Coca-Cola’s investment in the Greater Cape Town Water Fund is recharging Cape Town’s largest aquifer by empowering women to clear water-intensive alien plants.
The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF), Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages (PenBev), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), along with other partners, today celebrate the completion of a successful pilot project for The Greater Cape Town Water Fund. As a founding investor in the Water Fund, TCCF’s investment of US$150,000 has helped to clear 64 hectares of invasive plants in the Atlantis area of the Western Cape, and empowered 12 females through skills transfer and employment.
The Greater Cape Town Water Fund is working with authorities, the private sector, NGOs and communities to restore the Atlantis aquifer, Cape Town’s largest. By December 2019, the Water Fund will have replenished at least 10,000,000 litres of water to the Atlantis aquifer by clearing 64 hectares of invasive plants in the aquifer’s primary recharge zone. Invasive plants, such as Australian Acacias, consume more water than the native Fynbos vegetation, limiting rainwater recharge to the aquifer. The Fund employs local female job seekers to clear these invasive plants.
“Water Funds are unique financing vehicles that invest in innovative and pioneering initiatives to manage water supplies. We are very excited about our investment in this Water Fund in particular as it will have a positive impact on more than 70,000 people in Witzands and Silverstroom as well as alleviate pressure and increase water security across Cape Town’s water supply system, which serves 4 million people,” explains Dorcas Onyango, Head of Sustainability for Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa.
Over time, the Atlantis aquifer pilot project will be scaled up to priority catchments in the Western Cape Water Supply System to secure water supply. By restoring natural vegetation cover at a large scale, the Water Fund will help catalyze a significant increase in aquifer recharge and help boost water availability.
“Alien plant invasions in the Greater Cape Town region’s catchments are responsible for the loss of 38 million liters of water each year, equivalent to meeting the water requirements of Cape Town for two months. The Greater Cape Town Water Fund works with partners to control thirsty invader plants, restore strategic wetlands and riverine areas, and thereby address these water losses,” said Louise Stafford, The Nature Conservancy’s Water Fund Project Director for South Africa. With a continous need to remove alien plant species, a sustainable business opportunity has been developed for local female entrepreneurs, supported through The Water Fund.
The Nature Conservancy has 29 Water Funds in operation and 30 more in development — all of which are designed to protect the upstream and aquifer water source regions that provide water to large urban centres.
Coca-Cola’s response to the crisis in Cape Town, in addition to investment in the Greater Cape Town Water Fund, includes finding alternatives to municipal water for its beverage production, as well as the provisioning of emergency bottled water supplies. “Over the past 11 years, Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages has reduced the use of water dramatically in the manufacturing process and has one of the best water usage ratios across the Coca-Cola system. Our promise of caring for the communities we service as well as the environment remains of paramount importance to us as a business. We are very proud to be part of the Cape Town Water Fund which has made great progress in such a short space of time,” explains Priscilla Urquhart, Public Affairs and Communications Manager for Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages.
With water stress and scarcity being the new normal for many regions across South Africa, The Nature Conservancy calls on all partners and other investors like The Coca-Cola Company, to invest in these strategic investment models to manage water resources and optimize water supply.
More than half a million learners from almost 600 schools have taken a message in the bottle into their homes and communities this year as part of Coca-Cola Beverages SA’s Schools Recycling Programme.
On September 27, these young environmental ambassadors will find out who came out tops at the annual Schools Recycling Awards ceremony in Johannesburg, where the top three waste-busting primary and high schools will be announced.
Participating schools commit to collecting at least 1000kg of waste a month – at least 30% of which must be polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – and those with a monthly haul of more than 2 tonnes stand a chance of winning cash prizes to be used for the upgrading of their facilities.
The programme is a part of CCBSA’s commitment to collecting post-consumer waste and raising awareness about the importance of waste management and recycling among learners in regions where it has a presence.
“Schools are the perfect partner in such a programme as learners take the message of environmental stewardship home with them, spreading it within their direct circle of influence and, in the longer term as they grow up and become adults, driving responsible behaviour in their families and communities,” says Tsholofelo Mqhayi, Head: Enterprise and Community Development at CCBSA.
