Supplying the goods and services needed for a growing world population creates great opportunities for business. But, only if business can think differently.
Energy costs the world over continue to rise. Water quality and availability are declining everywhere. Air quality in many developing countries – including South Africa — is a problem that is causing health issues. And these health issues impact on productivity and the cost of doing business.
So the long term future depends on businesses recognising these constraints and rethinking what products and services they offer and how to deliver them.
There are multiple examples from across the world of businesses which have been quick to rethink how they add value. One such example is now evident in all major international cities where the race is on to reduce traffic pressure and the related air quality problems as well as the cost of commuting. Commuter cycling solves multiple issues – it takes cars off the road in peak traffic periods, helps busy people combine personal exercise with the commute to and from their business and other activities and reduces the requirement for liquid fuels. All major tourist centres now offer bikes for hire – so the commuter needing to get from A – B doesn’t even need to own the bike. There are a variety of pay for use schemes operating that are also open to visitors to the city.
Vehicle manufacturers in Europe area also starting to think differently. Some are now operating in partnership with the other transport modes, making it easier for a long distance traveller to catch a train (more efficient , safe and convenient) between key centres and then make use of a rental car or shuttle service on either end. So, it doesn’t become the death of the automobile, it just means a change of ownership from outright individual ownership (with all the licencing and servicing and road worthy constraints) to collective ownership or pay for use. So reducing the amount of expensively reworked metal sitting idle for the 8-10 hours a day while an individual is at work and still providing the transportation service when needed.
For other sectors the challenges have also provoked some great innovations. There is the North American carpet manufacturer which effectively “leases” you the carpet while you require it – enabling them to constantly recycle and reuse fibres that are still good while reducing the enormous waste burden created when carpets are changed in redecorating or upgrading property. Recycling (or repurposing) offers multiple business opportunities for reducing the input costs, as the energy input and water resources consumed are generally lower for recycling than they are for the conversion of virgin material into products and services.
In South Africa, with all our current energy woes, just the supply insecurities are enough to provide a very real business incentive to use much more renewable energy on your facility rooftop. You won’t necessarily go off grid, but you can reduce your reliance on the municipal energy suppliers, with an eye not only to energy supply but longer term cost control. Anyone reading about the financial challenges that the energy sector currently faces must see that there is only one possible outcome. Ongoing cost increases and increased supply insecurity.
With water as one of the most undervalued commodities on the planet, smart businesses are looking to reduce water consumption through better uptake of water-wise technology and sometimes from completely rethinking how their product either uses water or requires water in the operating phase. Some great examples can be found internationally, including from Brazil where one cosmetic and beauty products producer realised that for some of their product were in effect 90% water and 10% active ingredients. By rethinking their business to provide consumers with a more effective way of buying the active ingredients in an easy-mix formula, well packaged and with good education to the user, they were able to reduce the cost of pushing water around the country and so provide the consumer with a cheaper option. They have worked ot that if the consumer is given the right instructions about how much water to add and how to mix and quality control the mixture they can save themselves money and reduce the burden of carrying the end product home from the point of sales. Of course, that only works where consumers have access to water.
But, as we know that new water strategies for South Africa will be changing the pricing structure for water, it is time for us to acknowledge that despite being a water-stressed country, we waste incredible volumes of water in this country. If the price goes up we will need to find solutions very quickly, so it would be far better for companies to start planning now for the inevitable.
Current waste legislation in the country is also signalling the end of the cheap throw away. We can’t afford them anymore. We need products that last, that can be reused and that don’t create unmanageable wastes around our communities.
The opportunities are almost endless. It just requires entrepreneurs who recognise that the constraints of the future are also opportunities to make money and to secure the kind of green and health environment that lives up to the Bill of Rights in our Constitution.