Eric Marx reports from Rio+20 on the business issues and contributions so far.
A number of business initiatives discussed in Rio indicate possible routes to a more sustainable global economy
As the Rio+20 Earth Summit conference gears up, business leaders have struck a largely positive message facing up to the challenge of delivering a fast track transition to a green economy.
Targeted investments and collaboration are needed to overcome current barriers, say a diverse group of corporate actors, but the leadership is already here, as is the technology.
Government policies, while necessary and important, cannot be counted upon, said Caio Koch-Weser, vice-chairman of Deutsche Bank, speaking on a panel focused on transformative solutions.
The bank’s tiered risk-sharing structures – leveraging public-private finance mechanisms such as guarantees, co-investments, debt enhancement, risk insurance and subsidised feed-in tariffs – can drive scalable change. And, the money is there, Koch-Weser insisted.
“Leadership will have to come from boardrooms,” he said. “It cannot come from cabinet rooms.”
Colin Carter, CEO of PassivSystems, roused delegates with the idea of engaging consumers through a home energy device that uses smart algorithms to bring significant savings in heating and energy usage. “If you can find a way to empower consumers, believe me, we will create a revolution,” Carter said.
Existing biotech solutions also have the capacity to save huge amounts of CO2 emissions, said Thomas Nagy of Novozymes. He predicted a transformative shift towards sustainable biofuel production in the near-term future.
Green IT practices are on prominent display at the conference. Microsoft has introduced ITPAC (IT pre-assembled component) technology that promises energy neutrality for major office systems.
Data centres currently account for roughly 1.3% of all electricity usage worldwide and their drain on local resources is a significant hurdle to making IT scalable in the developing world, said Robert Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft. The expected energy savings are such that the cost of purchase can be recouped in less than five years through savings in electricity bills.
Networks for change
But acting in isolation will not achieve the needed change agreed attendees. It requires building networks that drive systemic change, said Barbara Kux, the chief sustainability officer at Siemens. She stressed the importance of having products and services that are worthy of pride, but ultimately sustainable solutions require cross-cutting partnerships and new business models.
In this regard, social enterprise investments are gaining traction and will be boosted significantly by a new initiative backed by the UN Global Compact and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Titled A Framework for Action, the new initiative seeks to cultivate a supply of capital for investment in social enterprises that benefit poor or vulnerable people, according to Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “With so many social entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses in need of both capital and capacity building, more tools like the framework are needed to help unlock critical private and public sector resources in support the sector’s development,” she said.
More commitments and development challenges will be announced in the coming days – it’s going to be an interesting week.
Eric Marx will be reporting from Rio throughout the summit.