Bridge: Planet, people, and prosperity

A vertical-lift bridge stretches across a wide river against a blue sky.

(Tom Saunders/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Storyfest 2023

In my podcast, I explore the benefits of multifaceted and cross-sectoral approaches that bridge sustainability and environmental policy. I argue that environmental sustainability should not be an after-thought to economic or social development, but instead a foundational intention in the mission of global development.

I explore ways that we can achieve the trifecta of environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and support for local communities through creative and collaborative pursuits. To do this, I interview three female leaders from Ikea, Syngenta, and the recycling company, Mr. Green Trading Africa, Kenya.

We discuss the initiatives and progress that these organizations have made. As all three leaders share, efforts in sustainability have trickle down effects on the economy and the social ecosystems of their respective regions. It can be argued then, that the future of sustainability and creating better policy in this space, relies on shared accountability – not just from NGOs, policy makers, and environmentalists, but from corporations, community leaders, and individuals.

I truly believe that pivoting the way we approach sustainability issues such as climate change and food security to prioritize the fair treatment of local actors in support of local economies can act as a bridge that brings people together. Happy listening!

Full transcript below:

Samyudha Rajesh: Welcome to the bridge, where we explore stories and showcase solutions that connect our people our prosperity and our planet. Environmental issues, climate challenges and ongoing food security threats, when seen as standalone issues, perpetuates the impact that they have collectively on our planet. Our global economic history has enough examples, where we have taken a siloed approach to development, mainly economic development, through which we have neglected the after effects of unsustainable production standards, haphazard waste management, and violation of human rights, all in the name of productivity, we need a paradigm shift that allows for more multifaceted and cross sectoral solutions to sustainable development across the globe.

Today’s story shows us that this is possible. In the next few minutes, we will look at how three different corporations from three different industries are achieving economic and environmental aspirations by investing in integrated sustainable solutions. These businesses and their efforts are making a case for people and communities, profit for companies, and care for our planet. We will hear from three distinguished leaders who will touch on the following questions.

First, what actions are their companies taking to be champions for environmental sustainability. And second, how does their company improve social and economic wellbeing in the regions that they work with, through their environmental initiatives. Our first guest is Christina Niemela Strom, head of sustainability at IKEA.

Christina Niemela Strom: Well, first of all, we have such a very clear sustainability strategy that goes for the entire brand and where we actually are targeting healthy and sustainable living, we’re targeting to become climate and circular, positive. And we’re also aiming to be working in the fair and equal agenda. So that we also see the social aspects of what we do. We are a global company, but we have local presence, and the difference you make on a local level, and then that will be aggregated to become global, but it’s actually very, very local and regional. And when it comes to working with farming communities, you will need to work what we call in a systemic way.

So it’s IKEA is the government is NGOs is other brands. And we work that together all of us wanting the region to flourish because it’s good for business, it’s good for people, and it’s good for environment. So we try to tackle climate, nature and people at the same time. That is a triple kind of dilemma that we can also solve together. So not to go only thinking about climate or only about biodiversity loss, we’re only thinking about labor, do the three at the same time. And then we can get the best return on investment and actual results on the ground.

So for instance, what we do, we put goals to all of our suppliers what kind of energy sources they can use to try to go more and more to renewable energy, we put demands on our product development that they use the right materials go into more and more recycled materials, we also develop and secure that we have value chains for more recycled materials. And then we also secure that we do responsible sourcing, for instance, through working with our supplier code of conduct to secure that working and social and environmental conditions and also animal welfare is on the right level.

So by actually securing livelihoods for the local communities securing that to have decent a meaningful work with also a fair fair income and fair pay. So we are monitoring all those things and trying to secure that we haven’t improvement from year to year. So this is not any area that you’re once you’re done, you’re never done. You need to be there. And we do it very much through our presence, and also taking in the expert etc. social partners who can also help us with this, who has the competence that maybe we don’t have yet.

And by that we can actually have an entire region flourish. It’s not a short term thing, you have to go in there with a long term. And you have to be stay put, for instance, we don’t great work when it comes to the cotton farmers, for instance. So we work with Better Cotton Initiative, where we’re helping the farmers to learn how to cultivate cotton and using less water, less pesticides and less fertilizers. And by that also actually getting more money to themselves to the farmer or actually being empowered.

And we also working if I continue on the cotton piece working in Pakistan and India, for instance, helping the the cotton farmer to launch more things than just cotton so they also have fruit, and so on so they can get more money out from their picture of wood. So we are working with our WF, for instance then planting 400,000 seedlings in Pakistan, and very much actually helping the women for them to get their own economy decides to cotton harvest also On the running gear with the fruits and vegetables cetera.

Samyudha Rajesh: Now we will hear from Pamela Gonzalez lennon, head of Asia group at Syngenta.

Pamela Gonzalez lennon: My company is in the industry of agriculture. So the angle I will take for that is, is in agriculture. And normally when people think about sustainability and myself in the past, you think about large farmers, climate change, and like the typical sustainability things, but when you look at Asia Pacific, small farmers are the backbone of the economies in the whole region. So sustainability can mean many different things, for instance, to get higher yields in their production. And just to give you an example, why this is so important, Asia Pacific wheel home 250 million more people by 2050, which is a full Indonesia, and only with 1/3 of the land of the planet.

