The importance of sustainability to drive business growth today

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Sustainability efforts should focus on how technology can be employed to make business sustainable.

It is important to look at sustainability from a people perspective, as this helps an organisation to understand what people are actually looking for.

Charlene Lackay, head of sustainability at MMI Holdings, Annette Breetzke, head of human capital at Momentum Metropolitan, and Ronnie Toerien, Oracle HCM transformation director for Africa, discuss the importance of sustainability in South Africa and abroad.

What can HR and people teams do to drive sustainability?

Annette says at Momentum Metropolitan they have done a few things including revamping their head office in Centurion in order to drive sustainability.“During Covid, we had the opportunity to actually spend time and really re-look at it. It's not a fully green building yet and unfortunately, loadshedding doesn’t help us to get greener right now. But things like solar panels, and the crisis in Cape Town around water, had forced us to actually look at things differently. So our Cape Town head office had water tanks installed,” she says.

According to Annette, the changes they have implemented have resulted in people also doing things differently. Charlene adds that even their social responsibility efforts have changed.

“We have been on a path: even our volunteering has a lighter footprint. But during Covid, that was accelerated. And nowadays, it is possible for you to do what we call virtual volunteering, and give your specialist skills while you’re sitting in the office in Centurion to an organisation that might be miles away in Limpopo, or Mpumalanga or wherever,” Charlene says.

She touches on other practical things that they do in their operations in order to drive sustainability, including a massive drive around their IT operations. She says that they have now upgraded their data centres and have made them more energy efficient.

“If we are not able to showcase those practical examples, we also would not have anything to report on. From a human perspective, I think that comes out in our transformation efforts. We know if we’re not doing all of these things, we then won’t have anything to say at the end.”

The role of the finance sector in driving sustainability

Charlene says it is important for the financial sector in particular, to come to grips with the importance of climate change, and the impact that it has on the world.

She says it is remarkable to see companies like the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) are actively playing an important role to encourage sustainability.“Just recently, we’ve had the launch of the JSE disclosure guidelines on sustainability, and disclosure guidelines on climate as well. And that just indicates to me that there’s a big push from all the important players in the security exchange like the JSE and even the regulators, to kind of direct the industry to say, we must be cognisant of these issues. And we must demonstrate that we understand them and that we are actively engaging with them,” she says.

Annette says technology is important for them at Momentum Metropolitan as it enables them to be more sustainable. “So there are many aspects that have an impact on humans through technology, like linking people on the Zoom call,” Annette says.

Ronnie says it is also important to look at sustainability not only from an environmental point of view but also from a people point of view.“So the things that we spoke about, such as being able to get onto a Zoom call rather than driving through traffic polluting the air and the risk of being involved in accidents, is really also understanding the people aspect and understanding what it is that our people are actually looking for, so that when we are building the technology that we do from an Oracle perspective, we are focusing on those things,” he says.

He also shares that at Oracle, they did a survey that highlighted five key things that people said were important to them in a working environment. These are:

  • Finding belonging within the organisation
  • Feeling understood
  • Having the ability to work their way
  • Learning and growing
  • Being empowered

“So when we start looking at what it is that we do from technology, how do we support these different areas? If we talk about finding belonging, you really need to have some sort of interactive way of people being able to connect with each other. And so, we build something called connections, which allows people to connect with like-minded individuals, or peers, or colleagues or whatever the case may be, and actually start sharing ideas going forward,” he adds.

Charlene says it is important that the sustainability efforts also equally focus on how technology can be employed to make business sustainable by growing the ways in which they can reach different sets of clients and different markets. “Because that is a very important part of the sustainability of the business and an important part of being able to remain an organisation that's able to supply jobs to 13,000 people.

“I think that what we’ve done in the last year has been quite phenomenal in terms of reaching the use market, on digital platforms. People feel more in control to have more access. I think also the kind of digital-driven solutions that we put out into the ecosystem for our clients’ use is very important, because it gives a bigger reach, and it’s also growing the sustainability of the business,” she says.

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