3/5/2024 8:59:00 AM

Sustainable strategies shaping ESG compliance in South Africa

Opinion: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles are becoming more important for bus... 

By Robert Erasmus, MD at Sanitech

ENVIRONMENTAL, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles are becoming more important for businesses, and for good reason. Embracing ESG practices is not just a trend; it is a strategic move towards long-term success. Given the potential environmental impact in the sanitation and waste management industry, the adoption of ESG principles is more of a responsibility than a choice. However, it’s not a choice without benefit. By understanding the significance of aligning with these principles, businesses can simultaneously create lasting value for stakeholders while contributing meaningfully to local and global sustainability goals.

The growing importance of ESG

Traditionally, investors focused on financial metrics, but evolving business practices and growing investor consciences demand a broader perspective. Investors and stakeholders are now scrutinising a company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and willingness to evidence strong governance. This makes the shift towards ESG compliance a necessity for attracting investment in today’s eco-conscious, interconnected world.

Surprising practicality

Understanding ESG can seem daunting at first, but at its core, it is a set of practices that evaluate a company’s performance through the lens of its social and environmental impact. While the implementation of these principles might seem overwhelming, it’s much easier to gain momentum taking an incremental approach.

One of the most productive methods for organisations to elevate their ESG status is by means of ISO 14001 environmental accreditation, which provides a structured path to address issues such as energy consumption, waste management, and more. ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an environmental management system, which helps organisations to gradually improve their performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, which ultimately intends to gain both a competitive advantage and the trust of stakeholders.

Practical steps

Within the sanitation and waste management sector, for example, ESG compliance centres on environmental stewardship, extending beyond straightforward waste reduction to include responsible choices aligned with environmental preservation. Companies in the sector should commit to aligning processes with global standards through ISO 14001 environmental accreditation. Such a sustainability journey starts with minimising the construction impact associated with operations, which will be achieved through responsible planning and execution to prevent environmental encroachment and reduce the ecological footprint of any infrastructure development.

Additionally, companies within the sector should actively support renewable energy initiatives, along with displaying a dedication to promoting environmentally friendlier alternatives, such as the use of bio-waste for energy generation. Companies must place a strong emphasis on water conservation and responsible wastewater management to contribute to the reduction of water consumption with adherence to stringent environmental standards.

Furthermore, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions poses a notable challenge for most industries, particularly those with intricate logistical operations. It is possible to address this challenge within the sanitation and waste management sector in a number of practical ways, such as championing the adoption of decentralised wastewater treatment plants. Such a strategic approach will not only minimise the environmental impact associated with waste transportation but will also present opportunities for water reuse which creates a dual benefit for businesses. As an additional measure to mitigate gas emissions and reduce its transportation-related carbon footprint, companies have already begun evaluating the impact of introducing electric vehicles into their fleets. Such initiatives can contribute significantly to the reduction of exhaust fumes, particularly in urban areas.

Social responsibility

The social component of ESG is where companies in the sanitation and waste management sectors have the opportunity to shine as investing in water and sanitation projects is one of the most powerful ways for businesses to fulfil their social responsibility goals within the ESG framework.

Water and sanitation projects have the most profound impact on communities and by leveraging their expertise, businesses can partner with sanitation and environmental management companies to create positive social change, particularly in areas that desperately need improved water and sanitation infrastructure.

Shared values and collaboration

Governance forms a critical aspect of compliance, and organisations that want to take ESG seriously should join forces with like-minded companies that have a shared commitment to ethical practices. This is important because strong governance values provide a foundation for transparent reporting and effective management of ESG initiatives.