Picture: 123RF/bimdeedee
Picture: 123RF/bimdeedee

Kantar believes sustainability is Africa’s biggest untapped business opportunity this year. To this end the market research company has launched a Sustainable Transformation Practice initiative to help brands harness opportunities in Africa.

At the launch of the initiative recently, Kantar client partner Africa Insights Astrid Ricketts explained that sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept consists of three pillars: profit, people and planet.

The business case for sustainability is clear, she added. Sustainability issues affect people in Africa with multiple crisis events, and the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the sustainability agenda in 2020. Increasingly, consumers expect both the government and businesses to take responsibility, with brands expected to lead the way, align with their values and help consumers make sustainable choices. Progressive businesses reap commercial rewards and sustainability is closely linked to brand value growth.

There is also no question that sustainability issues directly affect people and economies. Consider, for example, Lagos’s problem with pollution; Cape Town’s water crises, which affected both agricultural output and tourism; and East Africa’s locust invasion, which caused Ethiopia to lose 30% of its tea and coffee exports.

If anything, said Ricketts, Covid-19 has reinforced and accelerated the sustainability conversation rather than diverted focus away from it. It has forced consumers in Africa to reconsider their lifestyle choices, including having a more open mind to different ways of thinking and living; being more willing to acquire environmentally friendly habits such as to reduce, reuse, recycle and buy better; buying local; and giving more value to brands that act in a responsible, transparent and honest way.

“Increasingly, consumers in Africa are choosing products guided by sustainability, with environmentally friendly products and services becoming more relevant,” Ricketts said, adding that as a result, consumers want more from brands today, expecting them to show leadership, vision and action when it comes to sustainability.

More and more brands are rising to this challenge. These include Unilever, with its #EndDomesticSilence campaign to support victims of domestic violence and raise awareness of it; Dangote, which supports education, health and empowerment in communities across Africa; MTN, which has devised a sustainability plan across economic, environmental and social practices to provide socio-economic benefits across the continent; and Nestlé, which is actively driving engagement with consumers against plastic packaging waste, and communicates the actions it is taking.

“Actions will mean more than words in 2021,” said Ricketts, adding that it’s time for a reset. “It’s not about profit versus purpose; it’s profit with purpose.”

Sustainability, she pointed out, has become a business metric. Brand resilience has become key in the aftermath of Covid-19, given that resilient brands deliver superior shareholder returns, get through times of crisis better and recover faster.

The big take-out:

Covid-19 has reinforced and accelerated the sustainability conversation rather than diverted focus away from it.

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