Karen Basiye is the director of Sustainable Business and Social Impact for Safaricom. She is in charge of ensuring that Safaricom meets its environmental goals, such as ensuring carbon neutrality, planting 5 million trees in Kenya, and helping the company remain committed to becoming zero waste.
Basiye envisions a Safaricom where there is no waste, every resource is reused and recycled. In addition, Basiye wants to push for more positive impacts of Safaricom on the community, not just the environment. In this interview, Basiye explains the company’s policies, goals, and how they’re realistically managing to remain sustainable without sacrificing quality production.
What has Safaricom been doing over the years to address environmental concerns around its business?
Over the years, we started our environmental journey from a compliance point of view. At that time, the business was setting up technology. Once you comply you look at what’s next. So we went to environmental management, the corporate environmental management where we’re looking at audits and looking at how do we clean these sides and that kind of thing. So, where we have reached right now is transitioning from compliance to a transformative space in the environment. We are looking at being net zero carbon emitting by 2030 internally but the global commitment we’ve given is 2050.
And then being a net positive company. Being a net zero company means that we have zero environmental impact. Being a net-positive company means we’re giving back. We’re committed to decarbonizing ourselves, decarbonising society, and building a circular economy. This means that everything that gets into manufacturing, is reused. Every resource is in a loop, nothing goes to the dump site.
Is it possible and realistic to be net zero?
Yes, it is. First of all, Kenya is already a green country. We are hydro and geothermal power production. The reason why Safaricom has a high carbon footprint is because of our network size. We still have diesel generators. We have seen carbon emissions drop from investing in solar panels. If we look at renewables in running our generators and investing in green cars for the future can help us achieve our carbon neutrality goals. Now where we’ve been left to offset is our air travel. And this is why we’re growing 5 million trees. This will help offset our and the country’s footprint and also help the country achieve its forest cover goals. It’s a win-win for everyone.
You’ve talked about greening sites. How much have you greened your sites?
About 1,400 sites now run on solar power. To ensure the buildings are environmentally friendly, each has a building management system. Anyone who sits next to windows won’t need lights. This reduces the lighting needs. When there was a gym, it ran on solar power to heat water. What has been done over and above that is to get rid of waste, such as single-use plastics. There is a reduction in water consumption in our facilities. About 45.9% of waste is recycled, 49.4% is composted, and about 4% of waste is taken to dump sites. This is problematic waste that has to be dealt with going forward so that there is no waste from Safaricom going to the dump site.
How will Safaricom achieve this zero-waste policy?
We’re trying to understand this waste. For example, we run a clinic. Ideally, the clinic should be in charge of its own waste. But because they’re part of the Safaricom ecosystem, we need to think with them and see, within their business, what are they doing to bring the waste down.
We’ve gotten rid of single-use plastics, and even for events we’re using glasses to serve juice. We’ve reduced the size of our SIM card. Also buying airtime is being done more via M-PESA. In an ideal world, everyone would be buying airtime using mobile money instead of scratch cards. But the current market we’re operating in isn’t mature enough to sell certain products without paper. We hope by 2030 we will not be buying scratch cards.
What has Safaricom committed to achieving?
We want to be net zero by 2050.
We want to be gender-balanced by 2025.
We want to have 5% people with disabilities, and we are at 3%.
We want to have 10% on our supply chain for women, youth, and people with disabilities. The company is at about 5% on this.
The company also wants to bring more people into the digital inclusion space. Every year we’re targeting a million people who are in digital creation and that’s why we have the Lipa Mdogo Mdogo phone.
How has Safaricom re-engineered its business, to deal with those environmental concerns?
Right now, we are looking at our Vision 2030 as a business, and looking at where the world is going. What are the three main matrices? We have brought in biodiversity, and we have brought in circular economy. The company started with compliance, into management and now we’re into transformation.
We reimagine our business and ask how can we also help Kenyans become green. It’s not just about us. We’re hoping to help people decarbonize.
How does the Sustainability Linked Loan work?
Safaricom secured a loan of up to Ksh. 20 billion from a consortium of Kenyan banks. This is the largest sustainability linked loan ever taken in East Africa. The banks financing it are Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic Bank, ABSA Bank, and KCB Bank.
