Cogent Takeaways from the 2019 LBS Sustainability Conference

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By Onuwa Lucky Joseph

The concept of sustainability does need some getting used to as it spans an extensive and near infinite area of human mediated activities. The Nigerian corporate sector, mired as it is in short term thinking resulting largely from short term financing and limited self-generated funding, not to mention inhospitable government policies, tends to think, understandably, more about their own immediate survival than any ‘grandiose’ concept of sustainability which to their mind has more visionary than practical applicability. But what can be merely visionary or idealistic about something which dire effects are already upon us?

Prof Enase Okenedo, Dean, Lagos Business School delivering her welcome address

Into this miasma comes the Lagos Business School (LBS) Sustainability Centre to help put, on a sustainable basis, a theoretical framework and application models that guide its adoption and practice by Nigerian businesses. LBS being the world renowned institution that it is (it has been a recurring name on the Financial Times Executive Education rankings for 13 consecutive years), has, as it were, a captive market in the C-Suite executives who regularly attend its programmes which tout the imperative of sustainability as a core business practice.

Not for to tamp down the profit motive but to help businesses take a longer term view of their business decisions which because of its short term and individualistic thinking is the driving force for the bulk of the environmental issues that plague the world today. But when the thinking is done with the collective in view having a broader ambit that encompasses alongside profits, people and planet as well, the triple bottom-line redounds to humanity on an ongoing basis.

Prof Chris Ogbechie, Professor of Strategic Management and Director, LBS Sustainability Centre

It was in the spirit of further propagating and imprinting this urgent message that on November 27 last year, the LBS Sustainability Centre held its 2019 international Sustainability Conference (ISC), which was promoted as “an annual dialogue-to-action forum that brings various stakeholders together to advance sustainable development through business. This conference is a platform to inspire business leaders to embed sustainability and responsible business practices in their strategy and operations for positive impact not only on business performance but on the society as well”. There you have it.

The theme of the conference was ‘Innovating for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’, and it featured a sustainability exhibition and case presentations from three companies on the topics Disruption for Impact: (1) Innovation for Plastic Recycling and Reuse (by DOW Chemicals); (2) Creating Shared Value in the Supply Chain (by Nestlé Nigeria), and (3) Funding to Reduce Energy Poverty (by Arnergy Solar Ltd). The keynote address, delivered by Prof Joseph Nnanna, was on Inclusive Business: Africa’s Force for Good, followed by a fireside chat moderated by the Director of the LBS Sustainability Centre, Prof Chris Ogbechie. The conference concluded with a panel discussion on the topic ‘How Can Sustainable Business Models End Poverty?’ And the conversation was rounded up with a vote of thanks by Oreva Atanya, the conference lead and sustainability associate, Lagos Business School.

Conference Conversations

  • The world population will hit 8.3billion by 2030. In effect, there will be a need for 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water needs.
  • Sustainability thinking can lead to long-term business success while at the same time contributing to economic and social development, a healthy environment and a stable society.
  • Nigeria is beginning to focus on innovations that advance the good of the society rather than merely adapting technology from other countries, with issues such as energy poverty, plastic waste and financial inclusion at the forefront.
  • There is a huge consumer base at the bottom of the pyramid that can be harnessed for impact and profit. Any company seeking to do impact this key segment of society must innovate to meet the needs of this underserved market.
  • Technological innovations are providing solutions to challenges such as lack of access to healthcare, pollution, poverty and lack of education. As a result, they are laying the groundwork for a more sustainable future and also transforming Africa’s economic potential, creating new target markets and unprecedented consumer choice.

Recommended Actions Going Forward

In addition to a greater number of innovative and sustainable businesses, Nigeria also needs to create an eco-system that nurtures them.

Panel Discussion on How Can Sustainable Business Models End Poverty

The government can play a major supporting role in advancing sustainable growth. They can increase sanctions for environmentally-unfriendly policies and review archaic laws that touch on sustainability. There is also a need for strict enforcement of existing sustainability policies.

Research institutions and financial institutions can also play a role in advancing sustainability through their own programmes.

There is a large amount of funding available globally for sustainable businesses. Funding opportunities such as value capital, strategic equity and private equity, should be maximised. We need to erase the myth that accessing finance is impossible or too difficult.

There must be an end to the mismatch of financing long-term projects with short-term loans.

There is also the need for reorientation on the issue of insurance, which is a subset of the sustainability model.

There is a need for executive buy-in for long-term sustainability initiatives in organizations, to ensure that sustainability thinking is adopted by all members of the organisation.

Organisations cannot be satisfied with what they are doing at the moment. Decision-makers should continue to monitor and evaluate sustainability initiatives in order to measure impact and improve implementation for long-term impact.

Prof Joseph Nnanna, Chief Economist, Development Bank of Nigeria

All – government, civil society, etc. – must ponder on their role in building a sustainable society. Businesses have to act as a force for good if they wish to attain sustainable growth and must focus not on short-term profit, but long-term, sustainable profit.

Speakers and Contributors to the forum included Prof Enase Okonedo, Dean, Lagos Business School; Prof Chris Ogbechie, Director, LBS Sustainability Centre; Prof Joseph Nnanna,  Chief Economist, Development Bank of Nigeria; Dr Ijeoma Nwagwu, Faculty, Strategy and Sustainability, Lagos Business School; Oreva Atanya, Sustainability Associate, Lagos Business School; Dr Abijah Nyong, Portfolio Leader, Dow Oil, Gas and Mining, Sub Saharan Africa, The Dow Chemical Company; Victoria Uwadoka, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Nestle Nigeria; Femi Adeyemo, Co-founder, Arnergy Solar Ltd; Dr Godwin Ehigiamusoe, Managing Director, LAPO Microfinance Bank; Dr Godwin Nwabunka , Chief Executive Officer, Grooming Centre; Mrs Abimbola Akeredolu SAN, Partner, Banwo and Ighodalo;  Chidinma Maduka, Head, Human Resources and Shared Services, Falcon Corporation Ltd; Dr Jubril Adeojo, Managing Director, SMEFunds Capital; and Jude Obidiagha, Kingson Elendu, Angela Omiyi, Munachiso Ugo-Emeribe, Arinze Modebe and Uche Emeagwali, all of the LBS Sustainability Centre.

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