Africa: How A Sustainability Strategy Could Save The World

Hope Wakio Mwanake
10 July 2019
guest column

Over nine billion tons of plastic waste has been generated in the last five decades with less than 10% recycled globally. The rest pollutes the environment, adversely affecting our air, our water and our soil.

The WHO lists heart disease, strokes, respiratory infections, cancer and tuberculosis among the leading causes of deaths globally. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity are all factors that contribute to these, but the biggest cause of these killers is far greater than our individual lifestyles.

c; particularly reducing people's ability to work and affecting the health of crops and livestock. Worldwide, the lost labour income from air pollution totalled approximately 225 billion USD in 2016, and total costs of environment damage run into the trillions.

Over the last 30 years, the death toll from air pollution in Africa has risen with the continent's economic and population growth. The estimated combined costs of premature death from both outdoor and household air pollution is almost 450 billion US dollars.

Africa, a continent historically plagued by drought and famine, is disproportionately affected by this. Continued population growth combined with a decline in natural resources is compounding existing vulnerabilities

My generation; millennials – and Generation Z after – are driven by the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We do not see climate change as the distant threat, as our predecessors have all too often done. It is us and our children who must live with the consequences, and so it is us who are acting.

I was born and raised in a poor neighbourhood in Kenya and the local fields where we once played are now littered with plastic and glass waste. This was my motivation for starting Eco Blocks and Tiles – I wanted to change the current face of the environment by offering a more sustainable solution to plastic and glass pollution, which we are doing with our alternative building products made from recycled waste.

We are addressing at once the high cost of construction materials in Kenya and the environmental pollution caused by plastic waste.

At the same time, Kenya suffers from an acute annual housing deficit of 200,000 units, with the whole of East Africa requiring five million units to keep up with demand. Worldwide, there is a demand for almost 100,000 units per day.

This has pushed up the cost of construction materials with key industry players resorting to increased importation in order to meet market demand.

We utilise locally available and abundant plastic waste to produce superior, affordable and eco-friendly construction materials for local builders. Our eco-tiles are manufactured to the highest quality from recycled plastic and sand, to produce a cheaper alternative to highly priced imported roofing products.

For the nations of Africa and its poorest communities particularly, having the tools to create better, cleaner infrastructure for the future is increasingly crucial. One Young World has recognised this, awarding Eco Blocks and Tiles with a Lead2030 award for our work towards more responsible production and consumption (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12).

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a blueprint to achieving a sustainable future. The 17 Goals seek to address global challenges in a collaborative effort from the international community. They tackle issues such as poverty, improved health and education, reduced inequality whilst working to preserve the oceans, forests and environment.

Goal 12 stresses the importance in ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns in the knowledge that without this commitment, we will cause irreversible damage to our environment.

But achieving the SDGs is not a fight that individual companies can take on alone. Efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees are dreadfully off-track with some believing this upper limit will be passed for the first time as soon as five years from now. We need urgent action from lawmakers around the world.

Despite the supposed expense of pollution and climate change solutions, governments must now accept short-term spending in favour of the long-term reward of saving our environment and our population.

We also must get across that saving the world around us means saving our economy too. The impact of strategic environmental policy can be huge net economic gains. In the US, where around $65 billion has been invested into air pollution control in the last 50 years, the country has received around $1.5 trillion in benefits. Effectively, every dollar spent on pollution pays off 30 times over.

In fact, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that transitioning to a pathway of low-carbon, sustainable growth could lead to direct economic gains of 26 trillion USD in the next decade.

There is no more time for excuses. The narrative is that it is difficult to operate with an environmentally-focused triple-bottom-line, but governments need to be sending the message that the businesses who will turn the highest profits will be those who implement sustainability into their model.

Sustainability strategy pays and it was recognised as the route to both saving the world, and driving our future economy.

Hope Mwanake, One Young World ambassador

One Young World is the global forum for young leaders. The annual One Young World Summit convenes the brightest young talent from every country and sector, working to accelerate social impact. Delegates from 190+ countries are counselled by influential political, business and humanitarian leaders such as Justin Trudeau, Paul Polman and Meghan Markle, amongst many other global figures.   The next One Young World Summit will be held in London, UK (22 - 25 October 2019).

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