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Sustainability: what planet needs, what customers want

There is only upside and opportunity when creating a more sustainable business, writes ELISABETH MORENO, MD of HP Africa

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To run a successful business in today’s changing world, companies – and their leadership – must stand for something bigger than the products they sell. From boardrooms to shopping aisles, the conversation is no longer just about the best products, strategy or even financial metrics; equally important is the impact an organization creates for society through the values they uphold.

While governments, non-profits, and communities have a role to play, South Africa’s private sector has a unique ability to help solve societal challenges and lead the way towards a brighter and more sustainable future. Today’s leaders can intertwine strong business fundamentals and environmentally-friendly practices, enabling both to thrive together.

For companies, sustainability goes well beyond a moral imperative; it’s good for business. It can become a competitive differentiator that fuels innovation and profitability, all while creating a stronger and healthier company – and planet – for the long term.

With our world facing increasingly difficult challenges, the need for businesses to act is urgent.

SUSTAINABILITY DELIVERS MEASURABLE REVENUE GROWTH

I’m fortunate to work for a company whose purpose has been anchored in sustainability long before it was a part of the everyday vernacular. More than 70 years ago, Dave Packard, one of HP’s founders said, “The betterment of our society is not a job to be left to a few. It is a responsibility to be shared by all.” That emphasis continues today. Sustainable impact is a fundamental part of our strategy – and one where we see a direct correlation to revenue.

We just published our annual Sustainability Report detailing how sustainability efforts helped differentiate us from competitors, directly resulting in more than $900 million dollars of new revenue – an increase of 35 percent year over year.

If there is one piece of strategic advice, I can offer to today’s business leaders, it’s that you should incorporate social responsibility into your purchasing decisions. This is your opportunity.

BRANDS AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL GOOD

Today’s customers care about the environment and social justice. They want to buy from brands they trust, and there is an inherent obligation for corporations to advance larger societal and values-based issues. Purchasing decisions and brand endorsements – or lack thereof – can change a business’ behaviour.

In a recent survey, 83 percent of millennial respondents said it’s important for companies to implement programs to improve the environment, and 75 percent said they’d change their purchasing habits to reduce their own impact. Moreover, 66 percent of customers in general would spend more to purchase a product from a sustainable brand that advocates for social and environmental issues. 60% of millennials want to be employed by companies that contribute to social and ethical causes.

THE PROLIFERATION OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

If customer demand and attracting the best employees wasn’t enough, upcoming regulations will change how corporations operate and produce goods. The circular economy is aimed to reflect the patterns and systems of reuse and recycling of products indefinitely. Each product at end-of-life becoming a new resource rather than merely being discarded. The circular economy recognized the value of ‘waste items’, repurposing them as alternative resources that can be used again and again in a circular goods cycle.

In South Africa, about 90% of carrier bags, agricultural films and other short-term or single-use consumer plastic items are produced from petroleum-based chemical materials and are therefore non-biodegradable when disposed [of] in natural environments. Plastics SA announced their goal of eliminating all plastic waste from South African landfills by 2030 – something which will be easier to achieve once the CSIR researchers take their biodegradable plastic into production. However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome.

Any business that relies on a ‘take, make, dispose’ model will have to adapt or face near-certain decline and eventual demise.

Within the circular economy framework, companies begin to transition from a linear selling model to more engaging and more profitable services-based relationships. Customers feel closer to the brands they use while the brand maintains and manages the products throughout the lifecycle – including disposal, recycling, and replacement sales – thereby increasing trust, loyalty, and ultimately profitability.

RECYCLING AND RECOVERING MATERIALS

As corporations rethink business models, its necessary to rethink materials that go into creating the products. Manufacturers must consider the sustainable potential of a product in the design process – not just when customers are ready to discard the product.

By repurposing materials, there is at least $700 billion in savings already available in the global consumer goods market. One area where manufacturers are converting is in the use of virgin plastic and turning to recycled plastic. The Refillery, Johannesburg’s very first plastic-free grocery store, is helping South Africans fill their pantries, while addressing the plastic pollution crisis.

South Africa recycled 334 727 tons of material into raw material, when compared to the recycling rate of 1 % in Europe, South Africa has an input recycling rate of 43.7 % for all plastics.

It’s important for all companies to use materials as efficiently as possible and increase the use of recycled and renewable materials, but for most manufacturers – including us – this isn’t always easy. Last year, more than 21,000 tonnes of recycled plastic was incorporated into our products, seven percent of the overall content. But that’s not enough. As a widely regarded as a leader in the space, we recently made a bold commitment to increase our use of recycled plastic to 30 percent by 2025.

HOLDING BUSINESSES ACCOUNTABLE

Given the responsibility that corporations have in creating a more sustainable world, customers, governments, investors, employees, partners and communities need to hold corporate leadership accountable for staying true to their word.

As part of this, organizations should detail their policies, progress and goals towards environmental and social responsibility. The only way to measure progress and set bold new commitments is to be honest about the achievements, setbacks, and goals – challenging themselves, their competitors, their industries and the government to do more. A commitment to principles and collaboration can spark a chain reaction.

It’s not to say that the transition into the circular economy won’t be challenging for businesses, but the positive implications and long-term business fundamentals make it hard for any organization to disregard the opportunity. Creating a positive social and environmental impsact is imperative for the survival of brands as they look to win new customers, attract talented employees and increase revenue. We all benefit when the private sector and governments work together to invest in our planet, people, and communities, enabling them to thrive.

As a business leader, it’s not always what you do, but how you do it that counts.

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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