In the week following the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held over 20-22 June in Brazil, The Guardian published two stories on the role of big business in sustainable development. In one article, Kirsty Jenkinson and Manish Bapna argue that business needed to be more proactive and committed to the issue of sustainable development. On the other hand, Mark Goyder makes a case for capital market incentives as well as partnerships between governments, NGOs and business.
Here is a summary of key points from both stories (click on the title to read the complete article):
Big business was extremely visible and vocal at Rio+20, with corporate leaders making a number of important and positive statements. However, it would appear that these sentiments have not resulted in real, concrete action. Companies failed to come with innovative, ambitious, solution-oriented plans to tackle “climate change and overuse of natural resources.
Instead of having a long-term perspective, business is “wrongly” focusing on the more immediate global financial crisis. Companies need to prioritise environmental issues and work together with governments and other groups in a bottom-up manner to achieve breakthrough innovations. Problem areas like “clean energy and water supply, in particular, lend themselves to such an approach”. Governments also need to step in with policy changes and incentives to motivate businesses to embrace sustainable practices.
Many people put forth “skeptical” views of big business when it comes to sustainability. It is frequently suggested that businesses cannot be trusted because, amongst other things, they are driven purely by the desire to maximize profits and are not accountable to the public (except by enforced regulations).
However, most big companies are accountable to their customers, who have “high expectations that go well beyond the narrow quality of their products”. The ultimate beneficiaries of company profits are not just the top executives but also millions of people. Also, the corporate sector brings major advantages in the fight against global problems: “innovation, scale and durability”. The complexity of today’s global issues demands collaboration amongst governments, businesses, civil society and consumers plus an agenda that shows the principles of “good stewardship”, instead of “cynicism and distrust”.