By Benedict Elujoba
In pursuit of a more sustainable future for humanity, the United Nations (UN) established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The collection of 17 interlinked goals that make up the SDGs has been described as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The United Nations states that achievement of the SDGs requires commitment from governments, civil society and corporations. More stakeholders (including investors, creditors, regulators, and environmental enthusiasts) continue to demand that companies become accountable and prioritize sustainability criteria in the areas of environmental, social and governance (ESG). For countries that are taking on the sustainability challenge, the ESG considerations have become significant to their operations. Environmental criteria consider how infrastructure and production operations impact the environment, and includes attention to energy use, waste, pollution, and natural resource conservation. Social criteria examine how employers manage their relationships with employees, vendors, suppliers, customers, and the communities where the organizations operate. Governance relates to leadership, audits, ethics, internal controls, shareholder rights, and more.
Nigeria adopted the SDGs (also known as the 2030 agenda for sustainable development) in 2015 to comply with the global call to put an end to poverty, secure the planet and ensure that every citizen enjoys peace and prosperity by 2030. Nigeria seeks to further align these priorities in partnership with civil society organizations (CSO) and the private sector, and in 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari presented Nigeria’s voluntary national review (VNR) of progress on the SDGs to the United Nations (UN). The President shared updates on the nation’s progress towards ending poverty (SDG-1), creating an inclusive economy (SDG-8), health and wellbeing (SDG-3), quality education (SDG-4), gender equality (SDG-5), enabling an environment of peace and security (SDG-16), and partnerships (SDG-17). Nigeria’s plan to align its development priorities with the support of the private sector raises the question: how is corporate Nigeria responding? Some corporations in Nigeria are blazing the trail in their commitment to their ESG priorities. The Coca-Cola System in Nigeria (comprising Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd) is a case in point, where sustainable manufacturing is an ongoing priority. The company is demonstrating its commitment to reduction of energy, water consumption, emissions and waste through investments in new installations such as combined heat and power plants, effluent treatment plants and hybrid solar power installations in its manufacturing plants. They have also re-stated a global commitment to make all consumer packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 and to enhance the collection of all packaging material by 2030 through its World Without Waste program. The System has trained over 30,000 youths on entrepreneurship and employability skills across different cities in Nigeria in the last 5 years, constructing or renovating several classroom blocks in over 30 schools and impacting 30,000 students, among other corporate social investment initiatives. In 2019, Standard Chartered launched the Women-in-Tech Incubator programme to support and promote the economic and social development of women engaging in technology-led enterprise. Selected beneficiaries go through a rigorous bootcamp where they are trained by seasoned business leaders and coaches after which they receive grants of up to $10, 000 to scale up their businesses. This is in support of Nigeria’s efforts to drive gender equality (SDG-5)
British American Tobacco (BAT) announced its evolved strategy in March 2020, which revealed the company’s commitment to building A Better Tomorrow™ by reducing the health impact of its business and putting sustainability front and centre of its operations. The company’s ESG priorities include becoming a carbon neutral business by 2030, making all plastic packaging reusable and recyclable by 2025, achieving ZERO waste to landfill by 2025, reducing water withdrawn and increasing water recycling by 2025. A year later, BAT Nigeria announced that it had achieved 100% recycling of all factory waste products and ZERO waste to landfill at its factory in Ibadan Oyo State. It is quite laudable that this feat was accomplished four years ahead of the global target of 2025, with several byproducts of the recycling process obtained simultaneously. These include organic manure which further nourishes the environment, tissue paper, throw pillows, egg crates, and local farming implements such as machetes and hoes. These are proudly displayed in the Factory’s Sustainability Corner. In 2021, BAT Nigeria also completed a $350,000 investment to upgrade its facility in a move that transitioned the company’s energy source from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG) in its independent power plant (IPP). CNG, which is a cleaner fuel than diesel, now accounts for 80% of the company’s energy source. The IPP also incorporates heat recovery capacity, and the recovered heat is used to drive the factory cooling systems, further extending the energy efficiency of the factory, while helping the environment. With the new system, noxious fumes are not released along with steam into the atmosphere.
At Sahara Group, the strategic focus is on access to energy and a sustainable environment. The company is committed to promoting access to energy through business and social projects while creating a sustainable environment for stakeholders and the society at large (SDG – 7). The group launched The Green Life Initiative in 2019 to foster sustainable environments and promote holistic wellness within and outside the Company. This initiative marked the commencement of an extensive recycling programme across Sahara offices, which converts paper, plastic and aluminum waste into fiber, tissue paper and PET pellets for continued use. Through the Green Life Initiative, Sahara set up a Recycle Exchange Hub in Ijora Oloye community, one of their host communities where plastic waste is exchanged for financial benefit and inclusion. The Group further hopes to drive home the message of recycling through partnerships with stake holders, volunteers, and the public (SDG – 17). The examples of these companies demonstrate that sustainability initiatives by corporations help to accelerate the attainment of a country’s sustainability goals. Certainly, a commitment to ESG strategies involves significant investment and corporate will, but this investment ultimately yields considerable returns for the company, boosts quality of life in the host communities and by extension, the nation.
Elujoba is of the Centre for Promotion of Enterprise and Business Best Practices