There’s more than enough blame to go around for why the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, ended so badly. A week later, heads continue to roll about which are the worst offenders among the 190 nations represented for creating the tepid Rio+20 outcome document, “The Future We Want.” So outraged were the NGOs in Rio that they walked out of the conference, declaring that “The Future We Want is Not Here.” An online petition is now circulating outlining opposition to the agreement made in Rio and calling for a mass people’s movement to bring about the green economy that government leaders have seemed to turn their collective back on. There were no fewer than 15 mentions of “sustained growth” in the outcome document. Not “sustainable development, “sustainability,” or even “sustainable growth,” but “sustained growth” which is nothing more than business-as-usual.
And so where was business in all this? Did they step up to the plate when heads of government decided to play it safe? The answer is: not exactly. At The Business Action for Sustainable Development Day, the business community called on Rio+20 negotiators to put in place policy frameworks that will enable global business to scale up solutions necessary to achieve sustainability goals. That’s all well and good—clear policy sets the parameters for business to act decisively. But has business looked itself in the mirror?
What is needed is to break ranks, as we’ve argued before in this space when the World Economic Forum pledged a leading role on sustainable consumption but lacked the courage to weed out the slow-movers and laggards.
That’s why it’s refreshing to see the new outspoken and more radical-thinking president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Bakker, talk about how “We need to create coalitions of the people who want to be good, who have plans to progress and make it attractive for other people to follow. The 20% of really bad guys we need to regulate out of existence.”
But once again, the reliance is on “regulation” rather than a forceful move by business to exert pressure against the companies and industries which insist on conducting business in the old, unsustainable way, and lobbying governments to continue to make that possible.
Government will continue to step in (although not enough) and demand of business what it does not demand of itself. One of the brighter moments of the past week, for instance, is the UK government’s pledge, announced during Rio, to require all firms listed on the London Stock Exchange to report the levels of greenhouse gases they emit from the start of next financial year.
It would feel less deflating if Rio+20 were to succeed in galvanizing business to get tough on its own rank-and-file, to reject the “self-satisfaction” that Bakker speaks of, and instead, in his vision, “align business with the world we want to create. We all talk about green growth but what do we mean by it and for us it has to be about growth which is inclusive.”
Bakker admits, “We have a global emergency and a global process which is completely not working to address that emergency.”
It’s time for business to rescue itself.