Building Sustainable Legacies

Public-private partnership on green growth

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A high-level session hosted by the Danish prime minister and the President of South Korea and the Mexican Minister of the Environment filling in for his president and Unilever CEO Paul Polman. The Danish and South Korean statesmen make an unlikely couple: a beautiful, young and tall blond lady and a small, restrained, nearly introverted gentleman. They jointly present the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) as an innovative international action-oriented platform in service of  a future “we want”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is absent as is the Mexican Prime Minister who had just hosted the G20. After short statement, the South Korean Prime Minister and his delegation leaves. When will the discussion start?

We learn that the heads of state have somewhat unexpectedly already approved the proposed new document generated by the Brazilian a day ahead of schedule. They seem to have followed the recommendation of the delegates who had unanimously approved the overnight effort of the Brazilians to save the conference a few days ago. This is certainly weird and a major disappointment for many. Weird because the procedure of the state addresses is still going on in the main hall of the conference. And a major disappointment as the concerns of minorities both in the global South as well as other major groups (NGO, youth, women, etc.).

Paul Polman points out that the agreement falls short of the expectations as it lacks clearly defined goals and measures to be achieved. Clear words that express a broad general sentiment. The Danish prime minister says she is “moderately satisfied” with regards to the outcomes of the RIO+20 conference. She underlines the importance of having green economy recognized as the way forward and clarified that setting a new high level global governance framework is a first step in a longer process. She reminds us that we will need  everybody will now have to go and apply the notions now, and business most particularly. Paul Polman highlights that there is a lot of energy in the private sector as a result of the RIO+20 conference with many important initiatives now emerging.

Three goals (universal access to energy by 2023, providing 3 billion people with modern cooking fuel, minimize adverse environmental externalities) in the energy are about to be agreed on and supported across all sectors. The head of UNIDO clarifies that it will take 48 billion a year for the next 20 years is needed to achieve this. This money must come from the private sector and governments seem confident that corporations will provide this cash-flow. The conversation turns on money, the financial crisis and the need for public subsidies. Polman demands transparency and points out the 33 trillion of asset from 1100 organizations reporting in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a start to provide the kind of transparency that is needed to succeed.

Paul Polman states that business responds best to signals from the market which are reflected by investors. He demands new measures for evaluating the real value of a company and challenges the investment community to come up with relevant new measures. This and signs from the consumers will be much more relevant and appropriate than broad subsidies. Not everybody on the panel agrees. Polman concludes by stressing also the importance of supporting the youth and congratulates the Higher Education Initiative (HEI) which gained 47 more signatures during this conference reaching now more than 300 universities. BSL was among the first dozen universities to sign this important initiative which is supported by our World Business School Council for Sustainable Business.

In the middle of the closing remarks there is a commotion at the back of the room: Ban Ki-moon walks in. As there is no spare chair for him, everybody jumps up and leaves the panel, leaving the UN Secretary General sitting quite lonely up front. Tony-Schmidt who is by now called the fairytale godmother of Sustainability. Ban Ki-moon thanks her for demanding that the UN leads the global governance framework and that he takes this very seriously.

It becomes increasingly difficult to listen to Ban Ki-moon, as loud, disruptive voices reach us from the outside where a demonstration must be gaining force and size. In the intimate setting of a quite inappropriately tiny room for such a high-level session, we wonder what expects us outside. It feels like I am on the other side suddenly, on the inside fearing demonstrations outside, whereas so far I have been on the outside doing the rebelling with our guerilla business school of 50+20.

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Author: Katrin Muff PhD

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility. From 2008 to 2018, she led the Thought Leadership activities in the area of conceptual design at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

One thought on “Public-private partnership on green growth

  1. A CONFERENCE IN THIS DAY AND AGE WHERE EVERYONE FLYS TO RIO TO SOLVE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS MAKES NOT SENSE. WHAT A WASTE OF ENERGY ON A POLITICAL EVENT WHERE NO NATION WILL TAKE HOME REAL POLICY. WE NEED TO MOVE BEYOND THIS OR THERE IS NO HOPE AND WE ALL SAVE OUR SELVES ON A SINKING PLANET, WHICH SEEMS TO BE WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW.