Durban: The Business of Climate Adaptation

From left: Sarah Frazee (CEO of Conservation South Africa); Simon Susman (chairman of Conservation South Africa and deputy chairman of Woolworths); Peter Seligmann (co-founder, chairman and CEO of Conservation International); Donna Oosthuyse (managing director of Citigroup); and Festus Luboyera (UNFCCC Private Sector Initiative).(© CI / Photo by Tessa Mildenhall)

Rosanne Stanway is currently attending the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. Read other COP 17 posts.

Here at Conservation South Africa, we focus on creating economic development that values nature — which means recognizing that business has an essential role to play. At yesterday’s “Business of Adaptation” breakfast, we hosted three representatives who are pioneering sustainable adaptation activities within their organizations, ensuring that communities — and corporate business models — can adjust to the impact of climate change.

CI founder and CEO Peter Seligmann facilitated the discussion, which invited participants to share their experiences and challenges and brainstorm a path forward. Donna Oosthyse, managing director for Citigroup Bank South Africa, sees sustainability as an essential element of three core pillars of business: operations, supply chain management and corporate social responsibility. Indeed, Citigroup is a long-standing supporter of the Skeppies Fund, a small grants fund in South Africa’s semi-arid Northern Cape which enables people to adapt their businesses to the effects of climate change. Referring to the need to climate-proof rural communities, she says “This area is predicted to be heavily impacted by climate change, so what can and should we be doing? We can’t tell them to stop using the land, we can’t tell them to move somewhere else, and they have to be able to survive there and to adapt.”

Within South Africa, the high-end food and clothing retail store Woolworths has become well known for their Good Business Journey sustainability initiative. Over the past six years, Chairman Simon Susman has led the company on a path which he modestly describes as being driven entirely by the motivation of his staff. Woolworths have pioneered the “Farming for the Future” concept: a simple process of putting compost back into the soil. Their fresh produce suppliers have seen substantial benefits in terms of reduced pesticide use, increased soil capacity and plant growth, and greater productivity has led to greater financial reward. As Simon says candidly, “There is nothing wrong with making money out of being green!”

Building on the success of individual businesses, the UNFCCC Private Sector Initiative (PSI) looks to bring together forward-thinking businesses and provide them with a platform to share knowledge and strategically guide their adaptation activities. As the team leader of the PSI Adaptation Programme’s support and outreach programme, Festus Luboyera is responsible for implementing and managing stakeholder engagement. Festus explained that in terms of addressing climate change, mitigation is usually the first point of call for business: adaptation is not seen as a clear and simple option. As such, the need for a platform such as the PSI is clear. “You can’t talk about business without talking about growth,” he says, “but what kind of growth?” Since its inception, over 62 private organizations have signed up to the initiative; here, the challenge is now for South African businesses to join in.

The energy and positivity of the discussion was inspiring; here are three leaders with a good understanding of the severity of climate change issues, talking about adaptation activities that that they believe in and discussing their commitment to do more. It truly demonstrated the potential of the private sector to integrate adaptation activities and shift to sustainable business practices on a national and global scale. Now we just need to do it — and fast.

Rosanne Stanway is markets assistant at Conservation South Africa.

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