Posted in Marketing, sustainability

Wanted: My Little Big Thing Sustainability Challenge Sponsors


The ‘My Little Big Thing’ campaign is the first-of-its-kind sustainability marketing universities’ challenge organised by MK-Africa in collaboration with Strathmore University and the University of Cambridge, South Africa. The campaign aims fostering innovation in sustainability with a special focus on the Sustainable Development Goals. Targeting over 250,000 students drawn from the more than 53 universities and colleges around Kenya, MK-Africa is determined to turn ‘My Little Big Thing’ into an annual event loved and owned by the university community across Africa.

By sponsoring this campaign, you will not only create awareness for your brand but will also be at the forefront of supporting innovation in sustainability. In addition, you have the chance to launch a new initiative for your brand through the exciting internship opportunities for the participants.

Please click here for more information on how to sponsor the campaign.

Posted in Marketing, sustainability

Explaining Sustainability: Back to the Basics

Good communications can get people to do all kinds of things they wouldn’t normally.  This ad from Norwegian conservation organisation, Eco Agents, shows a dedicated junior TreeHugger standing up against a group of adults and their very un-sustainable actions.

I bumped into one of my blog readers as my son’s school function the other day. He was happy to see me. One, because the function was dragging on for way longer than anyone had expected and any distraction was gladly welcome; and two, because he needed me to explain what exactly it is that ‘sustainability’ is and what I have to do with it. Today’s blog post is therefore dedicated to you Wamai…I hope this makes it clearer.

Sustainability is the act of doing (or not doing!) what we can to ensure the survival of our natural environment. It is a focus on keeping our world in balance by way of preserving our natural resources so that future generations can continue to live in harmony with our planet. Tobias Webb, founder of Innovation Forum, a London-based sustainability events and publishing business, notes that people think of social issues when they hear “CSR,” and environmental issues when they hear “sustainability.” But in fact social and environmental issues are inter-related. “Deforestation is a great example,” he writes. “It looks like an environmental challenge yet many of the solutions are socially related (governance, corruption, institutions, sustainable livelihoods and regulatory enforcement).”

So companies have caught onto something known as “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR. They may have a CSR officer, or maybe a director of corporate citizenship. But at some point, these social and reputational issues merged with the larger question of growth that is sustainable over a long time period, a question fraught with environmental and governance aspects. Investors started asking about “ESG,” environmental, social and governance issues. And companies appointed sustainability directors to make sure all aspects of their operations were on board with new, forward-looking, best practices. Lately, as inter-governmental organisations like the UN tackle big issues like global warming and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), corporations have taken sustainability yet another step forward by helping to lead the discussion and the search for solutions. Companies cooperate in efforts to wipe out corruption and violence in certain areas, using their economic clout. Some are voluntarily cutting carbon emissions and water use.

Above all, there is a growing awareness that companies MUST lead us into a more sustainable future, because no one else will.

Sustainability holds numerous benefits, not only for large organisations, but also for SMEs. Firstly there is the issue of cost. At a time when energy is becoming a scarce resource and costs are rising in many parts of the world, there is a real incentive to increase efficiency. Large corporations are investing considerable efforts in monitoring and reducing their energy usage.  However, whatever size your company is, there are savings to be made.  For example, by installing LED lighting and automatic sensors. Payback on investment typically takes between one and three years, but thereafter your business should be saving money.
Secondly, at an extreme, there is the prospect of fines. Many governments have been introducing tougher environmental legislation and will penalise companies that flout it. Just as there has been a crackdown on governance and ethics in the banking sector, so governments want to see companies behaving responsibly in terms of the environment. Certainly, no matter where a company operates, it has to be increasingly aware of its environmental impact. Thirdly and more positively, there is a significant business opportunity. Major corporates, who frequently employ CSR departments, are increasingly conscious of the need to ‘green’ their supply chains. They don’t want to do business with any companies, of whatever size, that are environmentally and socially irresponsible. So if you can show that your company places a high value on CSR and sustainability, you could be giving yourself a real advantage. If you are greener than your rival bidder, it could just help tip the balance.

7 in 10 Generation Y’ers regard themselves as social activists.  4 in 5 of them want to work in a company that cares about its impact on, and contribution to, society and the environment

Fourthly, sustainability can enhance your reputation and help in the recruitment war for talent. This applies especially to the younger demographic.  So if you are competing for talent against other employers, being a sustainable business can give you a significant head start.

Lastly, no business wants to find itself on the wrong end of a consumer campaign because of an environmental issue. Large companies are more in the firing line here of course. But with social media, issues can grow and spread with bewildering speed. If someone locally (or internally!) takes exception to a wasteful or negligent company practice, you could find yourself with a publicity issue on your hands. This could harm your corporate reputation and also have a serious commercial impact. So making your business sustainable can pay off on many levels. I would encourage the management teams of any company, whatever the size, to carry out a review of the organisation’s environmental policies, energy usage and operational processes. Are there ways in which you can become greener and more efficient? Do you have clear environmental policies that are properly communicated and understood by employees? Are you working with any company that is environmentally negligent and if so can you find an alternative? Companies that take these issues seriously and that integrate them into their way of working will be increasingly better positioned to succeed than their competitors. It really is a win-win situation.

