Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Evolving agendas: business and sustainable development

Guest blogger: Debbie Dickinson.

Hi all, I'm Debbie and I’m babysitting Alyson’s blog whilst she’s away this week.

As a bit of a complement to the specific themes Alyson’s been tracing of late (water, investors, China), I thought I’d start with some reflections of where the whole “business and sustainable development” debates are currently at.

I attended a “Corporate Responsibility” conference at Chatham House in London yesterday and Monday. The following struck me:
* overwhelming consensus that the private sector – with its willingness for risk taking and capacity for innovation – is where many solutions to sustainable development are, and will continue to, emerge. Although a running theme over the 2 days, Professor Daniel Esty most compellingly argued this
* the climate change debate has, for the first time in many years, imposed tangible understanding of natural limits to growth. Business, governments, and civil society are already experiencing real consequences
* that “CSR” is already, and should be, dying away as an organizing principle. This is not to say that those who have not yet engaged have gotten away with it! Rather, business and other organizations are faced with the urgency to position sustainable development as core business.
* following the above, there was a strong prediction that sustainability reporting would also shift from “stand alone” reports into more strategic integrations within financial reports – a trend we are already witnessing, and keen to see continue.
* Alan Knight’s concept of “choice editing”: removing the unsustainable options from the market. E.g. via product labelling that makes “low ranking / uncertified” items undesirable, thereby shifting ethical consumerism away from reliance on the “green consumer” and to a broader market change.
* what exactly is the role of governments? If we are at the stage where governments have less a “command and control” or regulation role in sustainable development, but that governments still have a role to play in this environment of innovation and entrepreneurial solutions, then how can they (the public sector) best leverage change? An answered theme was around the types of institutional governance structures that are required in this time of rapid change?

My overwhelming conclusion is how fast the agenda is changing. Whilst it’s still so important to see the challenges that lie ahead, I also useful to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come and remind myself that change is possible.

What are your thoughts? What do you think are the defining points that the business and sustainable development agenda is changing?

27 comments:

Justin said...

Hi Debbie,
Thanks for the update and well done for being so active in presenting these interesting and current articles.
In Australia the agenda is changing fast, which is being accelerated by the "politicising" of climate change.
Over the past few years, the effects of climate change by way of extreme weather conditions, droughts etc have become increasingly apparent. It has become part of our everyday lives.
The scientific community with help from the media is becoming more effective at informing the general public as to why this is occurring and the likely effects of climate change into the future.
The government has only recently acknowledged the scientific basis of global warming. It seems that the government has become more interested due to the strengthening public opinion.
Regardless of the motives, the landscape has certainly changed and awareness is snowballing.
I expect that the reporting will continue to be driven by business looking for competitive advantage, with the government trailing behind.

Debbie Dickinson said...

Hi Justin,

Thanks for your comments and insights from the way the agenda is changing in Australia.

It seems like climate change is everywhere becomming the big wake up call we've all wanted it to be for so long!

Your point about governments acknowledging the issues because of strengthening public opinion is especially interesting. Perhaps this is less an example of slow response time by governement, and more an example of public participation and public opinion driving policy and action - the power of democracy itself.

As an Aussie myself, I am reminded of the the effects the physical enviroment (e.g drought)have on collective understanding of the issue.

I enjoyed your comments - thanks.

If I may re-ask the question to others: what's happening where you're from? What do you think are the defining points that the business and sustainable development agenda is changing?

I'll summarise the responses we get and perhaps we can build out a little regional snapshot / casestudy of what's going on around the globe?

All comments welcome!

Debbie

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