By guest editor, Gavin Heron, director of Earth Probiotic Recycling Solutions and cofounder of Life & Earth
Going green is not a way to burnish a brand. Neither is it a way to feel good about your company (or yourself). And it’s not greenwashing. Sustainability should be an essential element of any businesses’ risk management strategy.

Companies face many risks and develop specific strategies to manage these in the supply chain, labour relations, the regulatory framework, credit and increasingly, in regards to corruption (or collusion). These are pretty standard and have been perfected over the years. However, additional frameworks now need to be added to ameliorate environmental risks.

When we think about risk and risk management, it is really about forecasting and evaluating business risks, together with the identification of strategies to avoid or minimise their impact. And I think that we are in a unique position in South Africa in that the risks we think about happen every day.

When developing a building project, these are five risks that should be approached from a sustainability point of view:

1.    Legislative risks
There are talks about organic waste (food waste and landscape waste) getting banned from landfill from as early as 2020. Considering that in Ekurhuleni, for example, 50% of the domestic household waste bin is composed of organic waste, and that currently between one third and a half of all food is landfilled, how would the impact of such legislation be minimised? This is something that would affect almost all properties, from residences and corporate buildings to restaurants and hotels.

2.    Financial risks
Businesses and households also pay for the waste that is discarded of. The cost of managing the heavy-duty, high-maintenance waste trucks are passed onto business and the consumer, together with the risk of carbon tax and the new minimum wage.

The true cost of landfill per cubic metre is currently between R900 and R1000, but we pay roughly R400 per cube. However, as landfill space become scarcer, new landfills are moving further and further away, pushing up costs associated with waste management.

3.    Service delivery risks
Existing infrastructure in South Africa is declining because of a lack of proper maintenance, and also because it wasn’t designed for the demands and pressures due to the rapid growth of our cities. Considering water infrastructure for example, according to the Rand Water website “Rand Water is currently exceeding the raw water quota allowed by the Department of Water and Sanitation from the Vaal River System, with upgrades only expected to be completed by 2024”. (Source: http://bit.ly/2voEpKK)

Then there is also the issue of power stability and theft of infrastructure. But we can’t rely on the government only, managing these risks is in our hands.

4.    Labour risks
In terms of human resources and skills development, there are risks around service delivery, which can cause major disruptions. Not only strikes, but also about the well-being of workers earning the lowest wages. With rising food costs, for example, what are these people eating? Can they afford proper food and do they have enough energy to properly do their jobs and operate machines?

5.    Climate change
Finally, climate change is a reality and the most vivid example of this is the water restrictions in the Cape. Most companies are ill prepared for “Day Zero” and have no plan for managing staff ablutions, for example, when there is no running water. Similarly in the landscape environment – significant investment is put into landscapes, but if there is no water, everything dies. These issues become crises for buildings where there are no systems capturing rain off roofs, or recycling grey and black water.

Gavin Heron, director of Earth Probiotic Recycling Solutions

The logic of everyday design
From an architectural or design point of view, one has to consider both the impact of the design on the environment but also the impact of the environment on the building in future.

Waste management
The organically recyclable part of the waste stream does not have to go into landfill, but can be used in gardens for landscaping purposes. Today, one gets industrial composting machines that can fit in the size of a car parking space, which can turn food waste into food for the soil. And since a compost system works on a ratio of carbon to nitrogen, the nitrogen-rich food waste are balanced with carbon found in paper and cardboard, killing two birds with one stone.

Soil should have 5% organics but the average in South Africa is about 2%. So by composting food waste and putting nutrients and organic matter back, soil quality will also improve. In Australia, for example, one can earn carbon credits for storing carbon back into the land through “carbon farming”. And what’s more, it gives companies and individuals a way to calculate and monitor their waste.

Water saving & recycling
The drought in the Western Cape has raised awareness around water scarcity, but it isn’t an isolated event – it wasn’t long ago that Gauteng was also threatened with severe water restrictions. We have to start planning for, and perhaps automate the minimisation of use to avoid wastage due to human ignorance. And, importantly, stay away from systems that waste water such as taps that keep going for a set time or mixers that waste a lot of water while people try and find the optimum temperature.

Alternative energy
The energy demand on Eskom is astounding and more and more corporate buildings and residences are going off the grid with solar rooftop solutions and installations on car parks, for example. Apart from being “green”, this move is even more about becoming independent. People want to be able to control their usage and spend.

As a final point, sustainability is not about creating a PR story, a nice-to-have or an optional add on, but really it is a key risk management strategy that should form part of every new development project as well as refurbs.

Earth Probiotic Recycling
Tel: 011 959 1085
Website: www.earthprobiotic.com

Caption main image: This in-vessel composting machine can process up to 60 000kg of food waste per month, depending on size and work based on tailored composting recipes that can include cardboard, shredded green waste and wood chips.

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