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Sustainability & The Triple Bottom Line

September 22, 2020

Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency, the Modern Energy Management podcast invites innovators to discuss energy best practices that go beyond the meter. Our guest for this episode, Ms. Lungi Manzini, is a corporate sustainability expert drawing on a decade of public and private sector experience including government, telecom, and private consulting work.

Manzini is currently based in Johannesburg. She’s applying her MBA as a sustainability expert with Vodacom Group Limited and advancing her scientific background pursuing a PhD in sustainability. Manzini’s extensive professional experience brings a unique perspective to sustainability in the public vs private sectors, women’s roles in sustainability, and the triple bottom line of people, planet, profit.

Private vs. public sector sustainability

Both private and public sector organizations are increasingly engaged in sustainability efforts. From a policy perspective, we look to the public sector and various levels of government to establish sustainability priorities. We expect public officials to set initiate, subsidize, or even fully fund the directives sustainability managers are pursuing.

Private sector sustainability programs are typically in response to, or align with, public sector policies. Manzini suggests public and private sector efforts overlap where sustainability is seen as adding business value, “I think that when a company truly has incorporated sustainability into their strategy, it really helps in building the brand and reputation.”

What sustainability looks like in 2020

According to Manzini, sustainability refers to economic, social, and environmental development that suits the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs years from now.

Economically, sustainability can mean tax compliance that generates revenue for the local, state, or federal government. Or perhaps hiring surges that reduce unemployment rates and lead to increased consumer spending.

At Vodacam, digital inclusion is both an economic and social sustainability effort. Delivering affordable technology connects the unconnected, those living in rural areas, to a myriad of commercial, employment, healthcare, and engagement opportunities.

Social sustainability also encompasses community and professional development programs. For a telecom company, local support means providing digital products and solutions to drive quality education. Professional development, such as empowering women to lead corporations and communities is another strong example social sustainability.

The role of women in sustainability

Manzini attributes South Africa’s traditionally male dominated field of sustainability to a combination of poverty, role expectations, and women seemingly running away from taking the essential STEM courses.

Fortunately, things are changing. The government’s implementing measures to drive more female students toward STEM curricula, and companies such as Vodacom supporting women interested in engineering and sustainability careers. Manzini reinforced this shift stating, “I've also seen that a lot of women are really taking on leadership roles within corporations and also within the public sector…I'm seeing more women trying to get into the space…and really driving change and driving [sustainability] policy implementation.”

Similar to micro and macro factors affecting women in sustatinabilty, Manzini sees eEnvironmental sustainability ais both universal and specific. Greenhouse gas emissions and coal-powered electrical plants challenges energy and environmental managers in South Africa and around the world. Specific environmental challenges range from infrastructure issues such as safe equipment disposal in the telecom industry to operational tasks such as waste management in manufacturing. Even recycling, while generally considered environmentally friendly, requires planning.

As corporate leadership continues recognizing the brand building value of sustainability initiatives, they’re also beginning to appreciate how these efforts impact the triple bottom line.

The triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit

The three beneficiaries of economic, social, and environmental sustainability are people, our planet, and corporate profits. Known collectively as the triple bottom line, energy managers and sustainability executives often finding themselves balancing their company’s policies between the influence they will have on local communities, our physical world, and corporate fiduciary responsibilities. Managing the triple bottom line is about shifting resources to the right program to most effectively achieve stated sustainability goals.

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Consumers really want to be associated with brands that have implemented sustainability programs. Customers are paying attention to how your company cares for the local community, preserves the environment, and generates profit. Which means sustainability leaders need to pay even greater attention in order to build strong brands and positive business reputations. Listen to our full podcast episode with Manzini below.