Greening the Economy

Anthony Simon, President Marketing Unilever Foods (retired), Advisor to WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Deputy Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the World future Council, member of various boards and actively engaged in sustainable development:

There is overwhelming consensus since only yesterday that mankind is indeed massively impacting our planet and its climate. While latest evidence from the world of science is cause for great concern demanding urgent action, there are many signs of growing understanding and effort to move from business as usual to new paths of mitigation and adaptation.

That’s the good news. But are we really getting our acts together as well as we could and must?

No one part of society can tackle these issues on its own. We know this for sure. We also know that smart, integrated Solutions, bottom-up as well as top-down, in developing as well as developed countries are indispensable. This requires of course great leadership, clarity of purpose, understanding of roles and responsibilities, freedom and motivation to act. It also requires compelling inspiration to engage one way or the other as individuals and communities, to do one’s bit, or fulfil obligations, as part of a whole and for future generations, rather than just exercising rights. Some call this moral purpose, others the equivalent of war-time mobilisation.

A better understanding of Solutions and of who can play which role is vital. This means stepping outside one’s own silo, willingness to dialogue and work together across divides, readiness to listen with respect, humility and openness, in short new forms of inclusiveness, partnership and collaboration. We have to reach common, not rival, understanding and build-on each other’s work, not just ignore it.

Clear framework conditions are naturally crucial. We call these policy frameworks, or policies. They are the preserve and competence of governments, locally, nationally and internationally. We should strive for the identification and dissemination of “Best Policies” as fast and as far as possible. The World Future Council is a great, new example of an embryonic effort to do just this. We should support and guide it. Its initial priorities are Best Policies for renewable energy, to be followed by Best Policies for sustainable cities, sustainable agriculture, sustainable oceans, water, sustainable economics and legal systems for the 21st century. The EU is of course setting an innovative pace in many related fields, not just with its Energy Package but also “Beyond GDP” etc.. It is to be applauded and supported, though of course is not alone with numerous, other laudable government initiatives ongoing across the globe.

Industry and business thrive on spreading “Best Practices” across the world. It is an essential key to their success. This requires ever more open access to new ideas and innovations from wherever, combined with world-class organisational capabilities of “search and re-apply”. Each industry sector has leading-edge competitors striving to get or stay ahead. More and more we also see key learnings moving across sectors, or spawned at the intersections of previously distinct sectors. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a great example as the leading global business voice on sustainable development.

It truly is about continuous learning and the mobilisation of “Best Practices” for Solutions within and across sectors and geographies. We should get to know it better and support it. There are in addition countless new, ongoing initiatives rising to the challenges of energy and climate change and other “unsustainables”. They represent myriad examples of invention, disruptive technologies, entrepreneurship, risk investment, venture capital etc. which in turn can result in new “Best Practices” overnight. They need all the support they can get. We simply cannot achieve Solutions without them.

Consumers, or citizens, are a critically important part of a successful drive to Solutions for a Sustainable Future. They naturally elect our politicians but also have the potential, if moved in some way to do so, to influence governments, change behaviours, rally behind causes, impact the life or death of markets, brands and companies. Consumers are savvy. They also have emotions and aspirations. They are today connected in ways they have never been before. They create and ride cultural waves. They need to be convinced about Solutions and their relevance to themselves. They are highly sensitive to incentives, right as well as wrong ones. We talk down to them or ignore them at our peril.

But we can reach them and get them to help in many different ways, through parents, in schools, at universities, through compulsory or voluntary civic service initiatives, above all perhaps by creating bonds of trust which resonate with them. WalMart, Tesco, Carrefour, Unilever, P&G etc. understand this. But the abstract theory of “sustainable consumption” needs translation into truly credible messages which move attitudes and mindsets and begin to change behaviour. We need much sharper, simpler models of “Best Behaviours” which we communicate convincingly. Peer example and community pressure are vital components. It is after all about how we live, how we build, how we eat and how we travel. We need “Smart Solutions for Sustainable Living” and resonating showcasing of the “Best Behaviours” to which we should aspire.

“Best Policies, Practices and Behaviours” combined can get us to a Sustainable Future if we dramatically accelerate our speed and act more systematically and cohesively together. We will not get there without pulling all three levers. This means (in no particular order) that the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the UN System, other Bretton Woods Institutions, the EU and its Institutions, the Tällberg Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, the worlds of business, NGOs, academia (eg. INSEAD, Lund’s IIIEE) etc. should try to align better behind clearer priorities and clearer understanding of respective roles and contributions on the way to specific solutions. Of course we cannot all do everything. We need focus and prioritisation within a better integrated framework of the roadmap and the paths individual parts of society will take to get there, including of course major powers such as China and India. BUSINESSEUROPE holds its 2008 European Business Summit on Greening the Economy, Jim Harris of Gallup calls for a Global Knowledge Institute.

Jeremy Rifkin writes compellingly of the Third Industrial Revolution, Lester Brown in Plan B 3.0 calls for Mobilising to Save Civilisation, the Worldwatch Institute in its latest 2008 State of the World report pleads for sustainable innovations and new approaches to sustainable economics, Jörgen Clausen’s COPENMIND in Denmark is accelerating technology interchanges between universities and industry, Martin Smith has started the new Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, Carl Hodges’ Global Seawater Inc. has the potential to have major impact with a new generation of renewable biodiesel from seawater agriculture technologies and at scale to slow sea-level rise, Vern Swaback in Creating Value – Smart Development and Green Design focuses on building sustainable communities. Etc. etc..

Let us therefore leave our silos, shift gear, listen to and inform each other better and focus above all on “Best Solutions from Best Policies, Practices and Behaviours”.

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