Waste is worth its weight in gold

2008-07-28 00:00

“Sir, it is customary, before a prime minister leaves for a G8 conference, as you are at this time, to give the nation what could be described as pearls of wisdom. A statement from you, which reflects the nation’s needs and priorities, as you perceive them.”

“Yes of course, um, I will tell the people that we are wasting far too much food in our country while Africa starves, and we need to do something about it.”

Believe it or not, this is pretty much a statement made by Gordon Brown to the British people on his departure to Japan for the G8 summit. Brown elaborated, stating that the UK has to find ways of getting this “wasted food” to those who need it. My fertile imagination, which can go over the top a bit, visualised table leftovers being scraped into yet another “recycling bin” (some households already have five of these), ready for sorting and transporting to Ethiopia. Have the politicians finally gone mad, or yet again just lost the plot?

Waste, in one guise or another, is possibly the single biggest cause of economic recession, yet governments and think-tanks continue to ignore the fact, preferring always to deal with symptoms rather than causes.

In this connection, three considerations are paramount. Firstly, people’s actions — or lack of them — produce waste. Secondly, it is far easier to waste someone else’s money than it is your own. Thirdly, if the amount we get out of a process such as coming to work is fixed, then we optimise the process by minimising the input to achieve the same output. This is exactly what the majority of the world’s employees do — give as little as possible to the business employing them to get the most out. I suggest that these three factors are particularly applicable to South Africa, its economy and labour.

One additional consideration is that power as a motivational stimulus tends totally to distort “vision of purpose”. At the top of many hierarchical structures there are people who get their kicks from power. What Mr Brown could have said to the British people was: “British government, in one way or another, is wasting close to £1 billion each year in the support of ‘non-jobs’, a situation we must respond to positively and eliminate in order to redirect financial resources to those areas most pressing.”

Over recent weeks, both here and in the UK, I have unfortunately had to spend quite some time in hospital. The undeniable challenge facing the British health service is the growth of private service providers which need to produce profit returns for their shareholders. This situation is breeding apathy, which in itself is breeding waste. Exactly the same can be said of our own health care structures, whether private or state establishments — waste is endemic. Unless those in power get to the heart of problematic issues, we will continue to meddle in strategy.

At the root of waste is the attitude of people. People do not care because we do not make it in their interest to want to care. This is fundamental thinking. So much of this comes down to you, your business and your employees. The single biggest challenge facing our country is to produce more wealth and to find ways of distributing that wealth more equitably than in the past. This means that those who have nothing need to be embraced in our future economic and social strategy. Simply put, we have to eliminate poverty, which would be well served by our eliminating waste at all levels of the hierarchy.

frankgreenfield@iafrica.com

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