This is a loan given based on your sustainability credentials. Over the years, Safaricom has been building its credentials. This means we can stand on sustainability and get a loan. We’ve made more ambitious commitments because of that loan. This includes digital inclusion, gender balance, and the environment. These are the three key components of that loan. With every year we have to reach certain milestones, and we strongly believe we can. That’s why we went for this loan. It’s cheaper than the market rate. If we don’t hit the targets, the rates become expensive. We have no choice but to meet those targets. This is part of the reason why the business pushes its sustainability agenda so that it can get a chance to refinance itself.
How is Safaricom supporting the communities around it to be better?
The Foundation’s strategy is to help build more ecopreneurs in the country. The trees grown by Safaricom are done in partnership with local communities who grow the trees from the nursery with us. In 2022, we gave the community Ksh. 74 million to the tree planting project. When you support the communities that live near the forest, they take care of the forest. Over and above that, we support ecopreneurs in waste management and re-afforestation.
How does Safaricom support ecopreneurs in waste management?
Many people are recycling but the industry is informal at the local level. So, we look at how we formalize the informal sector. How do we formalize the people in recycling, plastic waste, and collection? We want to find these groups and work with them to do it better and create more jobs, and new businesses.
What are the responsibilities of a company towards their communities to make sure their businesses are more environmentally friendly?
As a business, we cannot thrive where our community isn’t thriving. For the community to thrive, we must have responsibilities towards it. Safaricom does a lot for the community, from Chapa Dimba, and all our events have a tree-growing component. Whether the Foundation is visiting schools, we give them fruit trees. In social events, we have to grow trees together with the community. We let the community take care of the trees. We don’t expect anything back from the community but we hope they succeed. That’s why we participate in education, sports, environment, health, education, and economic empowerment.
Did Safaricom have a showcase at the Africa Climate Summit?
We showcased our air quality monitoring app, IQAir, created in partnership with UNEP and we’re also going to exhibit it at COP28 (2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC). This shows you the real-time air quality of a place, like Nairobi. We want this to be a normal operating standard. When leaving your house, you can tell what the air quality will be in the CBD (Central Business District). If it’s high, you can decide to leave your car at home. We also showcased our sustainability loan.
How many companies have gotten the sustainability loan?
Safaricom is the company with the largest sustainability loan. It’s brought together by a consortium of banks.
How does climate change affect Safaricom’s operation? What is Safaricom doing to mitigate these challenges?
We built our climate resilience strategy with this in mind. All these initiatives are created with the knowledge that climate disasters like flooding will affect us in one way or another. Our network is built in a resilient way. If we’re ever experiencing extreme climate, our equipment will be affected. Now and in the future, we want to climate-proof the equipment.
Climate change affects the bottom line of the business. When there’s no production because of extreme climate like drought, this affects the cost of doing business. Clients have to prioritize their resources for basic needs like food instead of airtime. In response to this, we’ve put in place a disaster fund.
This helps us respond quickly to the needs of Kenyans. Our fund isn’t as big as the government’s but we still try to reach people. When there was flooding in River Nyando, we worked with the Red Cross to reach people faster. We have a technology apparatus that is able to send messages to people in at-risk areas to tell them to relocate to safer areas. We also have early warning systems, working with the government and other emergency relief organizations.
Does Safaricom have more partnerships in climate change projects?
Safaricom recently reached a deal with ABSA Bank to partner and grow trees. We also partnered with Kenya Forestry Service to ensure we grow our trees in gazetted forests. There are also partnerships with community forest associations that grow trees in nurseries and then transplant them. Implementing partners do the actual planting when we are not there. Together we have grown 1.3 million trees.
Where do you see Safaricom in the next few years?
The future is exciting. Our walkway shows our Vision 2050. We can see how Safaricom has brought technology and humanness together to address issues including climate change and governance. We see a world of endless possibilities, growth, and transformation, and using our technology, people, and knowledge, ensuring no one is left behind on the path to progress.
Connect with Karen on Twitter, and LinkedIn. Connect with Safaricom on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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