I was recently talking to a friend who couldn’t understand why I limit my farming venture by use of drip irrigation when I have the possibility to use fallow irrigation and have much more produce. It’s a tricky question because here we are choosing between the immediate returns and the long run possible lack of water. I tried to explain to him the issues of sustainability and how we should be thinking about the long term effects of our farming to our farms and also the other neighbors. So this takes us straight in, what is sustainability and how much do you consider sustainability in your business? Sustainability is quickly taken as the concern you have, as you meet your needs now, so that you do not compromise the future generation’s (or even others in the current) ability to meet their needs. Suffice it to say, sustainability is not entirely a new concept, it’s been with us as long as we have had humans. The world is now on SDG mode with agenda 2030. Have you tried to ask yourself which SDGs you are in interaction with?
Sustainability is viewed broadly in the following three ways;
Economic sustainability is the ability of a given economy to sustain a certain level of economic activity (including your business) indefinitely. While economist JM Keynes once advocated for the ‘now’ since in the long run we are all dead. Being an economist myself, I must confess not all economists are that myopic in out look. Some like to plan long term. As for entrepreneurs however, it has to be a balance of making money now and the likelihood of your biz surviving into the future. Since building a biz is an everyday affair, you must always have it in the back of your mind that you must ensure your biz has a going concern.
- Is the purchasing power sufficient to sustain the economy and your businesses or are you setting up in a market that can’t afford you?
- Is the market size sufficient to sustain the number of the businesses established or are you jumping into a flooded market and contributing to your death and that of others?
- Are the inputs of the right quantity and quality to sustain the business and the economy?
- Do you pay your suppliers well and timely or are risking them? Remember the ongoing crisis of bills pending with government?
- Do you buy genuine or promote the counterfeits market?
- Do you buy legal or prefer deals and mlango ya nyuma?
- Do you buy local or prefer imported? I recently went to a government agency Boardroom and sitting in all that meticulous imported furniture I tried to look into their faces to see if there was any guilt. Of course there wasn’t.
- Do you employ local or would rather bring in guys? Chinese doing mjengo in Kenya?
- Do you pay all your taxes so as to earn the right to complain about poor provision of public utilities?
Financially, any biz needs to strike a balance between debt and credit so that it doesn’t struggle with cash flows. You want to make money and not to be losing it.
- Are you taking in too much debt that it risks your business survival?
- Are you giving too much credit that it leaves you hustling to cover recurrent needs?
- Are you spending money in the less important things while the important ones are left starved?
- Is it costing you insanely high to producing same thing that would cost just little?
- Are you paying too much for inputs when there are other cheaper alternative sources and alternatives?
Your business interacts with and impacts the environment directly and indirectly and leaves an ecological mark positively or negatively. In a country faced with water scarcity as we do, it’s a shame to imagine all our toilets are powered with sweet water without any possibility for recycling.
- Are you using up too much raw materials than you should?
- Are you using too much water? Must you use sweet water? How about electricity? Could you use natural lighting or renewable energy?
- Are you producing too much waste than you should?
- Do you have a proper waste disposal methods? Is that waste treated and neutralized? How much of the waste goes to landfills or are you disposing directly into the rivers, or road sides?
- Could that waste be used to produce other useful products either through recycling or value addition?
- How much Carbon foot print are you leaving directly through your production or indirectly from the inputs you purchase?
- How much noise pollution and air pollution are you letting out into the environment?
- Are you compliant with the regulatory requirements like NEMA et al?
Your business interacts and impacts the society now and in the long run? Do you stop to think about its contribution to social sustainability? Are you contributing to making the society well off or worse off? Some questions that can help you;
- Do your employees feel well paid or exploited?
- Are your employees consciously making proper decisions when it comes to their health and well-being?
- Do you help the employees with social security issues like NHIF, NSSF etc?
- Do you provide suitable work conditions for your employees or bora kazi ifanyike?
- Are your products affecting people’s health or degrading it? Did you see that our frutis and vegetables are more toxic than helpful? You saw about that fake yoghurt in Nakuru? Toxic liquor?
- Are you ensuring you do not employ children or people that shouldn’t really be working?
How about your interaction with the community. There are entrepreneurs who completely suffocate the community by taking everything for themselves. You have seen people who fence off their lands without leaving passages for the public. Entrepreneurs that take up all the water while the community is thirsty.
- Are you making the people poorer or richer?
- Do you run any CSR projects to share your success with the community?
- Do you offer support to the community in times of crisis?
It is possible that your biz can still make you money now and in the future if you run it with conscience. It affects people. There are a lot of initiative that can help you in your journey to supporting the SDGs. But even before then, get the quick wins in your biz and let it speak for you.
Let’s keep talking