by Natasha Arendorf

Employ a green approach

Top employers in SA show trend toward green thinking

Reduce travel and keep buildings greener
Green thinking

South Africa is one of the least green countries in the world – in the top 15 for highest carbon emissions; just a few paces behind Japan, the United Kingdom and South Korea. The country emits 435 878 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, single-handedly contributing under 1.5% of the world’s load. 

Studies show that businesses can make a significant contribution to reducing the country’s carbon footprint, in part by adopting environmentally friendly human resources and travel policies. 

George Monbiot wrote in a 2006 column: "Aviation has been growing faster than any other source of greenhouse gases. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of people using airports in the UK rose by 120%, and the energy the planes consumed increased by 79%. Their carbon dioxide emissions almost doubled in that period – from 20.1 to 39.5 megatonnes, or 5.5% of all the emissions this country produces. Unless something is done to stop this growth, flying will soon overwhelm all the cuts we manage to make elsewhere."

A simple yet high-impact solution is to reduce company travel and make this mandatory through HR policy. This can make a real difference in reducing a company’s footprint. 

Technology has made global communication efficient and relatively inexpensive. By utilising web conferencing through Skype or Fuze, one could make cross-regional catch-ups simpler and easier. Video conferencing is also a solution that multinationals know well. 

According to research from the CRF Institute, which annually surveys and accredits the country's top employers, there is evidence that many SA businesses are already going this route.

"In fact, 34% of Top Employers favour web-based conference facilities over travelling in person,” says Samantha Crous, regional director: Africa and Benelux for the CRF Institute. “This shows a definite trend among the country’s most innovative employers toward greener thinking and reducing their carbon footprint. Additional benefits include more time at the office and, for employees with families, less time away from home.”

Making use of communication technology a mandatory first option to choose above flying is a leap forward in business thinking, adds Crous. “Shifting our perspective on how we connect with each other is the key. It begins with understanding the time, financial and environmental wastefulness of travelling in person versus simply logging into Skype to have the very same meeting.” 

Research shows that truly green companies are still in the minority. Nestlé, which ranks among SA’s Top Employers, has been the recipient of a number of green awards worldwide, including the Stockholm Industry Water Award and the United States Green Building Council's award for a building that uses melted alpine snow in its cooling systems, and burnt ground coffee waste as a heating source. In 2009, Nespresso and Rainforest Alliance (RA) signed an ‘Ecolaboration’ pact, aiming to reduce environmental impacts and make 80% of Nespresso’s coffee come from RA-certified sustainable farms by the end of 2013.

Locally, the company has invested in environmentally friendly buildings. In 2010, Nestlé South Africa unveiled its new sustainable head office in Bryanston. This building boasts low-energy geysers, as well as atriums that maximise natural lighting. The air-conditioning plant uses ammonia chillers, which consume 40% less energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Group Five, another certified Top Employer, also has impressive credentials. It is a founding member of the Green Building Council of South Africa, which aims to lead the South African property industry to design, build and operate buildings sustainably. Group Five achieved the highest rating of a JSE Top 100 listed construction company in the 2011 Carbon Disclosure Project, thanks to its ‘green team’ who covers all operating divisions and identifies opportunities relating to climate change. 

According to the Carbon Report’s website, “All businesses in South Africa need to be engaged in the challenge of how we transition to a low-carbon economy. The transition to a low-carbon future is inevitable, and those that manage this risk proactively will be better geared for this emerging economy.” 

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