The programme has gone from strength to strength in the six years since its inception, with a total of 597 schools participating in 2017, compared to 40 in 2011.
Last year schools collected a total of 710 tonnes of PET, cans and paper, saving 3 951.6m³ of landfill space.
Apart from standing a chance of winning a cash prize – and helping to remove PET from the waste stream – participating schools earn revenue from the recycling material collected, while learners begin to understand complex sustainability issues.
“Using knowledge, critical thinking skills and values, they are developing the capacity to participate in decision making about environmental and development issues,” says Mqhayi.
The programme has also created permanent jobs for 53 youth Recycling Representatives in CCBSA and elsewhere.
Once the competition has closed for the year, the top 10 schools undergo a rigorous adjudication process during September to determine the top three schools nationally.
Judges consider what each school has collected and also give schools an opportunity to present how they have included communities and parents in the process.
The Schools Recycling Awards are held to honour the schools that have excelled in the programme. The event is attended by learners and teachers from various regions, as well as stakeholders who have assisted in making the programme a success.
Coca-Cola sells more than 100bn single-use plastic bottles a year. Its plans to increase recycled plastic in its bottles to 50% are startlingly unambitious
Coca-Cola’s grand announcement on plastic packaging is a lot of PR fizz. But when you look at the detail, it’s all a bit flat.
The news that the company is to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50% shows a startling lack of ambition from the soft-drinks giant to tackle one of the greatest environmental challenges facing us: the plastic pollution choking our oceans.
This new plan is no game changer. Limited to operations in the UK, Coca-Cola’s plans amount to increasing its existing target for recycled content by a mere 10%, launching yet another public awareness campaign to keep the focus on litterers, and trialling what appears will be little more than a promotional scheme for buying more Coca-Cola bottles.
The company’s plans, which it says it will reveal later this year, may feature a money-off voucher scheme to reward customers returning small Coca-Cola bottles to shops. This would be a cheap gimmick to try and move the story on from Coca-Cola’s major U-turn on deposit return schemes after Greenpeace revealed the company had been lobbying against these in Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. If the vouchers can be redeemed on yet more plastic Coca-Cola bottles, this will only boost the already staggering global plastic bottle sales of a million a minute.
It’s also worth pointing out that Coca-Cola’s mildly higher goal to source 50% recycled content should be taken with a pinch of salt given the company’s history of failing to keep its promises. Coca-Cola got less than half way to meeting its global 2015 target to source 25% of its plastic bottles from recycled or “renewable” material, for example plant-based plastics. Globally the company reached a pitiful 7% recycled material.
Even putting these doubts aside, is reaching 50% recycled content in three years’ time significant? The truth is that 100% recycled bottles are feasible and have been rolled out for a number of soft drinks products over the past decade. In 2007, for example, Suntory’s Ribena became the first major UK soft drink brand to use 100% recycled plastic. Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest soft drinks company, is lagging far behind.
Nearly half of the more than 35m plastic bottles bought in the UK every day are not recycled. We need governments to step up and introduce what we know already works around the world. Deposit return schemes have a proven track record internationally for increasing collection rates of drinks containers.
After concerted campaigning, we now have clear political processes in motion for governments in Holyrood and Westminster to consider introducing well-designed deposit return schemes that can cover all drinks containers. To help these succeed, we need major players like Coca-Cola to get fully behind these processes to deal with the problem at scale.
Coca-Cola has previously claimed (pdf): “We are interested in innovations that deliver genuine, measurable long-term advancements toward sustainability and not just eye-grabbing marketing slogans that will earn us public relations points in the near term.”
The company’s new plastic packaging strategy is far from genuinely innovative. As the biggest drinks company on the planet, that’s not good enough.
This article was amended on 14 July 2017. An earlier version said that PR firm Edelman was responsible for the new announcement. Edelman has yet to start work with Coca-Cola.
