Can profits, people and the planet go hand in hand, or are they just nice words? Can companies grow their businesses while providing better livelihoods for communities, and conserving the planet?
At first, this concept seemed to be really strange to me. In my mind, businesses, especially those creating products, need natural resources as raw materials. Our environment, be it forests, landscape, or marine life, must suffer from the “exploitation” of raw materials that these businesses need.
During a session entitled “Climate change: Low-emissions development and societal welfare – trade offs, risks and power struggles in forest and climate change policy arenas” at the Forests Asia Summit, president director of PT Rimba Makmur Utama, Dharsono Hartono, spoke about the topic of sustainable business.
Rimba Makmur Utama is a company with a major goal to rehabilitate approximately 200,000 hectares of peatland in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Through his company, Hartono aims to help local residents operate in an environmentally friendly way and to discourage them from working in unsustainable forestry.
Before his current role, Hartono did not believe that businesses could work hand in hand with people or the planet. But then he made a discovery. According to Hartono, most businesses do not involve the communities that live in the areas where they operate.
Hartono says that businesses only care about people as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and do not see then as an integral part of business; the growth of the community will not affect the company as much, as local people are seen as beneficiaries.
Hartono now realizes that, to be sustainable, a business must understand the needs of its local community. He tried to learn how his business could support the community, and vice versa. Hartono spent time meeting locals and asking what they needed, before integrating his findings into a business plan. Therefore, local people became one of his main stakeholders instead of mere beneficiaries.
He found that the local people were skilled in making rattan handicrafts. However, because they did not have buyers, they sought extra income through logging. Hartono then searched for good buyers so that local people no longer needed to be involved in logging. Locals were happy, and Hartono’s work in conserving forests could continue.
The same sustainable business model, I think, can also be applied to the tourism industry in the form of ecotourism. With an ever-increasing demand for tourism in countries like Indonesia, the industry needs to find ways to welcome the increasing numbers of visitors while keeping the country’s natural resources intact.
I am a traveler myself. And I have found that so many beautiful places in Indonesia are ruined after becoming popular. My heart breaks when I see ruined coral reefs that were alive a year before. In just one year, coral reefs in tourist areas can be destroyed. There must be ways to support tourism sustainably. Otherwise, places will be ruined and then there will be no more tourism there anyway.
Ecotourism is, I believe, one of the best solutions to combining conservation and tourism in a sustainable way. According to the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (KEHATI), ecotourism is a way to support local economies without damaging ecosystems or local culture.
In my opinion, a good example of ecotourism can be seen in eastern Bali, where fishermen used to catch fish with explosives, damaging the surrounding coral reefs. To help stop this practice, a CSR project team from the Indonesia Power company decided to find an alternative income for the local fishermen.
Eastern Bali is a popular place for diving. So the project team trained local people to become divemasters, enabling them to take tourists diving. To restore the coral reefs, the CSR team initiated a coral reef rehabilitation project for tourists, who can participate by planting new coral themselves or by buying baby coral for around US$1.50.
Nature is now being conserved and local people can earn higher incomes than when they caught fish using explosives. The tourists are happy, as are the local people, and the natural environment is safe. That’s what ecotourism is all about.
I am currently working in a global company that, I believe, is a pioneer in sustainable business. When the company decided to do business in a sustainable way, it was no longer business as usual. The company’s whole global vision changed. The way we did business changed. It took, and still takes, a lot of effort and engagement from all levels and divisions of the company.
All of the processes in the value chain, from sourcing raw materials to products reaching consumers, must be influenced by the sustainable agenda. Raw materials, for example, must come from certified sustainable producers. Manufacturers must have low emissions and contribute nothing to landfill if possible. The company committed to growing its business while reducing its environmental impact and providing better livelihoods for communities.
The big question is whether the balance of profits, people and the planet is really feasible, or just a nice phrase. I say it is possible. Sustainable business is a game changer — and a must for business that want to survive.
Khrisma Fitriasari, based in Jakarta as a communications manager, is passionate about travel and ecotourism in Indonesia.