Sustainability must focus on economics, environment, and society

By | 2021-05-31T14:13:41+00:00 May 31st, 2021|
Sustainability Summit Africa keynote speaker Prof Thomas Goldsby. Photo by Sustainability Summit Africa

Sustainability Summit Africa keynote speaker Prof Thomas Goldsby. Photo by Sustainability Summit Africa

In his best-selling business book, “Cannibals with Forks”, author and sustainability expert John Elkington stresses that businesses seeking long term success must take a three-pronged approach by focusing on profitability, environmental considerations, and social issues.

This holistic approach to sustainability was a prevailing theme at the recent Sustainability Summit Africa 2021, Africa’s first-ever continent-wide sustainability event hosted by Smart Procurement World. More than 800 procurement professionals from 25 countries attended the summit, that featured renowned local and international speakers. They highlighted the critical role that sustainable procurement must play not just in protecting the environment, but also in reducing poverty, building shared inclusive prosperity, addressing social issues, and promoting good governance. The event included a dedicated half-day mining conference.

Keynote speaker, Prof Thomas Goldsby, Chair of Logistics at Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee in the USA and co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Business Logistics, cited Elkington’s Cannibals with Forks in his powerful presentation. This served as an important way to frame sustainability in my mind,” he said. “Traditionally, we have operated our supply chains with economics as the bottom line. We have also been focused on a one-way flow of physical inventories, from raw material suppliers through to end-users. We have been focused on one tier of relationship – one tier upward and one tier downward. We are only talking to our immediate suppliers and our immediate customers. We rarely look beyond this. We have been focused on a single lifecycle; not so much on the end of life for materials and products, and ways to bring materials and products back into the system,” Goldsby expanded.

He noted that most businesses had somewhat reluctantly confronted the brutal facts of their operations. Issues like energy, pollution, poor working conditions and forced labour. However, these are usually regarded as by-products in the pursuit of efficiency. Goldsby asserted that many businesses believe that compliance with policy and regulations is enough, but it no longer is.

We are at Supply Chain 1.0 and we need to move to Supply Chain 2.0,” he told Sustainability Summit Africa delegates. “We need to find ways to grow business without sacrificing – and while actually enhancing – our impacts on social and environmental outcomes”.

Dr Jaisheila Rajput, CEO of Tomorrow Matters Now, echoed this in her presentation. “Customers and consumers are demanding more,” she stressed. Customers expect businesses to look at more than just the bottom line and to focus on sustainable value adds. Organisations are expected to address climate change and environmental challenges. They must support active citizenship”.

It is also no longer enough for businesses to just comply with regulations or pay lip service to issues around energy, water, biodiversity, and communities. Rajput said consumers want organisations to be clear and transparent about what they do and their value system. Consumers are increasingly looking for authenticity.

Like Goldsby and author Elkington, Rajput stressed, however, that financial considerations must not fall by the wayside in sustainability strategies. We need a much more holistic approach,” she said. “We need to understand the entire life cost and set procurement into a broader strategic context”.

She urged Sustainability Summit Africa delegates to consider the impact of sustainability initiatives in terms of value for money, too.

In his updated approach to sustainability and supply chains, which he dubbed Supply Chain 2.0, Goldsby said that, in addition to focusing on productivity, organisations should consider agility, innovation and reputation. Move beyond the mere survival needs that productivity represents and towards thinking more about agility, innovation and reputation, he told attendees.

“Measure your business success based on triple bottom line outcomes. Not just financial, but also environmental and societal. Consider the interplay between them, as well as the interplay between sustainable actions and risk management, financial returns, and reputation. Look for linkages between sustainability and innovation”.

He urged delegates to leverage the power of pride, and said that an organisation that embraces productivity, agility, innovation, and reputation, would generate a great deal of pride, both within the business and also in the marketplace.