Overview of Business Sustainability in Nigeria

I thought I'd start this blog with an overview of my last research on business sustainability in Nigeria. Business sustainability is about Balance! How can businesses operate to meet their needs of today, while ensuring they can still meet theirs' and others' future needs? How do they balance people, profit, and planet? These are issues many businesses are dealing with in the Western world. And we seem to see this trend more and more in Nigeria!

This is why I decided to do a short presentation on the things anybody would want to know about Nigeria's growing business sustainability space. Below is a summary.

Do Nigerians know and care about sustainable businesses?

I surveyed a people on Twitter and got a total of 1,558 responses. I wanted to know whether people, in general, understand the concept of business sustainability and cared about it. Half the respondents didn't (I will follow up with a qualitative survey later).

This was not totally unexpected, but shows that a lot of work still needs to be done on awareness of business' role in sustainable development.

What are some of the key laws you should know about?

Nigeria is signatory to a lot of international treaties and agreements on environment and sustainable development, e.g. Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol, Equator Principles, ISO 14000, and many others. Likewise, we've got our own environmental laws and regulations dealing with industries and pollution, and guided by the National Policy on Environment 1989. Truly, we're really covered in the legal department; but like most things in Nigeria, implementation is an issue.

Who are some of the key players that you should know?

Players in business sustainability ranged from those in the regulatory environment, learning institutions, environmental and sustainability consultants, researchers, advocates, journalists, and business men. See some of them below.

What are some of the companies you should watch?

Most of the companies that are active in the business sustainability space are corporations with international headquarters. As such, many of their sustainability strategies, especially those who report according to international standards, are cascaded from their global head office. E.g. Unilever, Lafarge, MTN, Etisalat, and Nestle. We see good strides from Nigerian brands as well, such as First Bank, Oando, Lagos Business School, and Nigerian Breweries.

What has been very encouraging is that about 31 companies came together voluntarily to form the Nigerian Business Coalition for Sustainable Development. This means that these businesses are ready to take action, work in partnerships, and share experiences.

What trends should you take note of?

Several trends could be inferred from my research findings:

  • The concept of business sustainability is catching on with the public, but it ’s only about half way through
  • Many corporates, especially those with foreign head offices, are taking business sustainability more seriously, and getting more strategic with their CSR programmes. But many sustainability/CSR practitioners in companies are from a marketing or corporate communications background; there needs to be a shift towards more sustainability officials playing a more strategic role
  • The banking industry is leading business sustainability in Nigeria by coming together to develop their banking sustainability principles
  • SMEs in the sustainability space are characterized by sustainable products (instead of processes or CSR projects), particularly renewable energy (with focus on solar)
  • There is a growing awareness of the need for business sustainability amongst CEOs, politicians and state governors
  • Renewable energy seems to be the most promising sector in the sustainable development space – with a lot of foreign investment & political support. Watch out for product innovations and more indigenous companies in this space.

In Conclusion

Remember the 17 Sustainable Development Goals? They have gained a lot of support in Nigeria, first with the agreements at COP21 and later with federal and state governments engaging senior advisors on the SDGs. There are also conversations around this in the business space, notably the Sustainable Convos and the online #SDGSaturdays. For once, people are watching and talking.

I advise that to contribute meaningfully, businesses should assess their operations to find out which of these sustainability issues are material to them, and then empower their Sustainability Officers to incorporate these into the business strategy. The organizations can then work towards implementation through partnerships with internal stakeholders, suppliers, similar or complimentary companies, relevant associations, and the Nigerian government.

Meanwhile, if you want the full report, you can read it online here, or download it via dropbox here.

P.S. Jennifer Uchendu and I are posting a 13-article series on Business Sustainability in Nigeria. Look out for it on Susty Vibes magazine!