Linking Business, Nature, and Sustainability: GDSA discussions on sustainability in business

This blog post was written by Adam Fishman, a Fellow at Conservation International.

August 2017: In response to the increasing importance and prevalence of private sector engagement with sustainability issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, the GDSA convened a discussion in Gaborone, Botswana. The workshop, hosted at Barclays Bank, brought together corporates from key industries operating in the country to start a dialogue on the state of sustainability in Botswana and establish common ground for mutually-beneficial actions. Participants included CEOs, CSOs, and other corporate engagement staff from the tourism, financial, and extractive industries in addition to officials from government ministries.

Key Points from the Workshop

Opening remarks by GDSA and Barclays staff set the objectives for the roundtable and outlined how Barclays is tackling issues of environmental sustainability, social welfare and financial inclusion. The keynote presentation focused on the business case for sustainability, highlighting reasons for the GDSA’s focus on large-cap companies; detailing how and why businesses can become and are becoming more engaged; and reviewing tools and frameworks for reporting on sustainability, linking to international agreements such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The keynote acknowledged the GDSA’s role as a platform for cross-sector and cross-country knowledge-sharing, but also GDSA partners’ experience with data collection and analysis.

In the discussion that followed, participants built understanding around reasons behind shifts toward sustainability, whether for public perception benefits, compliance with regulations, or as part of core business strategy, and shared steps that have already been taken in their respective companies. Some participants acknowledged that their natural capital dependency was direct and inextricably linked to their business, and that sustainability initiatives in operations not only help attract and retain talent, but also mitigate waste management issues whilst reducing costs. There was consensus agreement that multi-stakeholder public-private partnerships are critical to implementing corporate sustainability objectives as well as achieving public policy goals. During the discussion, participants brainstormed early ideas on where and how businesses operating in Botswana could partner with the national government on initiatives that go beyond regulatory compliance. Finally, it was agreed that there is a need to scope where and how private sector actors can help governments achieve sustainability pledges per their adoption of the SDGs and submission of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Doing so serves to localize the SDGs and helps connect global agreements to national policies.

Next Steps

The roundtable closed with participants enumerating the way forward and identifying where the GDSA can play a supporting role in relation to existing sustainability initiatives, decision-making tools, and reporting mechanisms. Participants agreed that there is scope to build on existing initiatives and partnerships to collectively break silos. All agreed that there is a need for additional meetings and awareness-building, complemented by further analytical work. Those in the room called for circulation of a list of topics for discussion, agreeing that those who are particularly invested or interested in a certain area can host. Participants were enthusiastic at the prospect of collaboration, as few had previously engaged outside of their own industries.

The GDSA would like to thank participants, and extend its sincerest appreciation to Barclays Bank for hosting the discussion.