Let's collectively shape a sustainable future

Shehryar Ali, Country Manager for East Africa Mastercard.

Sustainability has risen to the top of the economic agenda globally as consumers become more focused on reducing their carbon footprint. According to a global consumer survey commissioned by Mastercard, consumers demand that brands be more sustainable. In Africa, 9 in 10 people said that they’re willing to take individual action to combat environmental and sustainability issues.

Among the many actions that can help, reforestation is widely considered to be one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways to positively counteract climate change. This has also informed our sustainability agenda, and in 2020, Mastercard launched the Priceless Planet Coalition, uniting the efforts of consumers, financial institutions, merchants, and cities to fight climate change through the restoration of 100 million trees by 2025.

The Coalition is not only focused on planting trees, but on re-growing forests in places with the greatest need and the most potential to have a positive impact on climate, community, and biodiversity goals. Restoration partners like Conservation International and World Resources Institute, are guiding these efforts by employing rigorous science-based best practices to identify new project sites, select the appropriate tree species and ensure long-term forest health through ongoing monitoring.

Over 100 partners globally are now part of the Priceless Planet Coalition, including sustainably minded merchants, fintechs and global banks. In Sub-Saharan Africa it has welcomed Paramount Bank in Kenya, Albaraka Bank in Sudan, Premier Bank in Somalia, NMB Bank Plc in Tanzania, Faisal Islamic Bank in Sudan, and Salaam African Bank in Djibouti. Each partner is helping to support the forest restoration through consumer engagement and donation campaigns that encourage people to take climate-friendly actions or make direct contributions through a donation platform.

In addition to ecological and climate impact benefits, the work of the Coalition is also creating social benefits and providing economic opportunities for communities and people who take part in the long-term stewardship of these restored forests, farms, and other landscapes.

The business sector plays a critical role in the fight against climate change. To create exponential change, sustainability needs to be embedded into the fabric of business itself. These exist in innovation, policy regulation, transparency, access to information, participation, equality, equity, accountability, and action to avert future climate harms and ensure climate justice emerges.

Living up to its aim to be a force for good, Mastercard has been vocal on its stance on sustainability and fighting climate change. The past two years' events have been unprecedented from a health and safety perspective, bringing significant lifestyle changes, and also embedding a hyper-awareness of our environment and how it impacts those around us. People already burdened by poverty and oppression often suffer the harshest consequences as a result of climate change, while having the least ability to cope. Climate change could devastate the economies of these vulnerable regions.

But there is good news for some of these vulnerable regions. This month, the Priceless Planet Coalition has announced 15 new restoration projects, for a total of 18 globally, building on the existing planting progress already underway in Australia, Brazil – and Kenya, where the Coalition has started the restoration of a total of 890,400 trees in the Makuli-Nzaui landscape with community-led work supported by the Green Belt Movement, founded by Nobel Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai.

In Africa, the Coalition plans to plant 2 million trees in Madagascar, 1.25 million trees in Malawi and 1 million trees in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These trees will include a mix of native species, which will enable the soil to retain more water. These kind of sustainable reforestation projects help reduce the occurrence of climate-related disasters, such as fires and flooding, and help with air and water filtration besides providing habitat for wildlife.

The project portfolio now includes a diverse geographical representation in the following locations:  Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa region (UAE, Kenya, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi), Asia Pacific (Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Philippines); Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala); Europe (France, Portugal, Spain and Scotland); and North America (Mexico, United States).

There is no blanket approach to tackling climate change. Each business approach will depend on its industry and strategy. Experts agree that the corporate sector has a crucial role to play in reaching the 1.5° C goal as called for in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.  Some businesses are ready to act, others are already scaling up efforts. For its part, Mastercard has made climate change and protecting the environment its business.

The technology company continues to support partners, customers, and consumers through other initiatives by offering environmentally focused products and services. These include cards made from sustainable materials to reduce plastic waste. The Mastercard Carbon Calculator, created with fintech Doconomy, is a feature that banks can add to mobile apps to enable consumers to receive a snapshot of the carbon emissions generated by their purchases across spending categories. Mastercard also recently launched its Sustainability Innovation Lab, which will focus on co-creating climate-conscious digital products and developing solutions that will enable sustainable spending for consumers.

Sustainability at Mastercard also includes reducing its own carbon footprint and working with suppliers on their decarbonizing initiatives. Last year we accelerated our net-zero pledge by a decade from 2050 to 2040. Changes to the employee compensation model – linking compensation to three global ESG priorities: carbon neutrality, financial inclusion, and gender pay parity have also been made to accelerate progress towards these sustainability goals.

These commitments, along with its support for the Coalition’s vision of making the planet a more sustainable place to live, are all supporting Mastercard’s goal of building a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy.

The future of our people, our planet, and the economy are inextricably linked. This means we are all in the sustainability business and should all commit ourselves to ensure policy and change are implemented.

As a business community, let’s bear a collective sense of responsibility to shape a sustainable future.

Written by Shehryar Ali, Country Manager for East Africa Mastercard