So that means that to be sustainable, we need to be able to produce more in less land, we work with farmers across the region, this is small farmers, we have more than 450, millions of small farmers that have less than one actor, each one of them, which is a very small amount of land. So we work with them, giving them protocols of products have practices, training them giving them medication in the in, in field activities. Giving them tools I can I can give you some examples like access to credits, just to give you an example, because farmers face many challenges in this production, small farmers, for instance, they don’t have access to formal credit. So the interest rates are very high.

They don’t have access to training or education of what are the best practices to get better yields. They have lack of infrastructure and lack of power of embarking with their production, there are many middlemen in between. So what we are doing is creating an ecosystem of solutions. So farmers can have access to that. It’s a big challenge because it reached them. It’s it’s not easy, it’s 450 million, so one company cannot do it alone. Partnership and all the stakeholders working together is critical to solve this issue for food security in the region.

So just to give you an example of a specifically what we’re doing partnerships, one of these example is in rice in basmati rice in India, we are working with small farmers now piloting full protocol, end to end protocol from the variety, the crop protection protocol with the products, but also looking for the soil, the health of the soil, the soil health, because in the soil, many of the carbon can be captured. So this is one of the important part of how agriculture can help in sustainability in the future, or actually now.

So they are putting in place many practices like the management of the residue of the rice on the soil, water management, and all of these elements will help us to add less carbon like that to food protocol help farmers to produce more sustainable with better yields. So it’s just a small example. So now I think the team in India is working with around 50 farmers him I’m not wrong, but the idea is to keep doing that we work with many institutions coming back to my point of nobody can do it alone.

So with universities, with NGOs, and even with other companies in some countries, we work with fertilizers company, so we can do soil health as samples to put the right fertilizers on the on the soil. So maybe if I can summarize my answer in three points, there are basic needs the sustainability, nature, Pacific Life, food security, and higher yields. But at the same time, we are putting some tools to make sure we also are fighting against the climate change with the carbon emissions with the soil health. So we help them with protocols, but we are also trying to reach them through digital so we can make information more. I call this Democrat ties seeking for rich or poor farmers.

When purpose and profit meets is when things really happens. Because if a company or an organization are only focused on on profit is good for the short term, you get your numbers, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. On the other extreme with NGOs or organization only meet on purpose is also not sustainable because you need to fund the initiatives. Right. So this is why it’s so important that all the partners, all the stakeholders work together to make these tools available, in our case for small farmers, right. And that’s why one company cannot wait alone. And it’s so important that everybody plays a role.

Samyudha Rajesh: To finish we will hear from Sonia Orwa, general manager at Mr. Green trading Africa, Kenya.

Sonia Orwa: I think so maybe just a quick brief Mr. Green Africa works in the plastic recycling space. And we are a force for good company, the first B Corp recycling company to be rated. So in Africa, and what makes Mr. Green what steps we have taken is at the core of our business is working with waste pickers, as being the solution to collecting plastic from the environment, and then manufacturing the same and converting it into a valuable resource.

That could be when used for plastic packaging. So replacing the Virgin plastic, right. And so for us having a circular solution, and working with the people locally to solve a critical problem globally, is one of the ways we are really addressing and using sustainability in everything that we do from the collection, to the recycling and to the off taking of the same locally. The plastic that we actually use in our manufacturing process is collected from streets from oceans.

So from an environmental perspective, we’re already addressing the environmental impacts, obviously, because making a cleaner environment, a more vibrant environment, but more so the fact that we use waste pickers in our value chain is really a great contributor to the social impact in the fabric of for example, Kenya, where we’re currently based, because then we’re using a group of people that normally is very under under supported, and are also not really valued in the community to pick what other people think is that an invaluable resource and making it valuable and that way, the socio economic impact on the person who is picking the waste, they get to directly get impacted from their collection activities in a fair manner, where they are given an opportunity to earn a minimum wage, and then hopefully when they are living wage from their collection.

And on top of that, they’re really the heroes that are cleaning up the environment. So overall, I think Mr. Green’s business model really just uses the people that require the help right, to clean up the environment, which is really needed. And obviously you making sure that the benefits from the sale of the plastic are trickled back down to the environment as well and to the people that we work with.

Samyudha Rajesh: As our three leaders shared, the future of sustainability lies in accountability, not just from NGOs and policy makers, but from corporations who can be allies in this journey. To achieve the environmental, economic and social progress Trifecta demands a holistic approach to sustainability issues, such as food security, climate change, and pollution. Better policies and initiatives are community centric. They are receptive and respective of local communities and farmers.

These policies are partnership focused, bridging communication and coordination between different but equally important actors such as governments, NGOs, corporations, and community leaders. Lastly, these policies are flexible and creative. They adopt new technologies, perspectives and approaches to sustainability. Together we can bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be. We can move the planet forward. This is Samyudha Rajesh reporting from Washington, DC.

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