The man responsible for Coca-Cola’s water sustainability program told an Omaha business audience Tuesday that saving water has become a central part of the company’s long-term strategy.
But it wasn’t that way a decade ago, when the Atlanta-based company was forced to shut down a bottling plant in India after local communities complained about its use of water during a drought that dried up shallow wells nearby.
“We lost our social license to operate,” said Jonathan Radtke, a hydrogeologist hired by Coke to oversee sustainability soon after the India incident.
Years ago, the company used to argue almost automatically against any changes that would result in higher costs for water, Radtke told about 160 people at a breakfast held by the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance at the Holland Center.
Today, “We are willing to pay more for water if it’s going to be more sustainable,” he said, adding, “You can make profit and be a good environmental steward.”
Coke’s water struggles haven’t ended, he said. Bottlers in California are working to cut water usage in the midst of the drought there.
And an article by CorpWatch, a website that focuses on corporations and the environment, said local authorities in another city in India required Coke to shut down a bottling plant last year after similar complaints about its water usage.
In the case of the earlier shutdown in India, Radtke said, Coke was getting its water from a deep aquifer that was not related to the shallow wells that people used. Closing the bottling plant did not improve the water levels in the community’s wells.
But besides the direct cost of closing the bottling plant, activists persuaded some U.S. universities to drop Coca-Cola products, he said, and news stories spread the image of Coca-Cola as a company that wastes water.
“It became a billion-dollar issue because we didn’t handle it right,” he said.
The reaction to the incident in India made corporate leaders realize that the company’s use of water was a real issue that needed to be addressed, he said. They created a broad, long-range program designed to conserve water in many ways, not just at its 1,000 bottling plants, 120 of which are in the United States.
When a drought hit the Atlanta area, local government officials called on businesses to cut water usage by 20 percent. Radtke, who said he is “a little bit of a tree hugger,” said Coke’s Atlanta bottling plant had already gone through a water conservation program and had to look harder for more savings. The plant shifted from water-based lubricants for its production equipment to dry lubricants and used air instead of water to rinse containers.
The world will never run out of water, he said, but 97 percent of that water is in the oceans and isn’t drinkable. Desalination plants are expensive and produce highly concentrated brine, so it’s better to conserve existing fresh water.
Radtke said Coke’s water conservation efforts are wide-ranging and often not directly related to its packaged drink products.
For example, the company helps pay for a project by the Nature Conservancy to promote new technology that helps Nebraska farmers along the South Platte River irrigate cropland with less water.
One of the people attending Tuesday’s talk asked about Coke’s production of bottled water in plastic containers, saying that tap water is at least as good for human consumption and doesn’t create plastic waste.
Radtke said Coca-Cola has never said that tap water is bad but that bottled water is a growing product segment for Coke because consumers want it.
He said he drinks tap water at home and uses bottled water “for convenience” and when traveling. People should recycle plastic bottles, he said. “I think to each his own.”
ATLANTA, July 28, 2015 /3BL Media/ – The Coca-Cola Company today released its 12th annual Sustainability Report highlighting progress made in 2014 against the Coca-Cola system’s 2020 sustainability goals.
“At Coca-Cola, we’re committed to integrating sustainability into the very heart of the enterprise, where our efforts create value for our shareowners and the communities we proudly serve,” said Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer at The Coca-Cola Company. “We believe the majority of innovation over the next decade will happen at the intersection of sustainability and the supply chain. Working together with our bottling partners to empower women, better manage water resources and promote well-being gives us new opportunities to build business resiliency and add value across our system.”
The report follows the Company’s sustainability framework – “Me, We, World” – and is rooted in three leadership priorities:
Women: 5by20™, one of our value chain innovations continues progress in its commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. As of Dec. 31, 2014, our 5by20 programs had helped enable nearly 865,000 women in 52 countries since the program launched in 2010.
Water: We are also building business resiliency through our water stewardship efforts. In 2014, we replenished an estimated 94 percent (a calculated estimate of 153.6 billion liters) of the equivalent amount of water used in our finished beverages worldwide (based on 2014 sales volume) through 209 community water partnership projects in 61 countries. The foregoing is a global, aggregate number. The replenishment figure for individual countries may vary and/or be more or less.
