Story written by Mike Noel for Futerra's blog May 3, 2012
So we know the world is transfixed with a fragile global economy and several upcoming elections, but if business leaders want to get a jump on the changing market environment they would be wise to pay attention to the upcoming global sustainable development summit, Rio+20.
In 1992 the UN’s earth summit laid the groundwork for the only international, legally-binding climate change agreement to date, the Kyoto Protocol. 20 years later thousands of political and civil society leaders are preparing to converge on Rio de Janeiro for three days of dialogue, idea-sharing, and inevitable small talk about the state of Brazilian soccer. I had the privilege of attending a conference recently with some of Rio+20’s key players including its Executive Coordinator, Brice LaLonde, and several Brazilian political leaders. While Rio+20 mostly invites politicians and NGO directors, business executives are already forming their own sustainable development strategies.
Regardless of whether or not world leaders renew commitments to greenhouse gas reductions, the following “green economy” market trends are already underway:
1. Public Disclosure of Integrated Reports – annual sustainability reports that publicly disclose the full extent of an organization’s operations including externalized costs such as water use and pollution are expected to increase greatly. Yvo de Boer, KPMG’s Special Global Adviser on Climate Change and Sustainability, called for mandatory disclosure to create a transparent “level playing field” and the Global Reporting Initiative is organizing a “Report or Explain”initiative.
2. Green Financing – as more and more countries come to consensus on climate action, new lines of credit, like Brazil’s $191 million Climate Fund, are opening for sustainable development projects like clean-tech expansion and carbon offsets and closing for fossil-fuel industries.
3. Sustainable Industry Standards – Luciano Coutinho, President of Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), called for more collaborative regulation like the EPA’s fuel economy standards to create a solutions-oriented dialogue with both public and private organizations. Coutinho expressed a need for standards in “so many areas” like the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) that would guide businesses on a more sustainable path.
4. Demand for “small footprint” services and products - even if the developing world achieves sustainable growth, developed countries will still have to cut their ecological footprint by a fourth or fifth in order to stabilize the climate, says sustainable business consultant Pavan Sukhdev. This is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs, civil engineers, and just about everyone else to develop innovative products and services that will allow us to thrive more efficiently with less.
Overall the business leaders in attendance seemed receptive to change and acutely aware of the environmental crises taking place all over the globe. However, they acknowledged that without clarity from governments and consumer demand for sustainable action any change would be slow and fragmented. Rio+20 can help both of these causes by placing sustainable development back in the spotlight. From a communications standpoint, we hope the delegation sessions sizzle with optimism and clear solutions.
Who knows? Maybe Rio will capture some of that ’92 magic.
No one in their right mind wants to attend an international summit. Most people don’t get to anyway.
They are dull, long-winded and appallingly obtuse plus the coffee usually stinks. They are for governments, lobbyists, hangers on (like me) and increasingly protesters. This is ok, because any normal person would rather gnaw their own leg off than have to sit through a 5 hour debate about one paragraph in a 200 page document.
But just because the ‘sherpas and sous-sherpas’ (yep, that is what negotiators are dubbed) are weird, doesn’t mean they should forget the rest of us. Rio+20 is the huge Earth Summit happening in Brazil in June. Everything from water to poverty, biodiversity to land rights will be debated. New, smarter measures of GDP will be proposed and a set of Sustainable Development Goals will be mapped out. Leonardo Dicaprio might even turn up.
There is a big gaping hole at the heart of the whole thing. Right now the draft agreement doesn’t mention communication, engagement, mobilisation or behaviour change at all. Basically assuming governments can fix energy, consumption, waste and much more without the rest of us 7 billion people.
This morning I went to a breakfast meeting with Nick Clegg (UK Deputy Prime Minister), Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State for Environment) and Andrew Mitchell (Secretary of State for International Development); our UK delegation to Rio. Our small group of charities, businesses and hanger on (yep, me) were asked:
“Given where we are now in preparations for the conference, what is your vision of success for Rio+20?”
This was my answer (we had a chance to submit a written comment):
Rio+20 must accept the pivotal role of mass communications, public engagement, and behaviour change in achieving sustainable development. The UK is perfectly placed to lead this call because:
1. The UK is a globally-recognised hub for the creative industries and communications
2. UK businesses, led by Unilever, B&Q and others, have already set the ‘consumer behaviour change’ standard
3. We have the best research, guidance and experts on public engagement for sustainability.
Without mass public mobilisation, any Sustainable Development Goals are doomed to stagnation. From sustainable consumption to water efficiency, public enthusiasm is the gatekeeper to Rio+20’s ambitions.
Futerra recommends that public engagement and mobilisation for sustainability is explicitly included in the final Rio+20 communiqué.
In the 20 years since the first Earth Summit, social media and the internet have transformed our ability to reach people and generate change. We have the tools, but need the willpower to ignite sustainable lifestyles. The UK should share its sustainability communications expertise and support nations struggling to inspire their own people.
Sustainable development will be created by 7 billion people, or not at all.
I hope you like it. If you agree (or have a better idea) then tell Defra:
Email email@example.com with ‘Rio+20’ as the subject – feel free to include the wording above.
Write to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 17 Nobel House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is reposted with the permission of Futerra, the authority on sustainability and communication.
Warm thanks in particular to Mike, Solitaire and Ed, the people behind Futerra who rock this world.
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