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Nets over a plant crop in South Africa

Sustainable Practices make Sustainable Businesses


Tesco International Services, WWF-SA and the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association

Total value of project


Value to Coventry University


Project team

Dr David Bek


Tesco International Services (South Africa), WWF-SA the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (Wieta), Woolworths (SA), Sustainable Footprint Learning Group and Sustainability Initiative South Africa (SIZA)

Duration of project

01/04/2016 - 31/12/2019

Project overview

Between 2016 and 2019 Dr David Bek led a project exploring how the implementation of sustainable practices helps businesses to be more resilient, productive and profitable. The project focused upon the horticultural sector in South Africa. The project led to the development of an online training course entitled ‘Sustainable practices make sustainable businesses’ which was launched in 2019. The training course was funded by Tesco International Services (South Africa), WWF-SA and the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (Wieta). Other delivery partners included: Woolworths (SA), Sustainable Footprint Learning Group and SIZA.

Whilst the course is primarily aimed at stakeholders involved in the agri/horticultural sector, the principles of sustainability it promotes are relevant to all commercial and educational stakeholders.

One of the biggest challenges for the ethical trade/sustainability movement has been to achieve buy-in from producers. Typically, ethical and sustainable practices are thought of as a compliance-driven necessity for reaching the marketplace. Thus, producers have rarely perceived that the process adds real value to their business but instead have thought of it is a burden.

However, the ongoing impacts of climate change, rapidly rising energy costs and labour issues are imposing considerable burdens upon agri-businesses. More sustainable practices are required to mitigate these challenges otherwise firms will simply go out of business resulting in major problems for retailers who require reliable supplies of high quality products for 365 days of the year.

The development of the online course was catalysed by the outcomes of a research project funded via the Coventry University Pump Prime scheme. This project demonstrated how most successful producers do benefit strongly from implementing ethical and sustainable practices – ‘ethical trade is not something we do, it is the way we do something’, to quote a leading South African fruit exporter. To give examples, research evidence indicates that targeted investments into worker training lead to increased output and reduced worker turnover, whilst the 2015-18 drought in the Western Cape of South Africa highlighted the imperative for first-class water and soil management systems. The retailer Woolworths has run its Farming for the Future programme for more than a decade, promoting the principles of sustainable production. The outcomes of the programme indicate that sustainable practices lead to improved product quality and productivity.

During the dissemination phase of the project, we held discussions about how best to propagate the findings from the research with various stakeholders including Tesco International Services. The outcome was a plan to develop an Online Training course which would help people producing for agri-supply chains to embark on the sustainability journey. The course was designed so that it aligned with the Tesco Improvement Programme being rolled out to suppliers in SA.

Overarching aim of the course: To shift mindsets such that producers willingly embrace sustainable approaches to business management.

Project objectives

  • Enable producers to understand how developing sustainable practices leads to improvements in productivity.
  • Offer insights and tools which will enable producers to improve their practices thus increasing their resilience and productivity.
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