Well-being: The Coca-Cola system continues its work to meet global business commitments to promote well-being and to help address the public health challenge of obesity. In 2014, Coca-Cola introduced more than 400 new beverage options, more than 100 of which are reduced-, low- or no-calorie and we supported more than 330 active, healthy living programs in 112 markets.
The report also updates other areas of progress, including efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the “drink in your hand” by 25 percent and to sustainably source key agricultural ingredients globally by 2020. In addition, through the end of 2014, Coca-Cola had distributed more than 30 billion fully recyclable PlantBottle™ packages across nearly 40 countries since the program launched in 2009.
The 2014/2015 Sustainability Report demonstrates The Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to continuous improvement, increased disclosure, risk assessment and expanded stakeholder engagement. This year, the Company developed the report at the Core In Accordance level of the GRI G4 guidelines. Ernst & Young LLP, a registered public accounting firm, provided independent external assurance on sustainability indicators related to low- or no-calorie beverages, active, healthy living programs, water use ratio, PlantBottle™ packaging, lost-time incident rate, front-of-pack labeling compliance, and greenhouse gas emissions related to our manufacturing activities.
To view The Coca-Cola Company’s 2014/2015 Sustainability Report, please visit www.coca-colacompany.com/sustainability.
About The Coca-Cola Company
The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. Led by Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most valuable and recognizable brands, our Company’s portfolio features 20 billion-dollar brands including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle. Globally, we are the No. 1 provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees, and juices and juice drinks. Through the world’s largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries enjoy our beverages at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day. With an enduring commitment to building sustainable communities, our Company is focused on initiatives that reduce our environmental footprint, support active, healthy living, create a safe, inclusive work environment for our associates, and enhance the economic development of the communities where we operate. Together with our bottling partners, we rank among the world’s top 10 private employers with more than 700,000 system associates. For more information, visit Coca-Cola Journey at www.coca-colacompany.com, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/CocaColaCo, visit our blog, Coca-Cola Unbottled, at www.coca-colablog.com or find us on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/the-coca-cola-company.
The Coca-Cola Company Forward Looking Statements
This press release may contain statements, estimates or projections that constitute “forward-looking statements” as defined under U.S. federal securities laws. Generally, the words “believe,” “expect,” “intend,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “project,” “will” and similar expressions identify forward-looking statements, which generally are not historical in nature. Forward-looking statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from The Company’s historical experience and our present expectations or projections.These risks include, but are not limited to, obesity concerns; water scarcity and poor quality; evolving consumer preferences; increased competition and capabilities in the marketplace; product safety and quality concerns; perceived negative health consequences of certain ingredients, such as non-nutritive sweeteners and biotechnology-derived substances, and of other substances present in our beverage products or packaging materials; increased demand for food products and decreased agricultural productivity; changes in the retail landscape or the loss of key retail or foodservice customers; an inability to expand operations in emerging and developing markets; fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates; interest rate increases; an inability to maintain good relationships with our bottling partners; a deterioration in our bottling partners’ financial condition; increases in income tax rates, changes in income tax laws or unfavorable resolution of tax matters; increased or new indirect taxes in the United States or in other major markets; increased cost, disruption of supply or shortage of energy or fuels; increased cost, disruption of supply or shortage of ingredients, other raw materials or packaging materials; changes in laws and regulations relating to beverage containers and packaging; significant additional labeling or warning requirements or limitations on the availability of our products; an inability to protect our information systems against service interruption, misappropriation of data or breaches of security; unfavorable general economic conditions in the United States; unfavorable economic and political conditions in international markets; litigation or legal proceedings; adverse weather conditions; climate change; damage to our brand image and corporate reputation from negative publicity, even if unwarranted, related to product safety or quality, human and workplace rights, obesity or other issues; changes in, or failure to comply with, the laws and regulations applicable to our products or our business operations; changes in accounting standards; an inability to achieve our overall long-term growth objectives; deterioration of global credit market conditions; default by or failure of one or more of our counterparty financial institutions; an inability to timely implement our previously announced actions to reinvigorate growth, or to realize the economic benefits we anticipate from these actions; failure to realize a significant portion of the anticipated benefits of our strategic relationships with Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. and Monster Beverage Corporation; an inability to renew collective bargaining agreements on satisfactory terms, or we or our bottling partners experience strikes, work stoppages or labor unrest; future impairment charges; multi-employer plan withdrawal liabilities in the future; an inability to successfully integrate and manage our Company-owned or -controlled bottling operations; an inability to successfully manage the possible negative consequences of our productivity initiatives; global or regional catastrophic events; and other risks discussed in our Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2014 and our subsequently filed Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q, which filings are available from the SEC. You should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date they are made. The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements.
