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The significance of Sustainable Development in businesses.

Thecha Gericke, Sustainability Officer, Ca​​pricorn Group​.jpg

Our world is increasingly complex - change and uncertainty seem to be the order of the day. Climate change is a hot topic and a vital issue for decision making in the 21st century.​
It is becoming more and more imperative that stakeholders, with often different and contradicting perspectives, find common ground and collaborative solutions in a world where resources are declining, and our future is being threatened every day. This 'common ground' is what we refer to as sustainable development. The 1987 Brundtland report defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainability can also be defined through three pillars: environment, social and economic, which must be considered to make informed decisions that will have a positive impact on the future. Essentially, for me, it is about fairness. If we consider sustainability as three people sitting around a table negotiating a deal and only one person gains out of the deal at the expense of the other parties it is unlikely that parties will conclude a successful agreement.

In the past, the economic pillar has often been somewhat of a dictator at the expense of the environmental and social components. This is the reason why we are facing so many critical issues globally. Our oceans and rivers are saturated with plastic, the air that we breathe is polluted to the extent that it is changing our climate and drastically affecting our health, and poverty is on the rise. We have a responsibility to address not only current issues such as climate change, but we also need to address the impacts of past decisions, which are currently affecting our ability to meet our own needs. We are the future generation that the Brundtland report referred to in 1987. Being part of the generation that feels the impact of past failures, I am compelled to make a difference. A large part of my life was spent on a small farm in the Eastern Cape, SA. Already then, I knew that I wanted to do something with my life that involved nature, as we are dependent on it. If it did not rain, then we could not grow vegetables or have grazing for our milking cows or our borehole could run dry at any point. This made me very aware of resource management and living conservatively.

        Thecha Gericke, Sustainability Officer, Capricorn Group

After I completed my undergraduate studies in Nature Conservation, I soon realised that conserving nature is subject to the impact that we humans have. Therefore, we need to manage this impact. Drawn and encouraged to make a difference, I did my master's in environmental management, which considered and placed greater emphasis on the human element. In this new era, we are experiencing there is a growing trend of environmentally conscious and responsible consumers. We seek companies and products that share the same values as us. The time has passed when the public would blindly buy a product without knowing what it stands for or where it comes from. This trend indicates that younger generations are evolving toward sustainability. In a competitive market, brands that are not considering sustainability as a strategy will likely not stand out and will, most likely, lose market share. By getting ahead of the trend, you can become a market leader and have fewer litigation costs, improved relationships with stakeholders and gain access to new markets because sustainable businesses stick together, thereby attracting better investments. Today, investors increasingly look at sustainability as a critical criterion for their investment decisions.

Some organisations guide sustainability; the most commonly used 'map' is the Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and will be used to guide sustainable development until 2030. Additionally, the United Nations Global Compact is helpful in the sense that the organisation provides guidance on addressing environmental, labour, human rights and Anti-corruption issues. There is also the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures, which helps businesses to address and disclose climate change risks. Results have shown that companies that have social and environmental policies in place and seek continuous improvement in these areas regularly outperform industry peers who do not have sustainability practices in place. These include companies that actively seek sustainability answers to challenges including waste reduction, and efficient use of resources will save on operating costs. Companies that consider the impacts of climate change on their business model will be more resilient to shocks such as drought. Similarly, if companies actively seek to address social issues, such as gender equality, and engage with their workforce to identify and address workplace issues, they will have happier staff that results in higher staff retention, which also increases the bottom-line. 

Working at Capricorn Group, I have noticed that through the introduction of the Board Sustainability and Ethics Committee, there has been a more explicit focus on sustainability and ethics which filters down to the entities, prompting the development of material matters as a significant outcome. The group's internal culture, The Capricorn Way, was influenced by sustainability thinking which encourages us to sense and respond to risks as opposed to plan and control. Consequently, new avenues such as the Green Bond and the Bank Gaborone green building sprouted from this thinking. The Green Bond is listed on the Namibia Stock Exchange and complies with the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) Initiative, a UN Partnership Programme of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The SSE aims to build the capacity of stock exchanges and securities market regulators so that it can promote responsible investment in sustainable development and advance the performance of corporate companies on issues of environmental and social impact, as well as governance.

It is not possible to address every sustainability issue at the same time, so businesses should instead first address matters that are material to them. Most importantly, we must realise that we all carry some form of responsibility and that sustainability is not a destination that can be reached where work is stopped, but that things are constantly changing, and targets can always be improved on. Ultimately, we are all accountable for our future. ​​​

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