Sustainability has become an increasingly relevant topic in recent months and years, but many people think sustainability only refers to the environment.
However, it is much more than that. Sustainability includes aspects of social and governance and speaks to the longevity of businesses going into the future.
The idea of combining profit and purpose to create and drive more prosperous societies, especially within Africa, is more crucial than ever.
Organic Trade and Investments' CEO, Esther Ama Asante (Esthy), during the MEST Sustainability Webinar in partnership with AR Initiative, shared her perspective on sustainability as a startup that is focused on the transformation of the agribusiness sector through innovative technologies and how OTI is fostering policies and standard operating procedures that will ameliorate the working conditions and livelihood of the many farmers and manufacturers Organic Trade and Investments (OTI) is currently in collaboration with.
Questions were thrown to the panelists on the specific topic, and this is what our CEO had to say:
Do you have a sustainability strategy for your business?
OTI adheres to 6 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are driving us to transform our world and the communities we operate in. These SDGs are:
i. SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
ii. SDG 5 - Gender Equality
iii. SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
iv. SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
v. SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production; and
vi. SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
It would be difficult to run a business such as OTI without having any properly documented sustainability strategy in place. We deal with thousands of small-scale growers and artisanal manufacturers. It’s one of the strategies we put in place in the internal control system.
It’s mandatory for the suppliers and farmers we work with to take note and abide by the Code of Conduct, which outlines their basic responsibilities towards the protection of our biodiversity, and ensuring business continuity, human rights, fair trade practices, good industrial hygiene practices, quality management procedures, etc… so yes, we do have a sustainability strategy plan in place.
How do you measure impact in your business?
First and foremost, we have to set those Sustainability KPIs. On a constant basis, these KPIs are measured for specific metrics including; product recycling waste, waste recycling rate, water footprint, energy consumption, carbon footprint, supplier environmental sustainability index, etc.
Measuring, for example, energy consumption, provides a powerful indicator of the amount of energy being consumed by the supplier, or by measuring supply chain miles, provides an insight into how far our product is traveling before reaching its final destination. It isn’t always achievable, as we depend on other stakeholders/service providers (shipping lines, etc.) to fulfill orders.
Whenever we can and as much as possible we try to consolidate shipments to minimize the negative impacts on people’s health, and the environment.
To contribute to reducing the carbon footprint, for example, all our support team work from home. We are very strict on the working hours of our employees and beneficiaries.
Employers have the moral right and obligation to create a conducive workplace and environment for their workers. We stimulate competitors to partner with us just so we meet the expectation of customers.
And it’s important for us to align our goals with the exigencies of the SDGs that are driving the business.
We make sure that the products we sell have an inherent positive benefit to the customers but also to the environment.
What has been a challenge for you in integrating sustainability in your organization?
Holistic thinking, governmental, and societal approach towards sustainability. Integrating sustainability in business comes at a cost. We constantly have to educate customers on the importance of practicing fair trade, for example. Though progress has been made toward the SDGs, national governments have not created enough framework that demands action from businesses operating in Ghana to implement good practices of sector collaboration and private partnership around sustainability.
Have you noticed any impact of your business activities on the SDGs?
Certainly. When we first started OTI in 2015, we barely had 20 farmers. Today, after putting in place the right standard operating procedures, we are now nearing 150,000 farmers and 300 manufacturers. 2/3 of the farmers we were working with had to rely on middlemen or women for a market, more than 50% of their crops would go wasted because they did not know what to grow, not having any understanding or accurate data of market's expectations.
We created a dedicated research and development department whose duty is to focus on market research, data collection, and reporting to help the company make an informed decision on what to produce. This approach has helped us avoid post-harvest waste by 100% among our growers and production waste by 90% for our manufacturers.
Additionally, we’ve improved the way of processing the quality of raw materials to comply with the international quality standard, supported them financially, provided capacity building to optimize their SoPs but also be export-ready, and we’ve encouraged them to mechanize and digitalize their operations to boost sales.
At OTI we are here to advocate for SDGs policies from policy-makers and public-private organizations. We hope to build a social movement with customers, beneficiaries, and employees and that by so doing it will pave the way for other companies and authorities to implement change at scale.
How has your approach to sustainability been received by customers, investors, and the ecosystem?
Over the years, we’ve seen a change of behavior from some customers who require that the products they are sourcing from us be certified organic. This wasn’t the case a few years ago, prior to COVID. 60% of customers are willing to pay more for ethical and environmental-friendly products. However, there are still customers who still wouldn’t care to pay far less than the minimum price. Though they still request that we issue the organic certificate. Often, these customers are practicing green-washing.
While farmers and manufacturers are grateful and thankful for a company like OTI that is keen to protect their interests, assist them to make the most out of whatever they grow or produce, help them promote their articles, and connect them to a reliable international/local market, give them the financial support needed to grow their businesses and create generational wealth and stability for their family is all that is encouraging OTI to do more and remain efficient in business.