The first Bottle-2-Bottle recycling plant in Africa, with an investment of R75m and the capability to produce resin that will be suitable for the carbonated drink sector, was officially opened today by Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa in Wadeville, Johannesburg. She was joined at the opening ceremony by notable guests from government and the PET industry including Therese Gearhart, President of Coca-Cola Southern Africa, the Joint Managing Director of Extrupet, Chandru Wadhwani and PETCO, the industry body for PET recycling in South Africa.
The plant, installed by Extrupet, is the first on the continent to use a Coca-Cola approved technology for carbonated soft drink bottles thus enabling the closure of the loop in the biggest sector in the beverage market.
The 3000m² PhoenixPET plant, equipped with Starlinger technology, will supply an additional 14,000tons of PET resin per year to the PET packaging industry. It will eventually divert an additional 22,000tons of post-consumer PET bottles from landfills each year, reducing resource consumption, creating jobs and assisting industry in meeting its target of a 50% recycling rate for 2015.
Cheri Scholtz, PETCO CEO lauds the milestone for the PET industry and says, “PETCO and its shareholders are proud to congratulate Extrupet on the opening of the new plant. We believe it will benefit the local value chain and will ensure the long term viability of post-consumer PET recycling in South Africa.”
She adds, “The cooperation within the PET industry to reach a common goal of integrating recycling into product life cycles is showing very notable results: we have reached a point where 49% of all post-consumer PET bottles are currently recycled – no less than 1.5 billion bottles were recycled in 2014 supporting 44,000 informal income opportunities in PET collection.”
Wadhwani attributes the project’s success to their loyal customers, their shareholders continued commitment as well as the long standing relationship with PETCO and says that the facility has the capability to provide a level of quality assurance to meet the growing local and regional demand in the bottle and thermoforming industry for environmentally-friendly and sustainable packaging.
“PhoenixPET is to be viewed as a bench-mark for other recycled polymers as well as packaging mediums aspiring to attain a cradle-to-cradle solution for sustainable packaging.”
The Chairman of PETCO and Franchise Technical Director of Coca-Cola Southern Africa, Casper Durandt concurs, “We are extremely excited about the fact that South Africa will be the first country on the continent to use rPET for Coca-Cola products. We have made every effort to ensure that we maintain the highest quality standards. We thank our partners in PETCO, who represent the full value chain: virgin resin manufacturing, converters, bottlers, brand owners and the retail sector, for ten years of sustained support that has brought us this far. We also thank Extrupet for a great partnership.”
With the Bottle-2-Bottle expansions, it is estimated that an additional 15,000 income opportunities will be created for the informal sector collecting additional material to supply the plant. This supports the green job creation goals entrenched in the National Waste Management Strategy and the Department of Science and Technology’s National Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap.
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The recent problems that the Coca-Cola Co has encountered in India, and the launch by Diageo of its new Water Blueprint, underline once again just how central water stewardship is to the sustainability strategies of major beverage companies.
Water stewardship has become a critical element for all companies as they bid to make their businesses more sustainable and address the impact of climate change, but for beverage companies it arguably has an even greater significance as it is both a primary ingredient as well as a vital resource in the manufacturing process. Moreover, the unique relationship beverage companies have with water also affects how other stakeholders view them and their approach to water-related issues.
