Leading energy and infrastructure conglomerate, Sahara Group has been a notable promoter of sustainability in Africa through various projects and partnerships. Sahara recently announced a new partnership with WeCyclers and the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund towards driving recycling in Lagos, and subsequently, expanding the project across Sahara’s locations. In this interview, Ejiro Gray, Director, Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group speaks on the initiative
What does the recycling initiative between Sahara Group , WeCyclers and the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund involve?
The Sahara Foundation is the primary vehicle through which our social sustainability drive and ambitions find expression. We have a mandate to positively impact lives and livelihoods, by translating global socio-economic objectives into practical life-changing experiences for people – you and I, Joe Bloggs on the street, across society. This collaboration sits at the intersection of responsible environmental stewardship and economic empowerment. As an organization, we have assumed an obligation of being a bridge and catalyst for sustainable development wherever we establish boots on ground as responsible energy providers.
Why Wecyclers and What would be the expected outcomes of the partnership?
WeCyclers is a renowned social enterprise committed to helping low-income communities capture value from their waste. This waste to wealth value comes in the form of financial benefits from a points-based system or health insurance for beneficiaries. It is expected that the partnership will contribute to improving lives and livelihoods in low-income communities in Lagos State, towards the promotion of sustainable environments.
How much of an impact can recycling have in the quest for sustainability?
One of the challenges we have across the globe and more specifically developing countries is the issue of waste management, in particular, plastic waste. It is affecting our water ways, biodiversity and drainage systems. We often talk about how Africa is significantly impacted by climate change and one of such ways is this issue of waste clogging our water ways, and non-biodegradable waste causing immense damage to marine life through poor waste management that settles on the seabed. If many others are just as committed to addressing these issues, as we are, it will go a long way in mitigating the impact of climate change on our most vulnerable communities.
What would you say are the key challenges Africa has when it comes to recycling
Africa is faced with a number of challenges in the area of sustainability and the recycling space isn’t exempt. Primary to developing a culture of recycling is the security of the fully supply chain that drives the practice and industry. There must be a source of the waste material, industry for the conversion of the waste material to products and lastly, a market for the use of the waste material, end-to-end. What is the method of collection of recyclable waste? What regulatory, or incentive framework has been built around it to promote compliance or foster interest and intentionality around it? How intentional are we about promoting industry around recycling in Africa? These are the challenges and this is why our collaboration with LSETF and WeCyclers is so important. We are creating an ecosystem through which individuals in our communities are encouraged to drive behavioural change by deriving a tangible benefit from what is essentially, cleaning up their communities. We are saying, “give us that which seemingly is of no value to you, and we will show you how you can build “something” from “nothing”.
What scale of environmental and economic value can accrue to Africa if formidable recycling projects are established across the continent
The benefits are immense. Economic empowerment, where the recycling mechanism and supply chains are formalized and scaled. Job creation, which has even greater potential where the ecosystem is structured from the government down to the last mile and backed by an enabling regulatory framework to drive compliance and scale up collection. Recycling also has economic benefits as regards industrialization through manufacturing using recyclable waste, thereby also promoting a circular economy. The impact of promoting circularity will be seen in waste reduction, reduction of environmental damage and reduction of pollution as a result of poor waste management systems and resource efficiency in managing the natural capital, mother earth has endowed us with.
Sahara drives generational sustainability as a deliberate strategy. How can this be used to drive awareness and ultimately involvement
All efforts towards responsible environmental stewardship and sustainability in all forms of expression are geared towards designing the future today, in a way that will ensure posterity is better for it. In other words, the impact of effort put in today, will only truly be determined by what is left to pass on to the next generation. This is why resource efficiency in all forms, including our human resources, is such an important sustainability pillar for the Sahara Group. Our graduate trainee programmes, a deliberate effort to build and sustain a leadership pipeline for organizational succession planning through empowerment and positioning, is key to promoting involvement at all levels, in our sustainability initiatives. The drive, the passion and energy of youthful exuberance is harnessed and channelled towards propagating responsible and efficient use of our natural capital across our communities and society at large.
This same approach is being adopted in our reforestation and green life regeneration projects aimed at promoting sustainable environments. However, we are also intentional about sensitizing an even younger generation of potential future leaders – our pupils and students at Power Field Schools, Egbin (one of the entities in the power generating arm of our business), so that the culture of sustainability and environmental awareness is ingrained in them as early as possible. Education and awareness creation for the recycling project will be taken to schools and neighbourhoods in the communities of implementation, and across news media platforms, to sensitize all and sundry on the need for individual and collective ownership for environmental stewardship through practical measures such as recycling.
Can you share some of the recycling projects Sahara has been involved in and the outcomes
Our involvement in the promotion of sustainable environments through recycling dates back to 2018, with the launch of the “Sahara Green Life Initiative”. The initiative was aimed at recycling and upcycling to promote a circular economy, recycling for health care and access to clean energy initiatives. The Ijora recycle hub was the first of the recycle hubs we set up in the Ijora community to properly collect recyclable waste and ensure a sustainable environment for over 400 households.
In addition to this, the waste to health program was launched as a means of securing health insurance for participants who had collected and provided the most recyclables in the community on a points-based system over a period of time. The Group has also sponsored people in the community on skill acquisition training using recycled materials to create soft furniture.
In addition to Wecyclers, does Sahara plan to have other partners to increase the scope of its recycling impact
One of the expected outcomes of this project is to establish a successful model for the implementation of recycling projects in different locations. As such, the success of our roll out plan and the right structure to support the sustainability of the project, will determine the scale and scope of replication and implementation (including partnerships) in other locations.
Given Sahara’s presence in many African countries, how do you plan to replicate your recycling strategy across your locations?
The focus right now is to get it right in the pioneer location, then adapt the model to suit the specific needs of other locations. We have used this model successfully for several sustainable development projects in various Sahara locations across Africa and we are looking forward to enhancing the recycling message on the continent, working alongside other partners.
In terms of monetary value, how much is Sahara looking to commit to its recycling project
Our investment in the recycling project, as with most other social impact initiatives globally, is driven by impact and scalability. These two primary parameters will determine on a graduating scale, the level of investment in the present location – Lagos State. It will also serve as a basis for expansion to other locations. However, we are starting off with twelve hubs across twelve local governments with room for expansion, in and beyond the shores of Lagos.
Sahara Group recently unveiled the Responsibly Sahara initiative. What does this mean for the organisation
The unveiling of “responsibly Sahara” was a call to action to all, as sustainability is a collective effort. It is also a demonstration of our commitment from leadership all the way to the younger generation, to driving sustainability throughout Sahara and beyond. At Sahara, we are a community of over 6,000 individuals across the Group, so one can imagine the magnitude of our impact as a business, on so many. It is an enormous responsibility that we do not take for granted. This makes it imperative for us to imbibe a mindset that takes cognizance of the weight of responsibility and is therefore critical to driving what we do and how we do what we do. This is how the word “responsibly” became incorporated into our daily lingo at Sahara as a deliberate effort to imprint on our minds mentally and psychologically, the importance of weighing every project, initiative and business opportunity on the scales of that adverb, “responsibly”. It isn’t enough that it satisfies a market demand and provides a solution, it must be done responsibly so that posterity will judge us positively.