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Rio+20: Mobilising the private sector

The National Coordinator of Renewable Energy Programme, Engr (Mrs) Bahijjahtu Abubakar

The National Coordinator of Renewable Energy Programme, Engr (Mrs) Bahijjahtu Abubakar

THERE is a misleading temptation for business organisations in Africa, especially Nigeria to distance themselves from the discussions of the recently ended and much-talked-about global sustainability and development summit, otherwise referred to as Rio+20, which recently ended in Brazil. This distancing game is what I call the ‘SMART’ model (Stretching Meaningful Action and Results to Tomorrow). Regrettably, there is really nothing smart about this in the real sense; being a droll allusion to the original denotative meaning.

SMART in this context means to broaden the scope of business discussion whilst deliberately contracting its application as if ‘’tomorrow will not come’’. The SMART model of doing business has helped compromise risk governance and consumer rights in several businesses as seen in the famine called economic recession.

No one is in doubt that the world is swimming in uncertainty: with yesterday’s superpowers steadily recoiling into their shell in seeming financial helplessness. The volatility of a virtual communication system, which daily ignites new agenda and redefines long held perceptions and lastly, the panic of a vastly disrupted ecosystem, which stirs present and future danger for its inhabitants.

While there exist presumed understanding of the challenges and responsibilities posed by environmental sustainability amongst many countries, same cannot be said of Nigeria, which has unfortunately made spectacle of its widening poverty, insecurity and agitations for the sharing formula of our depleting natural resources. Indeed, this lack of interest by Nigeria underscores the unwillingness of the President of Nigeria to sign into law the bill establishing a National Climate Change Commission responsible for managing the effect of global warming, nearly two years after the National Assembly passed the bill.

Although the UN’s 45,300 delegates from more than 180 nations at the just ended Rio+20 produced a non-binding document, there is a call for multi-sectorial approaches to sustainability; challenging business schools and private sector institutions to put environmental sustainability goals at the heart of learning and value creation.

Like in most other countries, seeking to mobilise the private sector in Nigeria is not less arduous. The private sector readily offers a volunteer pool of persons and institutions that are able to connect with the future of business and wealth creation in a global economic system.

Protecting biodiversity, preventing spills of oil and oil products, upgrading facilities to reduce the emissions of carbon into the air, efficient disaster management and efficient use of water are some of the issues which the Nigerian private sector must confront ahead of the pursuit of quarterly earnings and good bottom line.

It is doubtful whether the recently celebrated commitment of eight banks doing business in Nigeria to environment-friendly standards as basis of a new lending policy called “the Nigerian Lending Principles” fit into the desired environmental protection format being canvassed by many.

Under a new lending principle, environmental and social responsibilities of companies will become vital pre-considerations for granting loan requests. This lending standard is expected to deny loans to businesses whose activities are perceived to be wrecking the ecosystem, especially oil companies that have failed to meet local and international safe environmental standards.

Admittedly, banks on account of their extensive credit approval systems have comparative knowledge advantage regarding sector-specific information, legislation and market developments and are hence, in a position to avail their intermediation value to the global campaign for environmental protection. However, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model implemented in Nigeria is often plagued by the existence of several obsolete laws and an unyielding public sector bureaucracy, which makes value creation almost impossible.

The soft underbelly of most of the eight banks show absence of recognisable Corporate Sustainability Report (CSR) framework whilst even fewer of them have commitments or partnerships with any of the several local and international environmental conservation agencies such as: Nigerian Conservation Foundation, (NCF) United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Equator Principles. The Equator Principle (EP) unarguably provides the most far-reaching framework for voluntary environmental governance.

To drive stronger commitment to environmental responsibility, businesses should seek to buy greener products and materials from their suppliers. By building strong buyers’ groups, companies can leverage their collective buying clout to push suppliers to consider alternative products or processes. In addition, products themselves may be made more environmentally friendly, with regard to, for example, the control of emissions, noise, reduced health and safety risks, and reduced energy requirements.

It is unlikely that the proposed new lending principles, even in its altruistic garb may be able to support environmental sustainability challenges in Nigeria, since it has not successfully achieved such purpose even in better focused emerging economies. Besides building partnerships as the Rio+20 movement is suggesting, stimulating the advocacy of NGOs and environmental activists could be one sure way of raising the awareness bar in Nigeria. Environmental activism created a major victory in recently exposing the underhand activities of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). RBS was revealed as having investment of over $80 million in companies, which manufacture cluster bombs in the past; this is in spite of their highly publicised commitment to sustainability protocols and international treaty banning cluster bombs. Cluster bombs kill and maim indiscriminately, with 98 per cent of its victims being civilians and a third of them children. Ironically, RBS is over 80 per cent owned by UK taxpayers.

Although corporate leaders in Nigeria will readily point out that their hands are already full with several projects such as providing jobs, building parks, sponsoring reality shows and donating to the indigent, yet sustainability management in business is not about corporate giving or donations, which are usually siloed into one-man department called CSR. Sustainability bothers on survival, profitability, innovation, and growth. It’s just plain good business through eco-efficiency initiatives. And to take a literal logical step further, all of us depend on the life-giving resources of the planet.

There exist no “right” structures to actualise sustainability initiatives, just as no two companies would tackle innovation the same way. Nigerian corporates need significant investment of resources in time, executive management focus and money to protect our ecosystem. To achieve a transformational goal out of it, willing businesses need to ride herd on people to track and get a handle on the many diverse and cross-cutting analyses, to present a unified front to employees and external stakeholders, to question existing models and find new, heretical ways to operate and serve customers. And most importantly, to ensure that sustainability is embedded in the brand as a corporate culture.

By Ezurike – A Communication Specialist and member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, is also a Fellow of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF). He wrote from Lagos.

From: The Guardian

Source: http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94956:ezurike-rio20-mobilising-the-private-sector-&catid=38:columnists&Itemid=615

Rio+20: Mobilising the private sector