What Rio+20 Means for Your Businessby Nayelli Gonzalez on July 3, 2012
Much has been said about the outcomes of this year’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Critics around the globe have lambasted the Earth Summit as a mere tool for governments and corporations around the world to play lip service to climate change-related issues. Others have seen the conference as a positive step forward for world leaders to address environmental and sustainable development issues.
Whichever side you’re on, it’s clear that all the attention Rio+20 has garnered in the past weeks is an indication of what people really want: to trust that their leaders are helping to build a more sustainable future.
If you’re a company, either a local business or a multinational corporation, Rio+20′s rallying cry of “The Future We Want” should serve as a reminder of what your business can do to support sustainable development. If you’re a business leader, ask yourself: “Is my business helping to create a future I want?” Let’s hope the answer is yes; if so, you can view Rio+20 as an invitation to engage with stakeholders, take action, and hold yourself accountable to build a better, more sustainable future.
One of the main lesson that Rio+20 provided is around stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders from a variety of international groups — governments, private sector, NGO’s and other social and environmental interests groups — showed up in Rio de Janeiro last month to explore ways to “reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection…to get to the future we want.” These days, it’s rare to get such a diverse set of constituents in one room (or conference) to explore how to create shared value for all groups.
As a business leader, think about how you can apply this stakeholder engagement model to your business. Is your business engaging stakeholders to create shared value and gain a competitive advantage for your business?
Some corporations leveraged Rio+20 as a platform to not only engage, but also to showcase action. The “Valuing Natural Capital” initiative, for instance, brought together 24 major companies, among them The Coca-Cola Company, Disney, Nike, and Unilever, to develop a methodology to assign value to the world’s forests, freshwater and marine systems. In partnership with The Corporate Eco Forum and The Nature Conservancy, these companies are helping to build a framework that is not only good for the environment, but also good for business. By taking into account ecosystems services in their business planning and investments, businesses can help mitigate risks, cut costs while reduce environmental impact, fuel sustainable growth and enhance their brand. It’s a clear win-win-win.
As a business leader, how are you taking action within your company to value natural capital?
Of course, action is just as good as talk if there’s no follow-through and accountability. Thankfully, another promising initiative to come out of Rio+20 was the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Cloud of Commitments, a tool that helps keep track of sustainability commitments made by governments, businesses and organizations — and also helps keep all those groups accountable. Already 218 commitments have been entered on the Cloud website, including General Motors’ commitment to go landfill-free at 100 manufacturing sites by 2020 and Germany’s commitment to achieve 80 percent electricity production from renewable energy sources by 2050. Such commitments are certainly a step in the right direction.
As a business leader, how is your business being held accountable (or holding itself accountable) for your sustainability commitments?
Despite the fact that — and perhaps because — Rio+20 did not produce any robust agreement, it’s imperative for businesses to step up and engage their stakeholders, take action and hold themselves accountable in a real way. Beyond asking themselves important questions, it’s time for businesses to offer the world clear answers to those questions and help build a future we all want to be a part of.
Image Source: United Nations
Tags: accountability, business, Cloud of Commitments, NRDC, Rio+20, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, sustainability strategy, the future we want, united nations conference on sustainable development