials; switching to green input products where possible (e.g. cleaning materials that do not damage nature downstream of the drains); switching to renewable sources of energy; and educating the rest of the staff about why and how to be green at home. Then they can look at travel policies and ask questions of your suppliers.

In addition to legislation, there are several voluntary standards that firms might choose to certify their active commitment to the environment. These include the ISO 14001 standard, which 363,000 companies and organizations worldwide have already met. But small companies find these standards costly and requiring too much paperwork and may prefer to look at the standards and then set their own targets.

More significantly, entrepreneurs might look at their products and services to find a solution to a specific challenge, or even open a new venture. Green thinking need not just be a constraint on traditional business, but also a huge business opportunity. Across Africa, entrepreneurs are creating profitable businesses that make the earth healthier too.

Energy provides one such opportunity. We have worked with a number of start-ups that provide solar electricity. Several offer small domestic installations for rural households not reached by the national grids. For a monthly fee paid through mobile money channels like M-Pesa householders can immediately begin saving relative to what they would have spent on dirty paraffin – and pay off their installation in a year. The company PowerGen installs microgrids to serve whole villages in eight African countries so far.

Agriculture is the major employer in Africa and our hope for future sustainability, but also a source of pollution. Lentera in Kenya, among others, provides ecologically friendly fertilizers and then uses satellite technology to advise their farmer customers on the moisture content and health of their fields so that they can apply just the right amount of fertilizer and water for optimal growth.

I have seen several interesting business plans for providing clean drinking water, an area that is ripe for disruption, given the failures of many local authorities.

The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and the Lemelson Foundation have just published a report titled Climate Entrepreneurship in Developing Economies: Supporting Entrepreneurs Tackling Climate Change. They point out that there are two main strategies: mitigating the drivers of climate change, with the aim of preventing further damage; and adapting to the effects of climate change. Reducing or capturing methane produced in agriculture would be an example of mitigation while developing crops to grow in changing weather patterns would be an example of adaptation.

One small business may appear to have negligible impact on this global problem, and one has to beware of “greenwashing” in which companies claim credit for environmental awareness without making substantive changes. But taking action remains important to raise awareness among more people, put pressure on those whose actions could have a greater impact, and prepare to accept necessary regulation. And many small actions do make a difference.

Jonathan Cook is a counselling psychologist and chairman of the African Management Institute. He is also the host of AMI’s weekly Rise reflection series focused on supporting you in your business and your personal wellness.

This article was originally published on BusinessLive on 29 March 2021 and is republished with permission.

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