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Rio+20, some brief company and policy highlights

Whilst I argued in a previous post that Rio+20 might have been better delayed until 2013/14, now it’s happened, we have to consider the positive aspects.

Yes, CARE, a large development NGO, called it “nothing more than a political charade”.

Whilst Greenpeace said it was “nothing more than a failure of epic proportions”.

But in business, we have to look to the crumbs of comfort offered and see how we can make something of them.

As predicted on this blog, the most impressive thing about Rio+20 was the selection of big business committments to serious systems change on offer.

“The Future we want” document of course was deeply unsatisfying. But Rio+20 showed us two interesting developments outside of inter-government bickering.

One, emerging market nations are increasingly assertive. Secondly, companies and NGOs are looking to scale projects to sidestep government inertia.

The first point is not always a good thing, but assertiveness will at least keep big business on its toes and keen to be seen as good citizens with substantive positive impacts, and that helps spur the sustainable business movement along.

Here’s some brief bullets I culled and blatantly plagiarised from Ethical Corporation’s Rio+20 blog series, and a few other sources:


– Business leaders struck a largely positive message on transition to a green economy.

– CEOs said targeted investments and collaboration are needed next to technology.

– Government policies, while necessary and important, cannot be counted upon.

– Business money is available and can be used in a nuanced way to drive scalable change.

– Some CEOs cleary believe empowering consumers is the way to create a revolution.

– Attendees at the business forum passed a proposal to give business a voice in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


– Unilever launched a drive to halve the greenhouse gas impact of their products.

– Nike has set a target of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals along its entire supply chain, both by 2020.

– DuPont pledged $10bn in R&D for increasing productivity, scaling up nutrition and cutting back on food waste. DuPont will develop 4,000 new products along these lines by 2020.

– Procter & Gamble promised $50bn in sales of “sustainable innovation products” by the end of 2012.

– H&M pledged to upgrade to 100% sustainable cotton – either organic, recycled, or certified – in its garments.

– Levi, Pepsi and Coca-Cola extended commitments to water management: called on government to adopt specific policy proposals aimed at ensuring meaningful progress on water.

– Microsoft said energy neutrality for major office systems is possible: cost of purchase can be recouped in less than five years through savings. The firm promised an internal carbon fee in over 100 countries, and to go carbon neutral by 2030.

– ENI committed to reduce natural gas flaring, an increasing problem.

– Femsa, a big drinks bottler, said it would shoot for 85% renewable energy sourcing in Mexico.


– 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.

– “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.

– Denmark, which now holds the presidency of the European Union, has attempted to create a space for public-private partnerships through its Global Green Growth Forum. This is a multilateral initiative that it co-chairs along with Mexico and South Korea.

– The Maldives announced the creation fo the world’s largest marine reserve, covering all 1192 of its islands by 2017.

– Valuing natural capital was a big theme at Rio – with the launch of the Natural Capital Declaration and a natural capital summit convened by the UK government that garnered considerable headlines.

– Nearly 40 banks, investors and insurers now back the Natural Capital Declaration along with more than 50 national governments. The declaration is a pledge committing companies to reporting or disclosing natural capital in accounting frameworks.

– Development banks said they would set up at $175 billion initiative to focus on public transport and cycle lanes in the world’s largest cities.

– Thomas Lovejoy, a conservationist, told the Herald Tribune that back in 1992 there was one national forest and one demarcated indigenous reserve in Brazil. Now more than 50% of Brazil’s forest, he said, is under “some form of protection”.

– Brazillian Amazon deforestation is now at its lowest leveel since record keeping began in 1988, said the IHT.


WWF’s CEO, in the International Herald Tribune, cited the following examples of greener progress:

– Various governments, from Malaysia to the Solomon Islands, have joined up to protect valuable coral reefs.

– Mozambique announced a Green Economy Roadmap for the country, whilst Mexico has passed the world’s first comprehensive climate change law, which WWF says will drastically cut emissions and develop renewable energy.

– The Mexico City Pact has committed 250 cities world-wide to measure, reduce and report on carbon emissions.

– Germany continues on its path to renewable energy, phasing out nuclear and transforming its energy system.

– Brazil’s Amazon state, Acre, is aiming for a “Green economy” build on the basis of valuing forests.

– Members of the Consumer Goods Forum have committed recently to “no deforestation” by 2020 in their value chains.

– The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, comprising 60% of Tuna canners, is committed to end pirate fishing and secure supplies.

– The International Trade Union Confederation plans to mobilise members, who hold $25 trillion in pension funds, to push for greener jobs.

So whilst it was easy to be cynical about Rio+20, and I was, there are some chinks of light out there, some signs that various actors are recognising that complex collaboration is the only way to bring about systems change.

These actors are not governments, who will only act when needs become more pressing than electorcal cycles or become drivers for serious social or economic unrest.

They are companies, NGOs and institutions. More support for the progressive work, where we can find it amongst these, is sorely needed.

When sustainability at scale and associated cost can be demonstrated and managed by these actors, government is more likely to jump on board to drive further progress, if they are shown the way.

The question for all you managers out there to ponder now is: What is my company doing on sustainability, and is it anywhere near enough?

1 Comment

  1. Toby – a really good summary.

    I have added a link to your blog from one of my own editorials about Rio+20.

    'Summit of our ambitions?':