It’s time to take corporate sustainability to the next level
Date Added: 18th December 2012 from Sustainable Business Council
By Penny Nelson
This was the opening statement by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, when he opened the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) annual meeting recently.
The WBCSD has 200+ members and 62 regional networks. I was one of 370 participants who attended the meeting in Seoul in October.
Ban Ki Moon went on to say:
“We need companies everywhere to deliver value not just financially, but also in social, environmental and ethical terms, to look at the quadruple bottom line and to report publicly on results and progress.”
Other plenary speakers were Paul Gilding, a well-known Australian independent adviser on sustainability, and Will Steffen a senior researcher with the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Paul Gilding’s main messages were:
- Business has dissected and analysed sustainability for 50 years. It now needs to “take the wheel and drive transformation”, to ask what needs to be done and then do it at a bigger scale and with more speed.
- No organisation can mobilise business like the WBCSD. If the WBCSD and its regional network don’t act, then transformation won’t happen. The WBSD and its regional network need to roll out good ideas and drive implementation hard.
- The social context (eg youth unemployment) is critical to consider. Globally, there is a backlash against business. Business needs to think really carefully about the perception of business in the broader community. It needs to prove that it can collectively make a large scale contribution to the issues communities face.
The WBCSD has recently partnered with the Stockholm Resilience Institute because of the work it has done on a planetary boundaries framework – more information here.
Will Steffen’s main messages were:
- Business needs to scale up what it’s doing on both spatial (larger) and temporal (faster) scales.
- There are three planetary boundaries that need to be met now (climate change, biodiversity loss and chemicals dispersion). If we don’t sort these out, we won’t get there on the other six (ozone, ocean acidification, freshwater, land change, atmosphere aerosol loading and nitrogen and phosphorus loading). Read more here.
- The long-term investments made this decade will be critical for setting business up to hit the 2050 targets in WBCSD’s Vision 2050.
WBCSD’s President Peter Bakker
WBCSD President Peter Bakker’s address focussed on how urgent it is for business to speed up and scale up business solutions to global sustainability challenges – such as poverty, climate change and environmental degradation.
Peter thinks business has a key role to play because of its technology, innovation, capacity, resources and skills. He advocates for capitalism being a powerful conduit for achieving a transition to a sustainable future, provided environmental externalities and social contributions are appropriately reflected in the valuation of companies.
He believes there needs to be an increased focus on optimizing social and financial capital, and emphasised how WBCSD is moving from a focus on pilot projects and reports to solutions, action and implementation. He thinks the 62 regional networks have a key role to play.
Peter Bakker’s four ways to scale up:
- What individual companies can do (transparency, stories, stretch targets)
- What sectors can do (sharing best practice, setting standards)
- What can be done across sectors (innovation across sectors)
- Changing the “rules of the game” (this gets all companies to play).
WBCSD projects for 2013
The meeting discussed the main projects WBCSD will be focusing on over the next year. They include:
- Chemical Sector Project: Chemical sector member companies are working together to work out how they can become more sustainable across their value chain.
- Electricity Utilities Project: Power sector members are focusing on efficiency, electricity frameworks and sustainable development in the sector. This will include work around stakeholder engagement and financing low carbon power technologies.
- Mobility: A number of member companies are focused on speeding up and scaling up implementation of sustainable mobility. The focus is on city and intercity transport of people and freight. A global cross sectoral platform is being established to learn from the best (and less than best) practice. A sustainability mobility index will also be developed to foster competition among cities to implement sustainable mobility solutions. Blueprints that can be scaled up and applied to different types of cities will be developed.
- Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Buildings are large consumers of energy and emitters of CO2. WBCSD is concerned there are lots of reports, but change in the building sector is not occurring fast enough. The focus of this programme is to work out how to trigger motivation for change. The members working in this area want to lead replicable process of innovation and collaboration to accelerate investments in projects that produce radical improvements in energy efficiency in buildings.
Rules of the Game
- Reporting and Investment: The WBCSD is concerned that companies are valued for their financial performance; social and natural capital is not taken into account sufficiently. WBCSD members are moving toward integrated reporting and are concerned that current reporting requirements are burdensome, confusing and don’t focus enough on what is material. This project will focus on improving reporting and investment indices.
- Future Leaders Programme (FLT) 2013: Integrating sustainability into finance, investment and reporting. The FLT 2013 will assess within their companies what is the business case for integrating sustainable development into finance, including defining the challenges and opportunities. They will have the opportunity to participate at the Global Reporting Initiatives Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting. In the second part of the program, the FLT will work on group specific projects to engage the finance community and investors in sustainability.
Vision 2050: Next steps after Seoul
Council Members and Liaison Delegates, agreed to revitalise Vision 2050 in Seoul. Building on Vision 2050’s strong foundations, members concurred that the project should focus on major changes since Vision 2050’s launch in 2010 and prioritise business actions to achieve the 2020 “must haves”. A key element of the project would include a dashboard to measure and demonstrate progress.
The new project Vision 2050 aims to:
- ensure the Vision is framed by latest scientific insights from Planetary Boundaries and other sources
- prioritise our work program around science-based must haves
- measure and report on progress in achieving the must haves.
The targeted start date for this project is set for January 2013.
Food Fibre Fuel
This project focuses on the land use, fresh water and biodiversity challenges associated with food, fuel and fibre production. It covers sustainable agriculture, forest management practices and responsible land use decision-making models that better support food, fibre and energy security; climate change; biodiversity conservation and development objectives.
Any Sustainable Business Council members wanting more information on these WBCSD projects or to be linked to the work, please contact Penny Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jacinta Syme at email@example.com.