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Eco-friendly business practices for African small businesses

Oct 23, 2023 10:00AM ● By Gift Joe

Image: Banana trees under sky, Arusha region, Tanzania. Photo by Blue Ox Studio

From climate change to resource depletion, Africa is facing some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. According to the African Development Bank, Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts under all climate scenarios above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is despite contributing to just 3% of total global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Being a continent with a high vulnerability to climate change and poor preparation for adaptation to climatic shocks, the need for sustainable practices has never been more urgent. Businesses in Africa, both small and big, need to tweak their practices to ensure environmental sustainability.

How African small businesses can adopt eco-friendly practices

In recent years, the global landscape of business has shifted towards sustainability and environmental consciousness. Businesses ranging from SMEs to corporate giants are working to lessen their impact on the environment. Some of Africa's biggest environmental challenges are water pollution, air pollution, and deforestation, which are mostly caused by human activities, biodiversity loss, and oil spills.

Small businesses may wonder what role they have to play in environmental sustainability and if their efforts truly matter on a global scale. Well it does, and here are some eco-friendly practices that can be adopted:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Small businesses should consider implementing a waste management program where recycled or upcycled materials are used for products or packaging. One way to achieve this is by encouraging customers to bring their reusable bags or containers.

Reduce energy consumption: One of the most popular eco-friendly initiatives for businesses is lowering energy usage. Small business owners can invest in renewable energy sources like solar panels. Solar energy is a more eco-friendly option and helps businesses to save money against rising electricity costs. Energy-efficient appliances and lighting are also another good option. Also, encourage employees to turn off lights when they leave a room, which will save energy and money.

Increase Work From Home Days: One of the steps small businesses can take to reduce their carbon footprint is providing more work flexibility. Working from home (WFH) at least once a week lowers the negative impact on the environment as it eliminates the need for a daily commute, which in turn reduces the amount of CO2 emissions each driver generates.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich

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Benefits of eco-friendly businesses

There are many reasons to run an eco-friendlier business. Not only does it benefit the environment, but it is also good for your business. The benefits include:

A healthier planet: Eco-friendly businesses contribute to reducing pollution and mitigating climate change which benefits society as a whole.

Saves cost: Switching to energy-efficient appliances such as LED lighting and turning off the lights after work can reduce utility bills. Also, waste reduction and recycling programs can lower disposal costs.

Tax incentives and business opportunities: Most businesses that implement eco-friendly practices enjoy government tax incentives or grants from investors.

Boosts the image of the brand: Customers are more likely to patronize you if you are offering eco-friendly products or services. Going green can do wonders for your brand’s image.

African small businesses that have integrated eco-friendly practices

Across the continent, many small businesses have embraced eco-friendly practices. One such success story comes from Nigeria, where a young lady, Adebimpe Oni, upcycles solid waste like old tires, bottles, and plastics into recycled furniture suitable for homes, offices, playgrounds, and studios. Her company, D’Rose Recycling, is addressing the challenge posed by the tons of plastics and tires that end up in the ocean every year, causing water pollution.

Another example is Richard Bbaale, a social entrepreneur from Uganda who founded BanaPads. The company uses banana pseudostem wastes, which are usually left to rot after harvesting, to produce affordable, eco-friendly sanitary pads.

There is also Mobisol promoting clean and renewable energy access. This innovative ICT-enabled solution combines solar energy, mobile technology, and microfinance to bring clean power to rural households in Rwanda and Tanzania.

Image Source: Twitter | Bana Pads

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Challenges African small businesses may encounter during their eco-friendly journey

Running an eco-friendly business is not an easy task. Despite its many benefits, African small businesses that embark on this journey face various challenges. One of such challenges is the initial cost. Small businesses may struggle with the capital to invest in new technologies, equipment, and materials.

Dealing with inadequate infrastructure is another challenge. Some African countries are still grappling with unreliable electricity and water supply, which can hinder the adoption of energy-saving or water-conservation technologies.

There is also the challenge of securing funding or loans for sustainability initiatives, as financial institutions may not be willing to invest in relatively unproven eco-friendly projects.

Small businesses may also lack access to the necessary expertise to guide them through the process of adopting eco-friendly practices.

The government’s role in promoting eco-friendly practices among small businesses

While African small businesses are stepping up their game and integrating eco-friendly practices into their operations, governments also have a crucial role to play. Here are some ways the government can help:

Policies and regulations: The government can implement a mix of policies and regulations stringent enough to ensure businesses comply with eco-friendly practices.

Financial support: The government can provide loans, grants, and other funding options for small businesses to invest in eco-friendly innovation.

Fund research: Investing in the development of eco-friendly technologies can make them more accessible and affordable for small businesses. The government can also fund research into sustainable practices and solutions.

International Agreements: Governments can participate in international agreements and treaties aimed at addressing global environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

Eco-friendly business practices should be adopted by all as it not only help protect the environment but can also improve efficiency and reduce operational costs.

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