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Local business’ guide to going green in Cape Town

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Cape Town is an innovative city when it comes to the green economy. This is partly due to a progressive and forward-thinking local government, but also as a result of a cluster of green businesses that create a thriving community.

Featured image: YWaste employees at a sorting facility

Benefits and importance of going green

A green economy is defined as “’low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive” (UN). Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (UN). 

A common misconception businesses have is that participating in the green economy via sustainable practices would require them to go out on a limb, be a first mover and take a knock on their competitiveness. 

The reality is that we are in an incredibly difficult economic climate. The impacts of worsening loadshedding beyond Stage 6 at the time of writing, drought risks, inadequate infrastructure, a poorly performing education system, unemployment and poverty are all putting a huge amount of stress on business and investment. Sustainable practices are quickly becoming a necessity as businesses need to adapt to the constraints placed on resources and skills. 

The market has also shifted as new generations are placing increased value on sustainable products/services/jobs thus creating the future demand and improving brand image and profitability.

The overall message is simple: going green is key to a thriving long-term business strategy.

Creation Wines solar panel roofs

Photo: Creation Wines, Hermanus. Installed by Soly

How you can do it too!

The best approach for your business will depend on many factors including the sector you are in, the nature of your business, and where you are in the value chain. Below you will find some principles and themes to get you thinking and exploring the possibilities.

Knowledge is Power

The first step is always doing a deep dive into your business and understanding the nuts and  bolts. Simply, what are all the inputs required to achieve the product/service we are providing? Try to think as broadly as possible about all aspects with which the business interfaces. The other side of being informed is keeping an open and curious mind to the new and interesting developments in the green economy. A great way is to track news and insights on GreenCape.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the utilities of my business?
  • What are the physical assets?
  • What are the human resources?
  • Have I explored alternatives?
  • How do these compare to those of my competitors?

Going further, it is also important to interrogate how these resources are being utilized and whether there are opportunities for optimization (there often are!). Optimization can range from changing behaviour to implementing smart devices.

An example is using an energy audit to understand your business’ electricity load profile. This might reveal faulty equipment that is drawing more than it should, or being on when they don’t need to be. Something as simple as timers for lights can result in low-hanging savings.

Some questions to ask:

  • When am I using these resources?
  • How much am I using in these times and why?
  • Do any of these resources contribute minimally/inconsequentially to the end product/service?

Symbiosis

Everything, including “waste”’ has value in the right context. This perspective on the leftovers from your business operations creates opportunities to turn business expense lines into diversified streams of revenue. You are not alone. Sustainability is in the best interest of the collective. Collective effort and co-ordination is powerful when we communicate our joint needs and capabilities.

Some questions to ask:

  • What material am I disposing of, how, and at what cost?
  • Who are my neighbours?
  • Are there nearby businesses or markets that require these materials as an input?
  • Can I acquire an input from a nearby business or market at a reduced price?

See this example, where fabric off-cuts from a business were used as inputs for making boutique bags. Other opportunities for mutual benefit can also include sharing of co-located assets and resources. Again, the sky is the limit with creative configurations here. 

Regenize recycling pick-up bicycle

Photo: Chad Robertson and Nkazimlo Miti, founders of Regenize

4 ways you can green a small business

Do an energy self-audit

There are plenty of resources online such as this to get you started before you get involved with an energy service company.

Use plastic-free packaging

Paper and plant-based alternatives to plastic — for product packaging, food packaging, etc. For example, check out: GoodForGround

Use local suppliers and creators

Support local businesses — this reduces transportation emissions and contributes to the circular economy

Encourage greener transport options

Facilitate secure bicycle racks
Accommodate public transport schedules into work shifts
Promote ride-sharing and use of associated apps — for example, check out: Jrney

Resources

Here’s a list of some innovative businesses helping Cape Town go green: 

Energy
PayGas
Soly
SunExchange
Fountain Green Energy
Flx EV
Water
LiquidGold
Waste
Inseco
Regenize
YWaste
ReWoven

Agriculture
Aerobotics

Conclusion – Green Washing?

Greenwashing happens when a company makes an environmental claim about something the organization is doing that is intended to promote a sense of environmental impact that doesn’t exist. While claims aren’t often scrutinized, it’s a bad look when brought to light. 

That said, if you have taken all of the above steps and have gone the extra mile to implement sustainable practices and are actively participating in Cape Town’s community of green businesses, feel free to use that as marketing and competitive edge. Ultimately, that is also a great way to inform, inspire and motivate the growth of the green economy.

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