Dr Survé on Sustainability: Securing a Greener Future for Humanity

Do we really care about the planet we inhabit and leave behind after we are gone, asks businessman, philanthropist and parent, Dr Iqbal Survé. Picture: Supplied

Do we really care about the planet we inhabit and leave behind after we are gone, asks businessman, philanthropist and parent, Dr Iqbal Survé. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 19, 2024


As a businessman, I look at the bottom line and whether an investment will deliver long term gains.

As a father, however, I am driven by the desire to see my children grow up and enjoy an environment that sustains them – not only physically, but emotionally and intellectually too. The whole package.

More and more often these days, I look around me and wonder what kind of world I am going to leave behind for my next generation and their peers to either enjoy or endure. I am certain this is a question that many of us with wisdom and experience behind us think too. Or at least I hope we do.

For me, one of the essentials to securing the future, boils down to the essence of life – water. We are as humans, after all, and on average made up of around 60% water. But how often do we think about that in our quest for everyday survival or ‘sustainability’, the current buzzword denoting existence?

World Environment Month highlights the importance of sustainability and the incredible opportunities it opens up for young people, especially in tackling South Africa’s high youth unemployment rate.

This year, World Environment Day is all about land restoration, stopping desertification, and building drought resilience, captured in the slogan “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.”

By involving young people and weaving sustainable practices into every sector, we can make real progress in fighting environmental damage and ensuring a better, greener future for everyone.

The vast expanses of the world's oceans are often poetically referred to as our planet's "blue lungs." This moniker is not just a romantic ideal but a recognition of the critical role these waters play in maintaining the health of our environment and, by extension, our very survival.

Not undermining the supreme importance our ‘green’ lungs have for our survival, but our seas and oceans produce over half of the world's oxygen, regulate our climate, and provide food for all marine life and billions of people as well as livelihoods for many. Yet, they are under unprecedented threat from pollution, overfishing, and by extension, climate change.

The same can be said of our freshwater systems, which are also under extreme duress from growing contamination.

Although technology can now distil our urine so we can drink it, is that the long-term answer? What about our plant, animal and marine life? I think not.

To ensure a viable future on Earth, communities and businesses must, therefore, embrace ‘sustainability’, by taking decisive actions to protect and restore our life-giving waters.

A quick history and geography lesson - oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface and are integral to numerous natural processes. They absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and house diverse ecosystems that support a wide range of marine life. Coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds, for example, are not only biodiversity hotspots but also act as natural buffers against coastal erosion and extreme weather events.

However, the health of our oceans is in jeopardy. Human activities have resulted in significant marine pollution, with an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste entering the oceans annually for instance. This plastic pollution endangers marine life, contaminates food chains – which we consume - and disrupts critical ecosystems.

As someone with interests in the fishing industry, I am the first to admit that overfishing has led to the depletion of key species, which is threatening food security and economic stability for communities reliant on fishing. Additionally, rising global temperatures and ocean acidification, driven by climate change, are causing coral bleaching and altering marine habitats irreversibly.

This is precisely why we have implemented measures to safeguard our commercial sustainability by looking after the source.

We all have a role to play in securing our future, by not only protecting our environment, but in becoming active champions of good old-fashioned clean living and awareness, something which we have tried to inculcate in all the companies we have an interest in. To paraphrase, there can be no profit without the planet.

So, whose responsibility is it anyway?

Globally, there are organisations who drive awareness and initiatives around cleaning up our act. However, it is at grassroots that we need to take charge, with local stewardship leading meaningful change.

Businesses too, have a significant impact on the environment and must act responsibly to protect our oceans. Sustainable business practices can lead to long-term economic and environmental benefits – where all benefit, including the marine life itself.

To ensure the health of our oceans and secure a viable future for all, therefore, we need a concerted effort from both communities and businesses.

But it doesn’t start or stop there, as governments also play a crucial role by enacting and enforcing regulations that protect marine environments and promote sustainable practices. Not one party can act in isolation, this will require a joint effort.

Indeed, even as individuals we can contribute by making conscious choices, such as reducing single-use plastics, supporting sustainable seafood, and participating in local conservation efforts. Stop being armchair crusaders and get out there.

The fate of our oceans is intertwined with our own. By taking responsibility and acting decisively, we can safeguard our planet's blue lungs, ensuring that future generations inherit a world where the waters are clean, the marine life is thriving, and the ecosystems are resilient. Water, indeed, is our most precious resource, and it is incumbent upon us all to protect it with unwavering commitment.

The only question you should be asking is do you want to breathe tomorrow?

* Dr Iqbal Survé is the Executive Chairman of the Sekunjalo Group.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.