Taking sustainability beyond profitability
August 12, 2021
As one of the world’s leading producers of forest, park and garden products, Husqvarna sees sustainability as both a tool in its own arsenal and an end in itself.
When I returned to the forestry and garden division of Husqvarna three years ago, I faced a number of key business challenges. Back then, I decided that we were going to have to do things differently. You can’t simply continue as before and expect different results.
Unfortunately, some people have a perception that Husqvarna simply sells chain saws to cut down trees, ultimately damaging the environment. That is not true. We do a lot of work – globally and locally – to prevent that and to support sustainable businesses.
In those earliest days when we were looking at how to take this forward, we used one of Husqvarna’s global studies entitled Urban Parks 2030 to help guide our decisions. This showed that our green spaces – gardens, parks and forests – were going to be more important than ever. The pandemic, lockdown and various health issues have taken this a step further, showing that they are important for addressing issues like climate change, air and water quality and biodiversity as well as the mental and physical well- being of people.
Respondents in that study noted that these spaces needed to be cared for differently and that those responsible needed to take a silent, non-invasive and sustainable approach. We have embraced this through our concept of Silent Nature™ and a range of quiet but powerful tools that include chainsaws, trimmers, brush cutters and blowers. These rely on efficient and long-lasting lithium ion batteries that produce lower emissions.
This goes way beyond eliminating noise pollution in built up spaces and not disturbing residents in offices, residential estates, schools, hospitals and even parks, holiday resorts and game lodges. Amazingly (and sadly), our hand-held lithium ion powered chainsaws are now the tool of choice for the courageous conservationists who are dehorning rhinos to discourage poachers. They are not only easy to carry but powerful enough to get this process completed as quickly and quietly as possible with minimal trauma to the animal.
This alone would have allowed me to send a strong message to end users. Husqvarna stands for sustainability.
But we have taken this one step further and launched a veld management division that is providing both the tools and the technology to help farmers, nature and conservation organisations, landowners and land managers to deal with land management challenges.
It is only now that we are experiencing the sometimes devastating results of over 100 years of bad practices. We can see that drought, changes in rainfall patterns, bush encroachment, encroachment by alien invasive plants and other contributing factors brought on by climate change have all but changed land use in sub-Saharan African countries. That is before we even begin to address issues like over grazing, soil erosion and poor water management.
We realised that many of our open spaces and grasslands no longer looked how they used to. In fact, many no longer existed and, having been all but destroyed by carelessness and ignorance, had been overtaken by bush and forests that should never have been there in the first place. Sadly, this includes both alien and indigenous plants and means that we now have a responsibility to intervene to restore them to what they were.
It is easier to quantify the impact in a farming environment. Less grasslands means less animals and dramatically reduces both the carrying capacity and profitability of farms with important consequences when it comes to food security in South Africa. You can express that in numbers.
But Southern Africa is also very much a country of game farms and conservation. In South Africa alone, there are approximately 12 000 registered game farms. Many are rehabilitated farms whilst others have experienced the impact of poor land management over the years.
Basically, when humans start putting up fences we have to start controlling what have in fences and that still includes the veld.
We opened our veld management division four years ago to advise rather than criticize and now have tangible results and examples of what can be achieved. Under the expert eye of Divan Vermaak, a game ranger and veld management expert, we have created strong relationships within both the agricultural and conservation communities.
What started at Tala Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal with a small piece of land that we opened up and converted to grassland where more animals could graze has now grown to the point where we are working on far larger projects.
For starters, we have undertaken a large project in Namibia, a country which is trying to grapple with about 54 million hectares of encroachment. Similarly, massive bush encroachment has also taken its toll on both agricultural and conservation land in neighbouring Botswana.
While we do see the business value of restoring the thousands of hectares of high-value land that is now seen as almost worthless, we also know that we are doing far more than can be reflected on a balance sheet.
At Husqvarna, sustainability goes way beyond good business sense. We are changing how we live.
Husqvarna South Africa’s recently appointed managing director, Pieter Smuts