Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility


Henry Bassey

Lagos Flood was a top trending hashtag on Nigeria ‘Twitsphere’ for more than two months. Yes, the fury of floods was global. It wreaked havoc in the United Kingdom, across Zimbabwe’s 37 districts and caused landslides in China but Nigeria has never had it that bad. The cities of Lagos, Suleja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan were the most affected among the 30 flood prone states in the country.

In July, after a heavy downpour which led to a flash flood in Suleja in Niger State, 500 people were declared missing while 90 buildings collapsed. At the same time, houses were flooded and cars submerged in upper class and low-income Lagos neighbourhoods.

These recurrent floodings and the destruction they leave on their trail have kept a number of citizens on edge. Yet our worry stems from the fact that as bad as the situation may seem today, the worst is not over.
Science teaches that global warming is happening and causing the planet to get hotter. As a result, global temperature is rising at the fastest rate in 50 years with oceans getting warmer and expanding. This is causing climate change, expansion of deserts and a rise in sea levels. All of these are not without implications. The rising sea levels, expansion of deserts and climate change are creating a situation where too much water comes at an unexpected time, or in unexpected places and causing serious flooding and landslides in urban and rural areas across the world.

However, global warming and its attendant flooding disasters are not primarily an act of nature. Human influence have been the dominant cause with the greatest impact coming from the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These gasses collect in the atmosphere absorbing sunlight and cause the planet to get hotter.

Flooding, especially the types experienced in most urban neighbourhoods in Nigeria are not mainly an act of nature. They are caused by poor sanitation. Indeed, Nigerians largely determine the state of their immediate environment anytime it rains. Most drainages, canals and highway man-holes across the country are blocked due to the indiscriminate dumping of refuse, plastic bottles, empty cans, pure water sachets and water nylons.
This is a challenge that has become far too complex for government and the public sector to address alone. Yet, among the very few corporations that can stand up to be counted as rising up to protect the environment, Sterling Bank clearly distinguishes itself.

Tenaciously, for more than eight years, Sterling Bank invested in the campaign against indiscriminate dumping of refuse and poor sanitation across Nigeria with Sterling Environmental Makeover (STEM) as the special purpose vehicle. Year on year, the campaign advocates sustainable living actions, promotes sanitation and reduces impact on the environment with the aim of making planet earth a clean and safe place.

Recognising Sterling Bank as a credible voice championing the cause of hygiene, sanitation and care for the environment, 14 state governments have identified with STEM. This presently covers partnership with waste management agencies in all the 14 states, planting of over 1000 trees in Bauchi, Gombe and Plateau to combat desertification and an annual national cleaning exercise.

The unwavering commitment to the cause of the environment by Sterling Bank is fueled by its brand purpose of “Enriching Lives”. From top down, members of the Sterling Family believe that it is nearly impossible to live a healthy life, conduct business and create wealth amidst waste or in a toxic environment. And truly, without clean air, water, land and energy, our collective humanity is endangered. To safeguard humanity, it therefore becomes necessary for all to heed the clarion call to keep our environment orderly and functional through sustainable living actions and regular cleaning.

Remarkably, the need to care for the environment is becoming quite topical among Nigerians. Series of grisly photographs of neighbourhoods overtaken by floating non-biodegradable dirt emerged on social media after the heavy downpour in July. The outrage and strident call by a cross section of Nigerians to residents of the affected neighbourhoods to shun indiscriminate dumping of refuse in their drainages were quite instructive.

By sheer coincidence, Skate & Clean, the pre-awareness campaign for the 2017 edition of STEM hit the streets at about the same time. It featured the STEM Brand Ambassador and popular artiste, Olamide Adedeji, and a youthful crew of street sweepers doing choreographed dances while “cleaning” on the go. For three days, using the power of music and dance, Olamide and the crew toured Lagos on skates cleaning and dancing to a special theme song which implored Nigerians to keep their environment clean and shun dumping of refuse in drainages.
To amplify this message and ensure its uptake, a public enlightenment theme song and advocacy videos recorded by Olamide were flighted on Classic FM, Beat FM, Talk FM, Naija FM, Trace, CNN, Mnet Zone, Mnet 101, E!, AIT and Raypower, among other radio and television stations.

No doubt, STEM has gained acceptance and is a becoming a movement given its acceptance by Nigerians from all walks of life, the media, blue chip corporations, state governments and their agencies.
Similar to many things in life, there is strength in numbers which explains Sterling Bank’s collaborative approach towards the implementation of the 2017 edition of Sterling Environmental Makeover. It signifies the start of a trend where we will see more companies collaborating with each other, governments and NGOs to drive change at state, regional and national levels in the country.

In essence, every part of society has a role to play in making it work better. It also affirms that a corporate citizen, notwithstanding its line of business and regular tax payments, can be a force for good if it has courageous leaders who lead by example, and embrace their true responsibilities.

––Henry Bassey, Chief Marketing Officer, Sterling Bank Plc, writes from Lagos.