Forbes: Business Sustainability at Rio +20 - What are we waiting for?
A saying popularized a few decades back – if you aren’t part of the solution you’re part of the problem – should resonate strongly with today’s corporate world.
That’s because companies have extraordinary opportunities right now to lead in building a sustainable global economy, by being part of the solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. Whether it’s reducing global warming pollution, limiting the use of water and other scarce resources or ensuring better treatment of employees in supply chains, there is much companies can and must do.
Twenty years ago, hundreds of world leaders, NGOs, international institutions and concerned citizens gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations’ “Earth Summit.” In June, the U.N. will convene Rio+20 to assess global progress on Agenda 21 – the blueprint for economic growth, social equity and environmental protection adopted at that Summit – and to chart a future course against a backdrop of intensifying climate change, increasing water and natural resource scarcity, and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Part of Rio+20 will be the Corporate Sustainability Forum, a global effort to engage the private sector on building a sustainable economy for a sustainable planet. This aligns perfectly with Ceres’ mission to mobilize business and investor leadership for a sustainable world, and Ceres will be in Rio pushing for accelerated action and results.
Urging corporate action isn’t enough, however. Companies need guidance and specific tools to help them evolve into environmentally and socially responsible enterprises that contribute to the creation of a sustainable economy.
Ceres has been a leader in providing such tools. Two years ago, we unveiled The 21st Century Corporation: The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, a how-to guide for companies to achieve sustainability by 2020. The Roadmap contains 20 specific expectations in critical areas of governance, stakeholder engagement, disclosure and performance. It’s also a framework for investors to use in evaluating whether companies are preparing themselves for long-term success and value creation in the 21st century – by meeting the risks and seizing the opportunities of climate change, clean energy, natural resource scarcity and other challenges.
The Road to 2020: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, set for release at our annual conference April 25, is our first assessment of progress on The Roadmap. The Ceres/Sustainalytics collaboration evaluates the progress of 600 U.S. companies. We scrutinized how far they’ve come in implementing sustainability across their platforms and how much work remains. In addition to the written report, our interactive web site will help users optimize the assessment for their own purposes. It includes tables and graphs showing company sustainability performance in key sectors.
The report will show there is much more business can do to elevate its game on sustainability risks and solutions. Companies already doing so – General Electric, Intel and Nike, to name a few – are seeing the financial upside of strategies, operations and products built with a low-carbon, resource-constrained global economy in mind.
Among the sustainability issues getting close attention in the report is water. Key sectors across the economy – from high-tech and agriculture to food/beverage and electric utilities – face major financial and operational risks from water scarcity and changing precipitation patterns driven by climate change. The Roadmap highlights the need for strong water stewardship, and based on this framework Ceres has developed a cutting-edge tool, the Ceres Aqua Gauge, to help companies and investors improve their scrutiny and management of water risks.
The Ceres/Sustainalytics report will show that while some businesses, such as Coca-Cola Company and Exelon, are boosting their attention to water risks, most are giving it inadequate attention.
Rio+20 is a promising platform for enhanced private sector/NGO collaboration to scale up business sustainability performance. To take full advantage, we need to get practical by embracing tools such as the Roadmap and the Aqua Gauge.
Our Road to 2020 assessment is an important reality check on where business stands and the pressing urgency of doing more. We cannot afford another 20 years of baby steps given the colossal challenges we face.
Let’s get moving now.