When someone searches the word “sustainability” online, images of wind farms, trees, and waterways dominate the results. What is often missing from these photographs are people. It remains a challenge to break the habit of equating sustainability just with the environment. Sustainability, at its core, is something that should conjure not just these images but illustrations depicting people and the benefits of a positive healthy community.
The private sector, in particular, should desire sustainable communities since this can often translate into better economic performance. According a study conducted by Deutsche Asset Management and the University of Hamburg, there is a positive correlation between good environmental, social and governmental practices and improved corporate financial performance. In other words, it literally pays to incorporate sustainability at the core of one’s primary business.
An example of this is the Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL) sustainable program at the Kingston harbor, in Jamaica. After winning the 30-year concession to operate the Kingston Container Terminal, KFTL saw an immediate need to seek out partners to become the catalysts for development in the harbor.
Making room for sustainable infrastructure
The first field visits to KFTL were challenging. I arrived at Greenwich, one of the largest fishing beaches in the harbor, to be immediately struck by the complexity of its location. Situated between the harbor and the state oil refinery on a slim piece of land, I wondered how these two could coexist.
The visible conditions were extremely poor: no basic infrastructure and a landscape dotted with makeshift wooden shacks. Despite this, there was a real community there; fisherfolk (as they are called in Jamaica), who for several generations have made their livelihood from fishing these waters, have adapted to an extremely challenging environment. They are the largest —more than 4,000— and most economically vulnerable stakeholder.
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As we began our conversations with the fisherfolk the tension was clear. The main concern was about the impact in their business, since previous experiences negatively affected their fish catch for more than a year.
To define a social investment strategy and successfully structure the deal, IDB Invest (formerly known as Inter-American Investment Corporation) began working with KFTL. The purpose was to help the company to develop a long-term sustainability approach to ensure that investments produce benefits not only to private sector companies working with us but also to society.
Coming to a sustainable agreement
KFTL concession allows the company to modernize the harbor and to conduct dredging operations to receive larger Panamax vessels, which are designed to pass through the Panama Canal. These operations will increase employment opportunities for the surrounding communities, and help port operators engage with other stakeholders to ensure long-term sustainability for all harbor users.
However, the creation of a long-term sustainability program was also a main objective for the company. This will be paramount to enhance relationships among port stakeholders, and invest in improving fisherfolk conditions. To increase social inclusion and incentivize an open dialogue, we recommended the creation of a committee with the fisherfolk fishing beach representatives, the Jamaican Port Authority, and KFTL staff.
The committee has defined three main activities to revitalize the harbor: 1) provide livelihood support during dredging activities; 2) conduct solid waste cleanup of fish nurseries within the harbor; and 3) develop a fish sanctuary and artificial reef outside the harbor. These programs are still in their planning phases. However, their investments will provide long-lasting benefits to a community that has experienced declining incomes and economic vulnerability for years. On the business side, the 830 government workers from the port were employed by KFTL, and as container traffic increases additional labor growth is expected. Moreover, since the handover an additional 40 staff have been hired in various positions throughout the company.
Ultimately, KFTL commitment will help shaping what it means to be a sustainable company while simultaneously providing a tangible improvement to an extremely vulnerable population. This is one clear example of how the private sector can leverage its resources to create economic benefits not only for itself, but also broad societal benefits for key stakeholders.
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