Our current sewage systems depend on a good supply of water. When toilets don’t flush and basins don’t wash then we must start worrying.
Like most things in life, we do not think about the risks we face until they are literally in our faces (or noses).
Take waste management for instance. Most of us do not worry about our waste collections until they’re not collected. When the food waste starts to rot. Flies are everywhere. Rats are larger. And everything stinks.
Most corporations have a risk management strategy in place. But this generally revolves around client and customer risks, the supply chain, labour relations, tax exposure. But what about environmental risk? What about changes in legislation which are going to put a strong focus on what you are doing with your rubbish. What about labour risks in our often fraught labour relations environment?
From an environmental perspective we are able to identify five key risk categories: legal, financial, service delivery, labour and climate. These are not about tree hugging, but rather about managing business risks.
On the legal risk side, in 2020 organic waste will be banned from landfill. Your organic waste (garden and food waste) will not be allowed to be just dumped into a bin and sent to landfill. What are you going to do with it?
A green solution will be required. This could be composting or bio-gas. And that macerator (gobbler) in your canteen? Yes, the one that is always breaking down, or blocking your drains? That is not a real solution. What happens when the sewage farms become over stressed and start breaking? And have you ever thought about how much flushing water you need to get it down the gobbler in the first place?
Financial risks are obvious. Landfills are nearing end of life. And a new landfill is not going to be built next to Tembisa, Sharpeville or Milnerton. No one wants a landfill near where they live. So landfills will be built further and further away from where waste is generated.
Your waste will now travel further and further distances. And you will pay more!
With the Rand/Dollar exchange rate fluctuating wildly we can also expect our waste operators to pass on increased costs to their customers. Those tyres which now travel twice the distance are going to need to be replaced more often. These are not locally produced. That tipper is expensive to maintain and run. And what happens when the oil price goes up and the Rand down?
Reducing the amount of waste going to landfill is key. An obvious strategy is to compost your food waste (which will automatically increase the volume of dry recyclables through reduced contamination); ensure you have a solid recycling and waste separation programme in place; and buy smarter in terms of reducing waste from expired food while also buying from suppliers who are committed to reducing wastage in their packaging.
South Africa is not the easiest place to do business. Sitting in Johannesburg or Durban we tend to whine about small things - potholes, traffic lights, etc. But imagine living and working in the smaller cities and towns where roads are in total disrepair, the sewage system is broken, and the municipality has not paid Eskom for years.
The delivery of essential services in these places is dead. How does one cope? Not by whining. But by putting in strategies which enable your business to be self sustaining. In these situations you have to have water and energy independence.
Makro in Woodmead, Johannesburg have turned their customer parking into a solar farm. Through a direct IPP deal they are now able to purchase their energy without Eskom being involved. Not only does this reduce the financial risk of rising electricity prices it also eliminates the risk of service disruption caused by load shedding or cable theft.
For Eskom the risk is that as they raise prices the businesses and people who can afford to do so will build their own independent power sources. Eskom will be left with customers who still need power but who cannot afford to pay. How will Eskom be sustainable?
The Pikitup strike in Johannesburg last year (2016) highlighted the vulnerability of the city to the disruption of the waste collection system. Similarly to what happened in Beirut, the waste piled up, started rotting and then the rats, flies and smells became a problem (massive protests resulted).
If the waste was inorganic, we would have just had a messy city. But it is the organic waste that became the problem. It takes about two days for food waste to start rotting. This stuff was sitting on the curbs for over two weeks. Using on-site composting this problem can be avoided.
Composting your food waste at source enables any business, or household, to minimise the risk of disrupted waste management collection.
The great unknown risk element is Climate Change. No matter if Trump thinks this is all dumb, climate change is a reality. We are seeing increased extreme weather events. Temperatures are rising. Extreme droughts or floods are becoming the new norm.
Water is in short supply. Yet we flush our toilets with expensively treated potable water. What about using our grey water to flush our toilets? Surely this would be more efficient, more environmentally friendly; while limiting our exposure to water supply disruptions?
Climate Change will have a massive impact on food prices (just look at the impact of the drought on food inflation). Given rising temperatures we can easily see the negative impact on food production. The link between extreme droughts and food production is clear and unambiguous. Recent research has indicated that rising temperatures are a serious threat to the dairy industry; milk production is seriously impacted upon at temperatures above 29ºC.
In order to mitigate climate change risks in terms of food security we need an additional model to the current centralised commercial production system. One method of mitigating the risks associated with centralised commercial production is to locate production as close to the point of consumption as possible and scale this across many locales.
Urban food gardening can take many diverse forms: small scale gardening, large hydroponic or aquaponic systems, corporate roof top gardening.
This model will enable the mitigation of risks and food inflation by (a) spreading production across diverse geographic regions, (b) reducing CO2e emissions by reducing transportation distances, (c) encouraging small scale gardening to improve food security - this is currently done at Wits University and also by generous local gardeners who grow food on their sidewalks for anyone to harvest.
For businesses this will become essential as their low paid employees struggle to feed themselves and their families. Building a food garden for employees not only will improve productivity but employee morale as well.
Sustainability or green practices are no longer a nice to have; a little feel good activity. They are essential practices in a world that is increasing at risk and where climate change is a dead certainty.