So what does all this mean? As a career marketer, I know that individuals will prioritise sustainability issues if the issues are critical to everyday life. For example, when it comes to climate change: people care about flooding of their cities more than the fate of polar bears in the Arctic or about potential toxins their green vegetables more than international pollution treaties. I work with companies to understand this – and frame sustainability issues so they are relevant and hit home. Good communications can get people to do all kinds of things they wouldn’t normally – the results could have far-reaching effects.

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Posted in Marketing, sustainability, Uncategorized

Biomimicry: sustainability drawing examples from nature

Elspeth Donovan, the Deputy Director of Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership, speaks to us about biomimicry

I am a naturalista! And proudly so. I belong to a worldwide movement of women of African descent who do not use artificial chemicals on their hair. It is interesting how a seemingly insignificant thing like the choice of hair products can cause such furore. However, for about ten years, thanks to the Internet, a growing number of people have been sharing their natural hair advice via blogs, websites, forums and YouTube videos. The movement has also drawn in celebrities like Lupita Nyongo and Erykah Badu. What is remarkable is how the natural hair choice has span to include other choices like being vegan and gluten-free. More often than not, a naturalista is also concerned about making healthy food and lifestyle choices.

Wouldn’t it be great, therefore, if the sustainability movement would draw the same high-profile attention that the natural hair movement has? After all, the effects of climate change and continued social inequalities are far more serious than the use of chemical relaxers on one’s hair. Perhaps Biomimicry is the solution. Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes and policies— new ways of living—that are well adapted to life on earth over the long haul. I recently caught up with Elspeth Donovan, the Deputy Director of Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership who is also a member of Biomimicry South Africa group. She shared her thoughts on how nature has the solutions that Africa needs to innovate around sustainability. The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Michelle Obama sports an Afro.  Wouldn’t it be great if the sustainability movement drew the same high-profile attention that the natural hair movement has?

A key area where companies can use the biomimicry principles is around handling their waste. How can they emulate the natural system, which does not understand the concept of waste? One example that Elspeth shared with me is that of ‘Blue Planet’. When Brent Constantz, CEO of carbon capture company Blue Planet, was looking for a way to process carbon dioxide emissions, he found inspiration in nature. Coral reefs and rainforests, the largest natural structures on the planet, are made of carbon. Reefs, in fact, not only sequester carbon, but also reuse their own waste byproducts. When they produce calcium carbonate, they release carbon dioxide. This feeds the symbiotic algae that help support them. Beginning in 2011, Blue Planet has worked with DeepWater Desal, a combined desalination plant, power plant and data storage facility in Moss Landing, California, to mix waste carbon dioxide released by its natural gas power plant with the calcium produced from water desalination. The result is calcium carbonate – limestone – a building material that California’s construction industry needs. And, not incidentally, the same material that coral reefs are made from.

The Biomimicry Institute, a US-based nonprofit, is taking the trend a step further with its Food Systems Design Challenge, encouraging a cadre of entrepreneurs to improve the food production system by emulating techniques and processes found in nature. Hexagro, one challenge finalist, has combined agriculture with the design genius of one of nature’s most famous structures. A modular aeroponic home-growing system, it is made up of individual hexagon-shaped bins that are inspired by bees’ honeycombs. Designer Felipe Hernandez Villa-Roel wanted his product to circumvent some of the environmental problems associated with large-scale agriculture, such as carbon emissions, pesticide use and fertilizer runoff. His solution was to make it easier for people living in small urban spaces to grow pesticide-free food at home.

Elizabeth Achieng’, founder of Ukulima Tech, demonstrating the vertical system at their show farm along Ng’ong’ road in Nairobi – Source: Business Daily Africa

A similar design has been adapted by group of young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs known as Ukulima Tech. Based in Nairobi, the start-up has developed ‘vertical gardens’ from plastic piping, tested soil and manure, aluminum among other accessories all dependent on a client’s specification is relation to the space available. The vertical gardens come in various shapes and sizes but the standard system measures 1.8 feet by 1.5 feet. Ukulima Tech aims to sensitize the society on sustainable use of environmental resources in food production while ensuring that the society is aware of hazards arising from improper utility of farming methods and farm inputs.

There are therefore opportunities for African companies to use biomimicry principles in their operations. Biomimicry thinking helps create products and processes that are sustainable by following life’s principles. These instruct us to build from the bottom up, self-assemble, optimize rather than maximize, use free energy, cross-pollinate, embrace diversity, adapt and evolve, and use life-friendly materials and processes, engage in symbiotic relationships, and enhance the bio-sphere. By following the principles life uses, you can create products and processes that are well adapted to life on earth, perform well and save energy. Biomimicry can help you create disruptive technologies, that transform your industry or help you build entirely new industries. It can also help you create whole new growth areas, reignite stale product categories and attract both customers who care about innovation and sustainability. Finally, creating biomimetic products and processes will help your company become known as both innovative and proactive about the environment.

Elspeth suggests starting with local sourcing of resources such as local forms of energy and ensuring that you do not have any toxic chemicals in any of your products. Sounds to me like the beginning of a ‘natural’ movement in the corporate sector. Hopefully biomimicry can give the sustainability movement the ‘star-quality’ that it needs to move to the next level.

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So what will you do now?