Reimagining the role of business in advancing sustainability in Uganda

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Reimagining the role of business in advancing sustainability in Uganda
By David Sempala

By David Sempala

As we celebrate World Environment Day, it is imperative that we recognize the critical role that businesses play in shaping our planet's future.

For too long, the pursuit of profit by our own enterprises has come at the expense of the environment, perpetuating a

cycle of degradation and pollution that threatens the very foundation of our existence.

However, I firmly believe that businesses can be a force for good, driving sustainable growth and development that benefits both us the people and the planet. The pursuit of sustainable development goals (SDGs) extends beyond governmental responsibility, demanding active engagement from businesses and manager

In Uganda, environmental challenges pose significant threats to human health and economic development, necessitating a rethink in businesses' approach to sustainability.

The country faces alarming environmental statistics, including the annual loss of 200,000 hectares of forest cover, equivalent to 1.3% of its total forest area. Air pollution also poses significant health risks.

Moreover, up to 90% of water sources are contaminated with human waste, industrial effluents, and agricultural runoff, according to recent figures by the World Health Organization.

Additionally, Kampala alone generates over 600 tons of plastic waste daily, with only 10% being properly disposed of. Uganda also ranks as the 12th most vulnerable and 49th least prepared country out of 195 in addressing climate change, according to the Global Climate Index.

These stark realities underscore the urgent need for businesses to adopt sustainable practices and reduce their environmental footprint to ensure a resilient and sustainable future for Uganda.

Production and productivity of small holder farmers and agribusinesses continues to suffer from climate change vagaries evidenced by change in patterns of rainfall, drought and temperature.

However, I remain optimistic that we can turn the tide. My work as a sustainability and environmental activist has taken me across the country where I have seen firsthand the impact that responsible business practices can have, from reducing energy consumption to implementing sustainable supply chain management.

Investing in renewable energy is a critical step, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

In Uganda, we have the potential to generate over 5,000 MW of electricity from solar and wind sources, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels (IRENA, 2020).

Reducing waste is another key area of focus, particularly plastic waste, which has become a scourge on our environment. Businesses can implement recycling programs, reduce packaging, and promote sustainable consumption practices.

Promoting eco-friendly products is also crucial, as it supports sustainable agriculture practices and reduces the use of harmful chemicals. This not only benefits the environment but also supports local communities and promotes

economic development.

Practices like agroforestry and permaculture can increase crop yields by up to 50%, reduce chemical use, and promote biodiversity. This approach will also guarantee market availability for our farmers, both locally and internationally.

Businesses must recognize the importance of sustainable water management, reducing their water footprint and implementing efficient irrigation systems.

In Uganda, where water scarcity is a growing concern, this is particularly critical. Businesses must engage with communities and policymakers to promote sustainable development. This requires a commitment to collaboration, knowledge sharing, and advocacy.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are crucial to Uganda's transition to sustainability, as they account for over 90% of the country's businesses and have the potential to drive sustainable growth and development.

However, SMEs often lack the necessary resources and support to fulfill this role.

Financial institutions can bridge this gap by providing financing for innovative technologies, advisory services, and incentives to maximize the impact of sustainable measures.

Responsible lenders can play a central role in this transformation by recognizing initiatives and unlocking innovative financing mechanisms to support climate-proofing against future disasters.

The Bank of Uganda can promote business sustainability in Uganda through various regulatory policy interventions. These include establishing guidelines that integrate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into lending decisions, encouraging sustainable practices, and refusing funding to environmentally harmful activities like

deforestation and pollution.

This alignment with Uganda's environmental goals will incentivize lenders to support sustainable businesses. Additionally, the Bank of Uganda can encourage banks to provide financing and technical assistance to SMEs, enabling them to transition to sustainable business models, similar to Ecobank Uganda's initiative.

Further interventions include setting sustainability standards, providing incentives for sustainable practices, monitoring and evaluating sustainability performance, offering training programs, and encouraging businesses to disclose their sustainability progress.

These measures will collectively drive Uganda's sustainability journey.

Regulators and businesses share a vital responsibility to promote sustainable development and mitigate environmental harm. Through collaborative efforts, we can create a more sustainable future for Uganda and future generations.

We have a moral obligation to act - to ourselves, our children, and the planet. The urgency for change cannot be overstated; we must take action now to secure a sustainable tomorrow.

David Sempala is the Executive Director of Sustainable Path Africa and  Climate Reality Leader.

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