Building Sustainable Legacies


Rio dialogues: Focus on water

Rio Dialogues offers a public debate on the critical topic “water” on at RioCentro. Dialogues is a public direct democratic initiative by the Brazilian government as their contribution to RIO+20. In the main auditorium there is a highly diverse and young crowd of approx. 1000 delegates and representatives of all walks of life from around the world. A rowdy crowd that is alive and present! The former president of Brazil who presided over Rio 1992 was booed out when honored. Right thereafter, the top Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca-Cola was speaking – and the electricity in the room is palpable, yet nobody booed, maybe because his speech is very correct? Yet, what about the need to walk the talk?

The session offers an important outcome and is important as we will select 3 recommendations from the 10 most voted items through a democratic process in the past 10 days. Much energy focusses on the pre-sentiment that government is trying to get away from the 2010 declaration on the right of water for everybody. The choice ranges from securing access to water, to implementing the right to water to improving water sanitation to ensure that education of children. In contrast to yesterday’s people summit at the Flamenco Park, here the urgency and the importance is palpable. It is my generation who is here: many many young faces and at least half of them women! Maybe I have finally found a place where people want to meet to change the world!?

It is difficult to find the list of the panel in the maze of the RIO+20 and I am lacking references here. A high-level African quotes an important saying:

“if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” to express his hopes for RIO+20.

He suddenly stops mid-phrase when the King of Sweden steps in with his guards and joins the audience. Shortly thereafter, Mohamed Munif turns things serious when he talks about water contamination in Bangladesh.

The representative of the World Water Council wants engagement not just words. They demand that all countries in the world inscribes the right to water in their constitutions. Today, only 1 nations has done so. They also demand that as of tomorrow no single school rests without a water tab and toilets. Today, 60% of African schools are without access to water. In the other hand, they want action to ensure that more only food but also water is provided to disaster zones. We must restore the safety of water to the level we have inherited it from our ancestors. Water security founds the very basis of human survival. It is estimated that by 2020, the world needs 45% more water than today. According to the rule of 3, only oxygen is more important to human survival than water. Already today, 890 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

The UNCG Corporate Sustainable Forum is also under attack: the trade union representative accuses corporations to have failed on all 3 pillars of sustainability: economy, social and environment. He turns to his fellow panellist from Coca-Cola and says:

“I cannot believe that Coca-Cola will ever agree not to want to sell more Coke!”

The lady from India raises the challenge by stating that India is facing a 79% increase in water needs while at the same time facing a reduction of over 40% in the next decade. She says that we are not horrified enough that 2 billion have no access to sanitation and this impacts mostly women in the global South. She clarifies that the solutions of the North do not work for the South. While in India, the daily water consumption is around 18 litre per capita (lpc), in China the water needs are raising to 80-100 lpc in the next decade. In contrast, the USA uses 570 lpc today, which may go down to 440 lpc at best, but is way out of any sustainable future. She insists on home grown solutions based on ancient wisdom from the global South.

“There is enough for everybody’s need but more enough for anybody’s greed” (Gandhi).

After introductions, Jeff Seabright of Coca-Cola is put in the hot seat: “can we reconcile economic growth with the needs of water, and if so how?” He does not expand beyond politically correct but otherwise irrelevant answer. Munif suggests that beyond forcing governments, we need wide-spread citizen engagement to ensure the right to water and sanitation also locally. He also connects the importance of the water issue with global warming and raising sea levels which endanger many regions, and in particular Bangladesh. Two indigenous women from Mexico turn the atmosphere chilly when they point out the lack of consideration and consultation in the decision- making process around water. A 13 year old indigenous girl asks for clear strategies on how to ensure that this will be assured.

The audience present selects as their urgent recommendation to implement the right to water as their first priority. The bigger question of course is what government will do with this. The current update is that there will be no consensus reached, with only 40% of the draft even discussed and no agreement achieved to date. Tomorrow, the top government negotiations with the heads of states start…

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Here is today’s launch speech.

“Today is not just another day and not just another conference. Today, we present to you the result of two years of voluntary work by many many passionate people who deeply care about ensuring that business schools and management education truly contribute to a better world. In this process, John Cimino’s song the CALL which he just performed has been our inspiration to be daring and courageous.
I was 22 years old when the original Rio conference took place in 1992. I was studying business at BSL, the school I now run as a Dean. Stephan Schmidheiny‘s book “changing course” changed my life. While I was environmentally conscious in my private life, my experience at work had taught me that I better leave personal interests at home and be strictly “professional” at work. With Rio 92, I sensed a new world opening up – one where I could integrate my personal passion into my professional work and help companies to become sustainable.
Today is not business as usual. We need something different from the usual conference debates. We have seen and heard all this before … The same words, the same arguments. We are busy rearranging deck chairs while the titanic is sinking! This cannot be another Copenhagen! The stakes are simply too high. The time is up – it is OUR generation and this is OUR time. We are the ones, who need to drop what we do, reflect and take courageous steps in a new, right direction. Now!
50+20 is a collaboratory, an open-source effort of GRLI, the WBSCSB and UN PRME. Our aim was to come up with a radically new vision for management education. A vision that started by asking big questions, like
– what kind of a world do we want?
– what does this mean for the kind of society we will need?
– what is the role of business and the economy in this?
– and what should business contribute to such a new world?
– what kinds of leaders do we need to achieve such a transformation?
– and as a result, what would that mean for management education?

We worked in a collaborative process with people around the world, including more than 100 thought leaders. Many people in this room have been involved in ways large and small. And we invite you all to stand up.

Together we created a vision beyond incremental change. Management education FOR the world, management education in service of the common good. We see 3 fundamental roles. We reframe education, we give a concrete purpose to research and we introduce public engagement as a new responsibility for business schools.

This is about new benchmarks and the benches you see here symbolize that. They have been created by artists around the world from re-cycled materials. We invite you to look at them, sit in them and feel the creativity and the fire for a socially just and environmentally sustainable future they embody.

Today, right here, right now we officially release the 50+20 Agenda. Here it is in physical form.

Digitally it’s in the conference documents and online at 50plus20.org. Its the start – we have developed a process of engagement, there will be a book in the fall, there are over 100 emerging benchmarks on the website which may serve to inspire. We have worked hard to strip out the
greenwashing the blue washing and well meaning intentions.

But what matters is not what others do, it is your engagement and whether we personally take up the challenge of service to mankind. If you share the passion to drive deep change and would like to take action in an advanced community please give me or Katrin your business cards.

So now we bring you the voices and faces from around the globe who have helped us define the 50+20 vision. Turn off your email open your hearts and souls, and enjoy what the people out there have to say to us.