Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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Speak Your MindThe issue of sustainability

The issue of sustainability

It is more difficult to start something of value than to end it. It is even more difficult to sustain something of value than to start it. These are the observations I made from life’s experiences. You may also agree with me on that. I believe these observations apply to relationships (with friends, colleagues, and life partners), businesses, religious practices, or any other projects in life. Before few weeks, I went to buy groceries to a well-known supermarket that operated for more than 15 years in Addis. I felt sad by what I saw. Anyone who first enters the store would think that the supermarket is nearing bankruptcy and is about to announce closing sales and shut down in a matter of few months. The store equipment is in bad shape, the display of products seemed quite careless and the staff looked pretty bored by the job. And I wondered, what brought the downfall of the store? Since it has started operating during a period where competition was very weak, you would normally expect it to accumulate enough capital that enables it to boom, modernize and expand its outreach across the city. But unfortunately, that is not what was happening with the store. The owners have probably diversified into other businesses to reduce the risk of losing money on the store. But is doing so at the expense of neglecting one line of business a good strategy to go about?

In Addis, it is not uncommon to see many businesses build a brand, get well-known among customers, and slowly slide into non-existence after 10 to 15 years of operation. Building strong and sustainable brands is not common in our country. A product may be popular for some years before stop hearing about it after some time. Strong brands like Coca-Cola, Ford and Nestle are very rare if not completely unheard of in this country. So this makes me wonder, what is keeping our businesses from building brands for their products that sustain across generations? In my view, I believe the main reason for this is the strong pursuit of short-term gains as opposed to long-term ones.

Shortsightedness is not only in our business brands. Another typical example relates to our weak concern about the maintenances of public and private properties and facilities. The number of broken equipment and facilities that you witness in public and private service providing places makes you wonder if the cost of maintenance and operations was ever thought about when making the initial investments. For instance, personally, I would not risk living on the 9th floor of an apartment trusting the apartment provider to continuously repair the elevators when these break down.

You go to a nice hotel or café and use their restrooms and you find yourself pushing a non-functioning toilet flushing button. Then you wonder what it takes to repair these basic facilities. You see nice street lamps all over the city, but when night falls, you will notice that these are actually not functioning. Then you wonder, why anyone isn’t having enough care to fix or replace these on time. You go to a nice restaurant and wash your hands before a meal and you find yourself washing only with water because the owner did not care enough to replenish the soap dispenser. Countless examples can be given for the meagre attention many of us give to sustain hard made private and public investments.

Although short-term gains seem attractive on the outset, these gains are actually made at the expense of long-term gains. Businesses that target short-term gains fail to withstand competition, and are therefore easily driven out of the market. The public sector which mainly focuses on the completion and delivery of a project with limited regard to its sustainability will only result in major unforeseen and unplanned cots that are much higher than the initial investments. Assuring sustainability comes with a cost. But the costs are surely worth the ensuing benefits.

 

Contributed by Tsion Taye

 

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