Sustainability initiatives are aimed both at reducing impacts and mitigating risk, including reputational risk. Sustainability laggards attract bad publicity, and history shows that campaigners are particularly vigilant when it comes to the water policies of major beverage companies. The past month has provided ample illustration both of the
risks and the importance of having policies in place to mitigate them.
Tensions over how the requirements of bottling plants compete with the water needs of local communities and agriculture have dogged Coca-Cola’s progress in India over the years, and the issue emerged again last month when the state government of Tamil Nadu withdrew its permission for the soft drinks giant to build a bottling plant in the town of Perundurai. Development of the plant had been opposed vehemently by local communities and environmentalists concerned over its impact on groundwater resources. Comments by the chair of the Perundurai Environment Protection Trust reflect the degree to which Coca-Cola is targeted by campaigners. VM Kandasamy was quoted as saying: “This is a great victory for the people of Perundurai. We put all our efforts to stop Coca-Cola and we have succeeded.”
It is a measure of the extent of the challenges water stewardship represents that Coca-Cola continues to face such pressure in spite of positioning water as one of the three primary pillars in its sustainability strategy, along with empowering women and well-being. Only last month, the companyannounced the expansion of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s (TCCAF) Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), committing a further US$35m to Pan-African safe water access and sanitation programmes aimed at reaching an additional 4m people by 2020.
The problems Coca-Cola has encountered in India speak to the particular risks that beverage companies face in water-stressed areas, which are so often also located in the emerging markets of the developing world.
In its new Water Blueprint, launched last month, Diageo has sought to create a water strategy for the whole company, but a defining characteristic of that strategy is that it prioritises water-stressed areas. This is a crucial attribute for any water strategy to have as water is a local and regional resource. In contrast to carbon emissions, global figures on water usage and efficiency are of little significance. It is how companies respond to water risk in specific locales and regions which really matters.
The four core areas identified by Diageo in its new strategy underline the importance of taking account of regional variations in water availability and the particular challenges represented in developing countries. It is notable that Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes referred specifically to Diageo’s expanding footprint in emerging markets in his comments on the new strategy.
The programme aims to enhance the company’s water stewardship efforts in its sourcing of raw materials; within its own operations; within the communities in which it operates and through local and global advocacy for best practice in water stewardship at large. The general aims of reducing water use through a 50% improvement in water efficiency and to return 100% of waste water from its operations to the environment safely are not insignificant, but it is the specific aims related to water-stressed areas that are particularly notable.
Among other targets, Diageo has pledged to replenish water-stressed areas with the equivalent amount of water used in the final products produced in those areas, through projects such as reforestation, wetland recovery and improved farming techniques. The new strategy also reflects the importance of extending a responsible view of water back into the supply chain, where by far the largest proportion of any food or beverage product’s water footprint is to be found. As part of the Water Blueprint, Diageo will equip suppliers with tools to protect water resources in water stressed areas.
In addition, Diageo has said it will develop community projects through its existing Water of Life programme in water-stressed areas where it has production sites. It will also ensure appropriate access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all employees in the premises under its control.
Diageo’s new strategy was publicly endorsed by Barbara Frost, CEO of the water charity, WaterAid. Frost said WaterAid welcomes the Diageo Water Blueprint and would “encourage all businesses, governments and civil society to play their part in solving the water and sanitation crisis by making a solid commitment to managing water sources responsibly”.
Holding up Diageo as an example to others in this way reflects the important role the larger players have in leading the way on key sustainability issues. There may be those who bemoan the hegemonic way in which global giants like Diageo, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo bestride their sectors but, if they show the same assertiveness and resolve to lead from the front in sustainability, they can do much to deflect criticism and rebut the contention that there is something inherently unsustainable in the existence of multinational conglomerates.
Such sensitivities are arguably at their rawest when it comes to the relationship multinationals have with water security and the developing world, which makes programmes such as Diageo’s Water Blueprint all the more important.
