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How local firms are faring in eco-trade

It is inherent for human beings to go after more conquests after winning some battles. Sometimes we do this at the expense of celebrating what we have accomplished over time.

One such area is sustainability. Over the last years, Kenyan businesses have made tremendous achievements in continuity through bold investments and even bolder decisions. While we are not where we want to be, we are obviously not where we were 10 years ago.

So what boxes have we ticked in our quest for sustainability? I have observed the following transformations in the last 10 years I have been in this domain:

Customers have become more aware of the need for sustainable products. In Kenya, young buyers, especially, are demanding to know how their beer was made, what impact the manufacture of their bread had on the environment. How does the company treat its workers?

Consumers are no longer an idle element at the end of the equation. Instead, they are an important component in the decision-making process of businesses.

In the last decade, the government has become more deliberate about tightening and enforcing environmental regulations.

With the establishment and strengthening of bodies such as the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to guide businesses on pollution control and how to relate to the environment and resources, it has become imperative for them to operate responsibly and within a context of accountability.

Financing for sustainable development has become of age, especially after the Addis Ababa Sustainable Finance Conference in 2015. In addition, efforts for sustainable development have become universal with the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals of 2015.

Before then, sustainable development was nearly a remote concept that many Kenyan businesses struggled to wrap around their heads. Not so today. With the ratification by the government, the 17 SDGs are very much part of our socio-economic fabric.

Kenyan companies, big and small alike, think of good health and quality education, clean water and sanitation and gender diversity, for instance, not as secondary goals but as their primary responsibility.

Consequently, many companies are providing clean water to communities where they operate and others offering scholarships to empower children from marginalised communities.

Today, sustainability is a critical metric for success, with local companies reporting on it alongside their financial performance. In this regard, market leaders Safaricom PLC #ticker:SCOM , Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) #ticker:KCB and the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) #ticker:EABL have shown the way in an impressive fashion. Lately, more companies are engaging in this.

By reporting on their sustainability programmes, companies are now celebrating not just gains in their bottom line but social impact as well.

Today, climate change is a key priority area for development stakeholders. There is increasing consciousness by the Kenyan government, the private sector and civil society on the need for partnerships in approaches to tackling the climate threat.

While presenting highlights of 2022/2023 budget to Parliament, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani outlined the government’s plan to roll out climate financing, money that will be utilised to help build resilience among communities affected by drought and famine.

We must continue to engage at all levels to succeed in this.

In the last ten years, the argument that it is “our time to pollute for the sake of development” has largely diffused. While Kenya seeks to industrialise by promoting manufacturing, there is also consensus that the country must do so with the least negative impact on the environment.

The growing absorption of e-mobility forms and the use of clean energy in factories is a demonstration that we are determined to develop the country sustainably.

Away from the large corporations, Kenyan Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) too have embraced business continuity. SMEs have acknowledged that sustainability is not all about spending millions of shillings every year to, say, support healthcare. It is also about making their workplaces safe for both men and women and giving them equal opportunities.

In the last 10 years, we have witnessed departure from “aid “to “trade” programmes by development partners to accelerate growth of our economy. For a long time, Kenya relied on monetary aid from donors to fund State projects. In the last decade, the focus for most of Kenya’s development partners has shifted to provision of capital for Kenyan start-ups to spur their growth, create employment and generate wealth.

Meanwhile, sustainable production and material use has become a flagship for the manufacturing industry in the last 10 years. Footwear Pine Kazi uses pineapple waste to manufacture shoes. Eco Tiles converts plastic waste into affordable and eco-friendly roofing materials.

Today, a number of flower farms have resorted to solar energy to reduce not only operational costs but also their overreliance on diesel and hydropower.

From these illustrations, we are firmly on course in the journey to make our economy sustainable. We must keep at it. While at it, we must pat our backs for the far we have come.