Building Sustainable Legacies


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Public-private partnership on green growth

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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How to get to the 2’000 Watt global community

In order to offer a concrete experience of our 50+20 vision (see www.50plus20.org) our team has organized a series of collaboratory events during the RIO+20 conference. Imagine the collaboratory as a circular space where stakeholders meet on an equal basis to address burning issues that concern society either locally, globally or both. The discussion is facilitated with open space and consciousness-building technologies and offers a concrete new possibility for education and research.

As we prepare for these sessions, we are considering what big issues we should address to contribute to RIO+20. To me, the real challenge for the conference is a lot more profound than the emerging buzzwords like yesterday’s speech from Ban ki-Moon stating that “we need to combine growth with social inclusion” and of course pay attention to do so “within the limits of the planet”. Well, these are either empty words or may well be a contradiction in terms (an oxymoron). What we need is a world where 9 billion people live well and within the limits of the planet (WBCSD vision 2050).

Now, what I would like to know is how we are planning to achieve this. What does this mean for us in Europe, what does this mean for people in Brazil, China, Australia. Not in 2050 but for the coming decade. How do we have to change to make this seemingly impossible goal work if already today we as a global community use resources every year that are equivalent to what takes our planet Earth 1.35 years to regenerate. And we are just at 7 billion people today. With 2 billion people in emerging countries expecting to join the global middle class. Or, as our Brazilian friends have pointed out: “you are not going to tell the people here that they can’t get their refrigerator they’ve been waiting for so desperately.” Well, of course not as well as we cannot imagine prescribing our U.S. friends to at least return to a European level of Ecological Footprint (EFP), i.e. achieving a 50% reduction.

Indeed, the real challenge and the unspoken problem of RIO+20 – and our global community – is that nobody can actually envision discussing what needs to be addressed: what efforts are required by which regions to make it together? It would be pure and simple political suicide for every government to return with such a task and challenge. Yet, what happens if we don’t discuss it? I cannot even imagine what it takes to get there even if everybody would and could collaborate… If however we cannot even openly address the real issue at the one and only place we MUST discuss and resolve such issues, then I start to really wonder what kind of miracle we are counting on!

Let me try to understand the size of the challenge. I guess we will be 8 billion by around 2025 with most of the poorest 4 billion expecting to make significant shifts out of poverty and half of them joining the global middle class. We must integrate this additional billion within our global community while reducing non- or slow-renewable the resources by 35% as compared to our global footprint in 2011. Is this fear for not getting this growth that represents the biggest emotional stumbling block for nations in the so-called South  in RIO+20 intergovernmental negotiations, prompting Ban ki-Moon’s above welcome speech. Yet, the challenge does not lie exclusively in the South. It is really the 2 billion on top of the pyramid, living in the “North-West” (i.e. in Western developed countries) that have created the problem of our planetary overshoot of 35% in the first place. So the half a billion North Americans, the half a billion European and the other billion of people living too well in various other developed countries, regions or cities around the world need to significantly reduce their footprint.

The 2000 Watt society is an old Swiss concept developed in the early nineties between the ETH Zurich and the economy. The idea was that we must create options for a life worth living that does not consume more than 2000 Watt of energy per person (Wapp). Currently, in Switzerland, we are at 4000 Wapp, yet we know how we could make it at 2000 and we are working on making it happen. Zero energy and positive energy housing is a big part of this. But cleaning up the mobility footprint is another big issue. I am sitting in a plane fro Sao Paulo to Rio and you know what I mean…. CO2 emissions! So, if we in Europe need to half our footprint, whether measured in Wapp, EFP or CO2 or Water footprint, North America is challenged to reduce its footprint by 75%. Wow, you may say. I want to know what I can do (other than jumping out of the air plane) and how I can get my life on track. I am willing and able and hopefully so are my other billion or two lucky wealthy fellow citizens. I am actually looking forward to envision measures that will slow down my crazy pace, that shift my focus from material to immaterial and inner wealth and that rebalance the lost equilibrium between time and money.

The challenge for emerging and developing countries is clearly a different one. They need to figure out how they can reach a comfortable life that satisfies human development in terms of learning, engagement and fulfilment while assuring basic needs such as food, shelter, safety, medical and social care. For this, they will generate what we have come to known as “growth”, i.e. activities that are measured through GDP and the likes. Yet, they cannot repeat the errors of the Northwest. Air-conditioning in the hotel in Sao Paulo forced me to walk around in all my sweaters I brought – totally crazy as we are in the cold and damp winter season here anyway. Yes, they do need their fridge but they need a fridge that uses as less energy as possible. And again, I wonder, what can a Brazilian expect as her development both in material and immaterial nature in the coming decades. Which dreams will she have to give up, which new ones may she learn to discover and embrace? And how can she and I, sisters in a small world, support another and respect the diversity and limits of the planet we inhabit? This is the answer I would like to have by the end of this conference.