Sustainable business and the ripple effect : Thoughts from Zambia

Before embarking on my International Citizen Service Entrepreneurship placement in Lusaka, Zambia, I had little knowledge of sustainable business, and even less knowledge of its potential to complexly contribute to development. I certainly did not expect that the enhancement of said knowledge would come from consulting a business in the hospitality industry. However, the ripple effect of changes in business operations is eye-opening in developing industry sectors such as tourism and hospitality in Zambia, and it is in this sector that business efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability will help not only the company in question, but also its surrounding community and associated supply chain.????????????????????????????????????
My placement, Lui Guest House, is a small, family-owned lodge in the heart of Lusaka, drawing in local and international clients alike to provide quality and affordable accommodation. Alongside accommodation, it supplies restaurant services and outside hire of certain parts of the guest house. At the other end of the spectrum, it is a consumer of products and services to support its operations – some established supply chains, such as electrical power, and some variable, such as food ingredients and cleaning products, subject to budgets and availability. It was the role of the business as a consumer which brought about some of the most long-term changes implemented during our placement; we used the consumer position of Lui Guest House to create a unique selling point for the business and the services it provides: environmental responsibility (or, as some might call it, eco-friendliness).
Picture this: a buzzing urban tourism industry in the capital, dominated by expensive hotel chains and backpacker hostels. State-of-the-art facilities and services provide for the corporate traveller, while affordable prices and friendly hostel environments provide for the exploring volon-tourist. At the middle of this range, you have guest houses – reliable, affordable, sensibly located accommodations, with quietly sufficient services such as WiFi, simple and hearty restaurant menus, hand-washed laundry and breezy back gardens. They cannot afford to invest in oak-panelled conference facilities, nor gourmet restaurant meals. How can they appear as unique in the face of their competition? Our starter-for-10 solution for Lui Guest House combined a unique selling point with a real challenge faced by all Zambians these days: lack of electricity.
Zesco, the state-owned electrical generation company which holds a quasi-monopoly of power provision services, has been battling with low rainfall levels over recent years, leading to a lack of hydro-electric power generation and hence scheduled power cuts amounting up to 12 hours per day. Obviously, this is a huge challenge for a business whose customer relations rely on phones and internet, and whose customer satisfaction relies on the provision of lighting, TV facilities and running water via a powered borehole. By addressing this challenge, not only does the guest house gain a competitive advantage in its market segment, but also a unique selling point, in line with recommendations of the Zambia Tourism policy to promote environmentally sound operations in the tourism industry, as well as the development of eco-tourism.
Conversations with the business owners of the guest house led to a trial being implemented in what will hopefully be a long-term conversion to off-grid solar power. A solar panel has been installed, providing lighting and power for the communal TV in the main building of the accommodation, with plans being made for additional panels to be installed in the main administrative area and the borehole, to ensure consistent provision of electricity and maintain the environmental responsibility of the business. By carrying out these changes, the business becomes part of a new, more responsible supply chain – that of alternative energy, an industry which is rising rapidly in Zambia and has enormous development potential, not least for rural areas such as the Southern Province’s Chikanta Chiefdom, where the provision of solar power has greatly enhanced the performance of educational and healthcare facilities. In this sense, the alignment of Lui Guest House with this new supply chain creates exactly the ripple effect described above – the injection of trade dynamics and income into a responsible and necessary industry; the consumer choice leading to sustainable development.
An increase in business efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability, through a move towards alternative energy use, is coupled with a positive community impact, through the raising of awareness of solar power, as well as a robust contribution to a responsible supply chain. The added benefits of eliminating the challenge of Zesco’s unreliable power supply and improving customer relations are proof that business sustainability generates profit through increased effectiveness, and contributes to the responsible development of the tourism industry, one of Zambia’s most promising economic sectors, but also the most vulnerable to unsustainable development.

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