22 July 2022 –  With food insecurity, unemployment and poverty at a post-pandemic all-time high, it is difficult to imagine a positive trajectory toward a socio-economically secure, climate-resilient South Africa. Can ESG help us future-proof our communities?

One JSE listed real estate trust fund has a vision. In partnership with Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA), Fortress REIT has set out to transform how we interact with our society. Since 2019 FTFA has run EcoClusters in Fortress communities by implementing scalable, sustainable programmes as part of their smart ESG strategy. 

“Inequities are inherent in the current system, so these communities need multipronged approaches to reduce the effects of poverty and climate change,” says Robyn Hills, Head of Programmes at FTFA. Fortress REIT’s initiatives involve a combination of FTFA programmes, all strategically linked and implemented. For instance, FTFA’s Food Gardens for Africa programme will establish a food garden; from that garden, trees are distributed to community members under the Trees for Homes programme. The community members who come to the garden to collect their trees form a positive association with the garden (and the community centre or co-operative running it). As a result, there is increased local buy-in and support for food-gardening activities. 

Over the years, FTFA has witnessed the social impacts of implementing multiple integrated programmes in community clusters. “Clustering these programmes allows communities and school children to see the impact of a healthy environment and ecosystem first-hand – one they helped to create,” says Luyanda Ntuli, FTFA Food Gardens Manager. 

Any smart ESG strategy takes a purpose-driven approach to making a meaningful difference with sustained outcomes. This is why the Fortress REIT – FTFA partnership developed thoughtful, targeted solutions, tailored to the communities that Fortress REIT serves. By doing this, they form relationships with the communities living around their flagship properties.

Jodie Elinor-Dreyer from Fortress REIT says “The impact that these programmes have had in under-served communities is something to be proud of. Fortress’s impassioned commitment since the beginning has resulted in the programmes reaching 6875 households, and 133 organisations such as schools and early childhood development centres (ECDs). In addition, 18 917 trees have been planted, offsetting more than 6980 tonnes of carbon”. 

Susan Evans, Events and Trees Distribution Manager at FTFA, adds that “Offsetting carbon in public spaces that have traditionally been barren and are in need of trees, is the most impactful way to green urban areas”.

Not only do trees improve environmental health, they are also essential to our wellbeing. It is with this understanding that Fortress REIT recently began the Fortress Running Series, combining wellness with environmental awareness. The first race was held in Rustenburg earlier this year, with the second to take place on the 31st of July in Evaton. On the Friday prior to the races, the FTFA team hosts activities at two schools in the area that include a climate change workshop, “Climate Hero” training for a group of learners at each school, and the planting of trees at the schools through FTFA’s Trees for All programme. Two schools are selected for each race, and race ambassadors speak at the workshops on the importance of exercise and clean air in their communities. At the first race workshop, the learners met two South African star athletes, Ezekiel Sepeng and Israel Morake. 

These initiatives by Fortress REIT in partnership with FTFA, are a sterling example of how South African businesses can chart a better path and create opportunities that empower people to face the future with confidence. Instead of merely distributing a CSI budget, Fortress REIT has immersed itself in the process, and is taking the lead on future-proofing the community it serves in the most integrated, empowering and sustainable way. Build a better future with Food & Trees for Africa by making us your ESG / CSI implementation partner. Or, make a donation through our easy to use online platform.

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