The particular vigilance that water stewardship attracts from campaigners also ensures that companies risk enormous reputational damage if they fail to follow through on commitments. In all areas of sustainability, walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk, is vital and, given its crucial importance and capacity for attracting negative publicity, nowhere is this more true than in water stewardship.
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By Alan Hilburg
What’s missing from the conversation about the impact of direct foreign investment in South Africa today?
Government leaders, CEOs, economists, and the media obsess about the bottom-line investment figures committed, rather than the single most important asset in the equation. People.
People make investments happen. People, not plans, deliver results.
If you don’t invest in the people of South Africa at the same time one invests in South Africa it’s likely that you won’t contribute to ending the inequalities that keep South Africans from having the opportunity to succeed. Companies that don’t invest in people are repeating the 300 year old tradition of being takers, not givers.
All relationships to achieve trust must have balance and equilibrium. As a result, investments can’t just be extractive, they must also be contributive.
I, like everyone who invests in South Africa, are in South Africa not by chance…but by choice.
With the decision to be here comes a responsibility to end the one way history of first world foreigners in this country. For us at HilburgAssociates, we are trying to build more than an African advisory business for companies whose brand and reputation are being threatened, we want to help build bridges between individuals and institutions that share a common commitment to develop opportunities for South Africans.
Our clients’ challenge is building a culture of trusted relationships in a society that is experiencing a crisis in distrust. This contributes to many of South Africa’s woes. And, while the hostile labour relations climate, and erosion in business confidence, gives many a foreign investor reason to hit the pause button, I believe this is a good moment to press the ‘play’ button and reveal the leadership necessary to guide South Africa to achieve its unique potential.
During the past few months, the opportunity of being in South Africa has extended to the privilege of getting to know some truly incredible people that share my desire to satiate the hunger in South African townships and suburbs for the chance to learn critical thinking skills as well as practical business and vocational skills.
Coca Cola’s initiative to develop people’s business skills in the township economy seems like a great example of responsible corporate citizenry and a business sustainability strategy. Recently I met Coca Cola’s Southern Africa Marketing Director, Sharon Keith. She is a homegrown executive that had benefited from the company’s deep investment in its people and South Africa. With posts in Atlanta HQ, Dublin and professional development experiences in other emerging markets she explained how one of South Africa’s most admired employers train and develop more than 56,000 direct and indirect employees across the Coca Cola system in South Africa—who in turn support approximately 500,000 dependents.
The Coca Cola program to teach informal vendors and spaza shop owners about cash flow management, inventory control, and other skills to run their businesses more successfully is another great example of the multiplier effect of investing in people. It’s good for the community, the country, and the company’s bottomline.
Foreign investors have a vital role to play in the development of scarce technical skills in South Africa as well. Samsung is a powerful example of a pragmatic and progressive solution when confronted with a dire shortage of engineers and technicians to staff their manufacturing and service facilities. The Samsung Engineering Academy is a public-private partnership to reboot vocational training in this country. Samsung professionals help to ensure that the education and training experience is relevant to industry needs.
Another example is Unilever, the fast-moving consumer goods multinational. Employing more than 3,000 South Africans, Unilever’s number one goal is not just to make money. It’s ensuring that the communities where Unilever does business are better off for the fact that Unilever is there. To achieve that, Unilever models ‘best practices’ in its employee engagement strategies. They invest heavily in its South African employees to make certain they create a bright future for them and their communities. The company has, for a second year running, been certified as the Number One Top Employer to work for in South Africa by the Top Employer Institute.This accolade was given to Unilever in part because of their highly regarded graduate programme that offers a world class leadership development curriculum offering international careers and mentorship programmes to South Africans.
In closing, I am reminded of a very thoughtful, well-moderated panel at GIBS about rebranding South Africa. It was there trying to answer my favorite two word question, “what’s missing?” that I proposed that South Africa should simply not accept foreign investment that doesn’t invest in its people.
The thesis was simple, South Africa’s brand promise should become ” South Africa…Success2 ”
When a foreign company invests in South Africans, as well as South Africa…everyone wins.
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