Time to Bring Corporate Sustainability to Scale

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Time to Bring Corporate Sustainability to Scale

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Summary

The UN Global Compact's Georg Kell sets the stage for Rio+20 as a unique chance to move the corporate sustainability agenda to global scale. He outlines actions for governments and businesses to take on a variety of critical fronts.

Article
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 9:30pm

By Georg Kell, Executive Director, UN Global Compact, for the International Institute for Sustainable Development

Never before in recent history has there been such widespread uncertainty about the future. Major developments are shaping our world, raising important questions about the proper role of business and the legitimacy of markets.

First, while the adoption of austerity measures has been a painful adjustment for countries in many parts of the developed world, a good portion of the world’s economic might and growth has gradually been shifting from Europe and the West to the East and South.

At the same time, rising inequality and widening gaps between rich and poor have become global phenomena. Income gaps in OECD countries have reached the highest levels in 30 years and are even more pronounced in many emerging economies.

As a result of rapidly eroding trust in markets, institutions and leadership, citizens are demanding more equality, freedoms and accountability. Popular protests from Wall Street to Moscow are expressions of global discontent that cuts across economic, social and political spheres.

And continued stress on natural resources threatens to disrupt economies and societies around the planet. More than one billion people lack access to food, electricity or safe drinking water. Climate change remains a critical issue, and ecosystems are in dramatic decline.

Many argue that business is at the heart of many of these problems. But this sweeping indictment fails to see the potential of business, if properly channelled, to produce many of the solutions needed to drive positive and transformative change.

The good news is that thousands of companies already incorporate environmental and social issues into their agendas. The UN Global Compact alone counts nearly 7,000 corporate signatories in 150 countries driving innovation in areas as diverse as energy and climate change, women’s empowerment and anti-corruption.

However, most companies simply aren’t doing enough. Sustainability as a value proposition has not yet gained global acceptance. With an estimated 80,000 multinationals and millions of smaller enterprises, much remains to be done.

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